The Significance of Fasting from New Testament Examples
Saint Gregory Palamas: “While Christ was fasting in the wilderness, He defeated our tempter by force and took away his power against mankind.+ Having at last put down his tyranny, He set our natureFREE and handed him over for sport to all those willing toLIVE according to the Gospel.”*
The Scripture says, “Whenever ye are fasting, cease being as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance; for they artificially disfigure their faces, in such a manner that they might appear to men fasting. Verily I say to you that they have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thy head and wash thy face, so that thou mightest not appear to men fasting, but to thy Father Who is in secret; and thy Father, Who seeth in secret, shall reward thee in the open [Mt. 6:16-18].” Saint Gregory Palamas: “Those who live for vainglory and not for Him, He will definitely say, ‘Be mindful that thou didst have rendered to thee thy good things in thy life [Lk. 16:25],’ just as Abraham said to that rich man in the flames. Those who look toward God as they practice virtue He shall reward openly, which means that in the sight of the whole world He will give them in return His blessing, an inheritance, pleasure, and pure joy forever and ever. He makes clear that those who despise glory that comes from men are sons of God. For He says that ‘thy Father, Who seeth in secret, shall reward thee in the open [Mt. 6:18].’ Those who are disdainful of the empty glory that comes from men He will make and proclaim His own adopted sons and heirs. He tells us to anoint our heads and wash our faces, that is, we should not make a point of looking pale, nor should our heads be unwashed and dried up so that it seems that we are suffering from long drawn out fasting and contempt for our bodies, and that we are looking for praise from other people. The Pharisees acted like this for the sake of appearances, which is why they were estranged from Christ’s Church.
“Now we can refer to the mind metaphorically as the head of the soul, since it is the soul’s guiding force, and we can refer to the imaginative aspect as its face, as this contains the permanent center of the senses’ACTIVITY. So it is good to anoint our heads with oil when we fast, namely, to render our minds merciful. It is good to wash our faces, our imaginations, clean from shameful and impure thoughts and anger and everything evil. Such a fast carried out in this way banishes and puts to shame all the evil passions, together with the demons who are their makers and guardians. It also enlists those who fast to be among good angels, turning these angels toward them, accustoming them to be their guardians and moving them to help and assist them.”
Saint Gregory Palamas exhorts, “Please do not let us give up calling upon the Lord with fasting, vows, tears, and every other means, until He should draw near and heal us. We should show by our deeds that we have Christ as our Bridegroom and we wait for Him in hope, although He is farAWAY from us for the present and hidden in the realms of heaven. It is written that He said: ‘The sons of the bridechamber are not able to mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, are they? But days will come, whenever the bridegroom shall have been taken away from them, and then shall they fast [Mt. 9:15].’ Clearly, those called by Christ’s name must pass their whole lives in self-control and fasting, looking forward with good hope to His terrible coming again. Let us fast particularly at this time, preparing ourselves in every possible way while we await the yearly commemoration of Christ’s resurrection. Thus, being cleansed, we may glorify His Passion with all purity and attain the blessed immortal life which He achieved for us by fasting.”
+Mt. 4:1-11; Mk. 1:13; cf. Lk. 4:1-13.
*Saint Gregory Palamas, “Hom. 6,” & 13, The Homilies, I:72.
Source: The Great Synaxaristes of the Orthodox Church, Triodion. Holy Apostles Convent, Buena Vista, Colorado.