Many Christians, ignoring the great benefit of fasting, keep it with displeasure or don’t keep it at all. However we have to receive the fasting gladly, not with indignation or fear. And this because fasting is not frightening for us, but for the demons. Bring it before a demonized person and that one will freeze with fear, will stand still as a stone, will be tied with invisible ties, especially when fasting is accompanied by its inseparable companion, the prayer. That is why Christ said: `This kind of demons does not come out except by prayer and fasting.` (Matthew 17, 21)
Therefore fasting drives away the enemies of our salvation and it is so terrifying for the oppressors of our lives that we should love it and not be afraid of it.
If we have to be afraid of something, we should be afraid of gluttony, especially when this is combined with drunkenness. Because it ties our hands on our back and makes us slaves of the tyrannical passions, while fasting on the contrary frees us from the tyranny of passions and gives us spiritual freedom. If it fights against our enemies and frees us from our slavery and gives us our freedom, what other proof of its love we need?
Not only the monks who have all their life – which resembles that of the angels – fasting as companion, but also some Christian laymen taking its wings elevated themselves at the height of the heavenly philosophy.
I remind you that the two prophets of the Old Testament, Moses and Elijah, although they had many other virtues due to which they got much intrepidity to God, when they wanted to speak with Him, they ran to fasting. This guided them towards God.
`We are afraid of it because it damages and sickens the body` you may say. On one hand I tell you that the more the exterior man deteriorates itself the more the inner one, which is our soul, renews itself.(II Corinthians 4,16) On the other hand if you want to study this matter properly you will discover that fasting protects the body as well. And if you don’t believe my words, ask the doctors and they will tell you better that fasting is the mother of our health and gluttony the cause of many diseases that destroy your body.
Therefore we should not be afraid of fasting as long as it protects us of so many evils. And I do not say this without a reason. I see so many people eating without refraining themselves before and after the fasting, making its use become vain.
Meaning that in our soul it is done what it is done with a sick body which starts to recover and tries to get up from bed and someone comes and gives it a hard blow and it falls back to bed worse than before. Something similar it happens inside our soul when before or after fasting we shade the clarity it gave to us with the darkness brought by gluttony.
But even when we fast, it is not enough to refrain from certain kinds of food in order to get a spiritual benefit. There is the risk that although we may keep the fasting periods ordained by the Church we might not get any benefit at all. How is that? When we refrain from food but we don’t refrain from sin, when we don’t eat meat but we eat the food of the poor, when we don’t get drunk with wine but with wicked wishes, when we spend all our day without food but we see shameful things. Then our fasting is useless.
That is why we should unite fasting with the fight against passions, with the refraining from sin, with the prayer and the spiritual strife. Only then fasting will bear fruits and will be a sacrifice pleasing God.
From the book Matters of life II – Saint John Chrysostom