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Fasting Part Two: Fasting for Spiritual Purposes

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Ageless Beauty – Timeless Health:
Building a Lifestyle that Automatically Creates the
Health, Immunity and Longevity You Want

Toronto, Canada: June 4-5, 2011
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Over the course of human history, fasting for spiritual purposes has been at least as widespread and quite probably much more so, than fasting for better health.  We also need to remember that non-Western and pre-industrial cultures did not tend to divide life into categories of “physical” and “spiritual” as we do out of (bad) habit. 


Goals of Spiritual Fasting



There are many different ones.  As I write this, tens of millions of Eastern Christians are beginning their Holy Week fast leading up to Pascha (Easter).  For them the goal is to become more open to divine influence and to actually participate in the events they’re celebrating.  Of course, there are many different spiritual reasons for fasting:

  1. To become more open to divine influence
  2. To receive divine guidance on a particular issue
  3. To receive healing, whether physical, emotional or spiritual
  4. To help someone else receive what they need, whether healing, guidance or protection
  5. To prepare for a spiritually difficult task



In reality, of course, the majority of people who would say they practice spiritual fasting seem to do so on a semi-conscious level at best.  They often think they’re fasting, when they’re simply practicing a form of abstinence, or they’re not clear on how fasting works or exactly what they wish to achieve.


Is fasting a form of sacrifice that God demands imperiously?  Is it a form of punishment for human sin?  Well, if you read the ancient Christian spiritual sources carefully, such as the various collections of “sayings of the desert fathers” from the fourth and fifth centuries, it’s quite clear this isn’t the case.


What emerges is a bit more complex.  Because fasting cleanses the body, it also makes the mind more lucid.  If you consider that the desert dwellers who pioneered Christian spiritual fasting were totally dedicated to remaining in an unbroken state of inner “prayer of the heart”, this lucidity of mind was very important.  The bottom line from their experience is that abstinence from heavy foods and periodic fasting will enable you to maintain focused inner attention and will cut down on the inner dialogue, swirling emotions and physical symptoms that ensnare your attention.  That’s obviously a vital consideration for any sustained program of prayer or meditation, and explains why spiritual fasting has been so widely used worldwide for millennia.  


So if we ask how spiritual fasting works, it’s clear the explanation bridges the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual planes of our being, creating a cleansing and unifying effect.  It’s not simply a matter of fulfilling an abstract divine commandment; it has to do with how your mind-body organism is intended to function.  This is something that Orthodox Christian ascetics, Kriya Yoga practitioners and many native American medicine people, to name just a few, will tell you.  


Here’s a really interesting video on spiritual fasting that also ties in the health aspect in an admirable and well thought out way.  Be sure to pause it to give yourself time to read the text, in addition to listening to the excellent commentary:












A Spiritual Warrior’s Explanation



Without contradicting any of the foregoing, the Coptic Orthodox Monk, Matthew the Poor, offered this explanation of fasting. When he uses the word “self”, he is using it in the sense of the “ego” or “false self”:


“[When we fast] we must reach a state of accepting not the partial, but the complete annihilation of the self, and this can only take place by an act of deliberate volition.  In other words, if we begin by any exercise, such as fasting, which brings us to the partial overcoming of the self, we need to supplement the feeling of satisfaction that comes from accepting this state with an acceptance of the total destruction of the self.  This is obtained by the mental acceptance of death itself, with no dismay or restraint.  ‘But we received the sentence of death in ourselves’ (2 Corinthians 1:19).  


“When our father Abraham offered Isaac his son, he did so partially with his hands, but totally in purpose.  When Abraham proved his willingness to offer Isaac, his only son, God did not leave him to carry out the slaughter; when the offering had been only partially made on the physical level, God considered the sacrifice to have been actually carried out.  This, and only this, is why God redeemed Isaac with a ram – a symbol of Christ – who was to redeem the souls of those whose self was destroyed partially by their actions, but wholly in their intentions.”1.


In terms of spiritual fasting, that’s certainly “food for thought”!  Think about it.  Better still, try it.  Just remember, though, as with fasting for health, the same advice and warnings apply here, so go back and read the previous post before you start!


Blessings!


~ Dr. Symeon Rodger 🙂
















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