It is widely known that the Orthodox Churches give much importance to fasting, following the example of Jesus Christ and of the apostolic community. The noun fasting means non-eating and non-feeding. But every non-eater is by no means a faster and everyone who is an eater and restrains himself by an interior dedication from nourishment because of heavenly things is a faster.
In our materialistic society we learn to identify ourselves through self-indulgence and we tend to see the fasting only as a time of deprivation and penance. But this is not at all the view of the Orthodox Church on fasting and abstinence and it is clearly explained by the Fathers in their spiritual discourses. For them, fasting is the feast of the soul and good fasts are like medicine which cures our soul and mind, and, along with other virtuous works, it leads us to the eternal life.
In our spiritual battle, fasting protects us from the evil one. It not only resists the attack but also trains our body and mind for the battle. According to Mar Aprem (4th Century Church Father) fasting is a great weapon against the evil one. Through fasting Christ defeated the Satan and has given us this weapon to overcome the evil. For Philixenus of Maboug (6th century Church Father), fasting and abstinence are the two virtous weapons for cultivating the field of Christian life.
‘Fasting must be undertaken voluntarily and it must be of divine dispensation’. This is the primary teaching of our Church on Fasting. Fast is of free will and it is the voluntary fast which is accessible and permanent. Fasting becomes highly acceptable when it is joined with humility of hearts, charity towards all men and continuous prayers. The Lenten prayers and liturgy of our Church extols this kind of fasting by giving the Old Testament figures as good examples (Moses, Daniel, Elijah etc.).
Fasting is the root by which all the fruits of sanctity are sustained and on this same root grows purity, delights virginity and rejoices patience. Fasting dispels immodesty, controls the lust and offers the body as a holy temple of God. Therefore, the Church exhorts the faithful to love and practice this highly acceptable form of Christian life so that it may lead them to the great eternal fast which is going to happen in the eternal bride chamber of life. Through it, the strength of the soul is confirmed, the riches of the body are increased and good aspirations aroused in the heart.
The following are the main fasts mentioned by the Fathers of the Church according to the order in which they appear in the liturgical calendar.
The Fast before the Nativity of our Lord
This is a traditional fast observed in the Church with great enthusiasm. It seems that in the Syrian tradition this fast is of spontaneous origin and lasted forty days for to glorify and to give thanks to God the Father remembering his selfless love by giving His unique Son for the salvation of the world. The Church thinks it is right for every believer to fast this season, before the Nativity of Jesus Christ, that is designed for the Father for having given us His Son, for forty days. At present, however, in the Malankara Church, this fast lasts for 25 days, from the first of December till the Christmas day, and all the faithful are bound to observe it with great vigour.