As to fasting and its importance, Mother Arsenya used to say: “Many learned people of our times say that fasting and all the other churchly rules are just some empty rituals, a mere appearance that leads to nothing. For my part, the more my life passes on, the more I am convinced that all the rules that have been established by the Holy Fathers are the greatest gift that God has given us and that they all bring salvation due to the Grace that lies in them. Scholars say: «All of these are trifles; it is the truths of the Gospels that matter.»”
Yet I am telling you that it is impossible to know and gain an insight into the truths of the Gospels directly, by avoiding the rules of the Church and neglecting them. It is only through them that we are led to the high truths of Christ’s teachings. When we talk about fasting, we talk about refraining from eating much and from doing anything that lacks measure, in order to render our bodies lighter, thinner, and apt for spiritual feelings.
Christ, our Saviour, has rendered that rule holy, through His 40-day fasting and thus this practice has become salvific to us – although because of our weakness, we do not keep it as we should.
Yet we must believe that through the 40-day fasting of our Lord Jesus Christ, our body is cleansed and rendered apt for spiritual feelings. We must believe that fasting saves us not because of our efforts, but because of the Grace it carries as a churchly rule. The chiming of a church-bell brings us our salvation, reminding us through its sound that all earthly things are destined for death. Refraining from food teaches us to refrain from passionate thoughts and feelings. Refrain is the first step towards virtue.
Lord Jesus says: love thy enemies – that is, the ones who speak badly of you and scorn you. How should we do that? A person can badmouth you straight into your face, you cannot love him/her instantly! Well, first of all, refrain from answering back with the same words. Then refrain your thoughts from thinking badly of that person – and so on.
So the first step towards love is refraining. That, in its turn, also leads to God’s assistance. And God’s assistance will be of real help to you during the times when you try to abstain with all your might. It is only then that you will notice how your own powers are weak, that you need God’s help and you will call for it with all your being. And that is how true prayer is acquired.
And as we fast, our usual preparation, confession, and Communion, along with the said gifts of the Grace that we receive after we accomplish all of these things, are a constant reminder of, and draw us near to, that feeling of deep repentance that we must strive to reach during our lives on earth. They remind us of confession – of that confession that man should make only before God, while realising his fall and the sinful state of his being, after which he should seek eternal union with Lord Jesus Christ.
That is the usefulness of fasting. Let us not be afraid of it and worry that we will not keep it properly – but rather rejoice that it is good for our salvation!
Excerpt from “Maica Arsenia. Calea spre vindecarea inimii” (“Mother Arsenya. The Path to Healing One’s Heart“), Sophia Publishing House, Romania, 2004