My Beloved the Benevolent February 2022
Grace and peace, Wishing you all Goodness
I am pleased to congratulate you on the Fast of Nineveh, which begins on Monday, February 14th, and ends with Jonah’s Feast on Thursday, February 17th; and the start of the Great Lent, on Monday, February 28th, which ends with the Glorious Feast of the Resurrection on Sunday, April 24th. May God bless your fasting, that they may be acceptable and blessed fasts. I would now like to contemplate on the meaning of fasting.
1-Fasting is a means of worship: Fasting is a way to help a person get closer to God. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus talks about fasting as an important part of a believer’s life. Jesus did not talk about when or how to fast, He left that to the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church to make arrangements for fasting as we live in our Church. The thing that Jesus made clear regarding fasting is that fasting is an act of worship directed to God and not to people. He warned against people who make known to others that they are fasting in order to gain people’s praise.
Christ considered fasting for the sake of the people to be a hypocrisy, “Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you they have their reward.” Matt 6:16 The one who fasts for the sake of the people will receive their praise and by this he will have received his reward for fasting. But the Christian person must not show people their fast, “But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” Matt. 6:17-18
Some may wonder how does one hide his fast during the time of a general fasting, when people fast together and it is known to others? The answer is that Jesus warned that a person should not deliberately show people that they are fasting; the difference is in the person’s motive. What Jesus warned of is that a person’s motive for fasting should not be to receive people’s praise.
2-Fasting is a period of spiritual growth: Fasting is not only refraining from food and drink for a while and then eating vegetarian foods; this is the physical aspect of fasting. But fasting is a special spiritual period in which the person grows spiritually. Therefore, the period of fasting is a period for prayer, reading the Bible and spiritual books, repentance, and a return to God. A period in which a person transcends the interests of the body and focuses on the interests of the soul. Therefore, the Church chose the gospel reading about treasures in heaven for the first Sunday of fasting, where Christ the Lord invites us not to lay up treasure on earth and not to be preoccupied with earthly matters.
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth…., but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven …., for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matt. 6:19,20,21 “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Matt 6:33-34
3-Fasting is a period of change: It is not enough for a fasting person to change the types of food he eats during the period of fasting, but more importantly to change his behavior. During the period of fasting, the Church offers us examples of those whose lives have been changed. In the fast of Jonah, we have a model of Jonah and his repentance in the belly of the whale, the great repentance of the people of Nineveh, and the change of the sailors and their faith in God.
During the Great Lent, the Church offers us the example of the Prodigal Son in his repentance, and the Samaritan woman in her acceptance of Christ, and how she became a woman who preached to her family, and the Samaritans came to believe in Christ. The faith of the man born blind after Christ met him, healed him, and called him to believe in the Son of God. A fasting person whose fasting is limited to just the physical aspect without changing in his spiritual life does not benefit from fasting. Fasting is not an obligation, and there is no reward for fasting, but fasting is a means to change, and without change, the fasting person does not benefit anything.
4-Fasting is a period for doing mercy: Acceptable fasting is the fast that is accompanied by the act of mercy. Jesus spoke in the Sermon on the Mount about almsgiving. The fasting person feels the needs of others, because he moves from focusing on himself to opening his heart with the love of God, so that his heart beats with love for others. It becomes a practical love, not love with words or tongue, “My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.” 1Jn 3:18
“Is this not the fast that I have chosen: To loose the bonds of wickedness, To undo the heavy burdens, To let the oppressed go free, And that you break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; When you see the naked, that you cover him, And not hide yourself from your own flesh?” Is. 58:7-8
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