As is well known, Lent is the total or partial withdrawal from certain foods and drinks, for a longer or shorter time, for religious-moral purposes. This withholding of food and beverages must, however, be accompanied by the withholding of thoughts, desires, passions, and evil deeds, which means that a spiritual fast must accompany the bodily fast.
Christian dogma says that Lent is the season of abstaining from all food, or in case of sickness, only from some drink, and all worldly things and all evil desires, that God may be gracious.
Fasting is of divine origin and establishment. Therefore, we find it practiced from ancient times, in almost all religions and among all peoples. According to some Holy Fathers like Basil the Great, John Chrysostom, and others, it has its origin in heaven through the prohibition given by God to our proto-Parathers to eat from the forbidden tree.
What is the importance of Lent?
If the Church, through the biblical readings, prepares us spiritually for this period of penance, each believer, in turn, must prepare to fast. First and foremost, he must make this decision out of faith, not out of fear or another compulsion. Fasting is not the torment of the body.
The Church Fathers emphasize the importance of spiritual fasting for spiritual growth by stating that it is done by refraining from doing evil deeds, saying that giving up certain foods and drinks only helps us to be able to keep the true fast-the spiritual one.
Scripture does not command Christians to fast. Fasting is not something God requires or commands Christians to do. At the same time, the Bible presents fasting as something good, practical, and desirable. The book of Acts shows believers fasting before making important decisions (Acts 13:4; 14:23).
Read also: Easter Food Traditions in America.
Who is exempt from Lent?
Lent is voluntary abstinence from food and drink for religious-moral reasons. These renunciations are not made from the conception that food or beverages are unclean but because the soul rises to God by refraining from the body.
According to Christianity, children up to the age of 7, the elderly over 60, the sick, and those who do heavy work or are on long and tiring journeys are exempt from Lent. Fasting is the first commandment man received from God while still in heaven. Fasting is the mediator of the Old and New Testaments. Since Christ fasted, all Christians are obliged to fast, and the devil fears those who fast.
Lent is proof that we give up the world and its joys to open ourselves to God and the spiritual world. Fasting is from food, drink, oversleeping, and evil thoughts and deeds, so fasting is fasting from food and sin. He who fasts must also cultivate good deeds in addition to abstaining from food.
Key Verse related to Lent
“Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, fasting and weeping and mourning.” Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.
Who knows? He may turn and relent and leave behind a blessing—grain offerings and drink offerings for the Lord your God.”
Read also: The History of Easter.
What are the origins of Lent?
In many places during the 4th century, catechumens – those trained to receive baptism – spent the 40 days before their Easter initiation in to receive baptism – spent the 40 days before their Easter initiation in a period of preparation, with challenging fasting, prayer, fasting, and daily services.
According to one view, Lent originated in the animal sacrifices brought for the dead and which the living were not to touch. Others believe that the grief caused by the death of loved ones naturally resulted in the neglect of food and drink, which over time became a conventional sign of mourning, thus becoming part of the rituals associated with the cult of the dead.
In the early centuries of the Church, to an extent far beyond the imagination of many of us, there was a keen awareness of solidarity throughout the Christian community. Believers felt, not theoretically, that each was a member of the one body and that the joys and sorrows of one were the joys and sorrows of all.
Read also: Why do we paint eggs on Easter?
What does it mean to fast?
Let those who fast beware of pride, and let those who cannot fast because they are sick in body pray or do other good works as they may, for God does not require bodily fasting, but good results they expect.
Fasting means consuming fasting food without satiating oneself, doubling this ascetic effort with its spiritual equivalent, and abstaining from sins. Fasting means eating fast food, but you can do this to the point of intoxication without being concerned with the spiritual side of fasting.
This is why Christians must fast, not just eat fast food. Fasting must be kept with a just account, without exaggeration, lest the body becomes weak and sick.
Read also: Why do we celebrate Lammas?
When do you not fast on Wednesdays and Fridays?
Either because of the importance of the high feasts, i.e., in order not to erase the joy of the feast of the Nativity, of the Resurrection, of Pentecost, or because of the importance of fasting before these high feasts, or in order not to resemble some heretics, the Church allows us to eat sweet food on Wednesdays and Fridays at certain times of the year.
There are days of unleavened (fasting), marked in the calendars with the word “hate.” Here is when Wednesdays and Fridays are not fasting:
- During the Holy Week (Easter week).
- From the Nativity to the eve of Epiphany.
- In the week after Pentecost (before the beginning of Lent).
- In the first week of the Synod (between the Sunday of the Pharisee and the Sunday of the Prodigal Son).
- Week of Cheese (before the dry season for Lent); only milk, eggs, and cheese are unleavened.
- Nativity and Epiphany, when these feasts fall on Wednesday or Friday.
However, fasting of goodwill is only of value when we also observe the fast days ordained by the Church. Fasting calms the body’s restlessness, defeats the unsaturated appetites, cleanses and revitalizes the soul, elevates it, and makes it lighter.
Read also: Meaning and significance of Ascension
What is the connection between Lent and baptism?
Lent is a time of spiritual joy and hope for the whole Church. We wait for this period for an entire year, with inner thirst, with many dreams, often undreamt of, but which are so concrete, because God helps them to come true in this period and our whole life.
Lent, as we know, has a great deal to do with the Mystery of Baptism. Baptismal immersion, as St. Paul teaches us, signifies that we are “saddled” or united with Christ in His death and burial and thereby united with Him in His Resurrection (Rom. 6:3-5).
The goal we must pursue is that our soul ascends to heaven, and we become deified people. These days, which are set before us, offer us this opportunity with the help of the holy need of repentance. Let us then see some characteristics that our spiritual struggle must fulfill.
Read also: The Meaning of Ash Wednesday.
What are the point and use of Lent?
The Saviour Himself fasted forty days and forty nights in the wilderness before He began preaching the Gospel (Matthew 4:2 and Luke 4:2). He teaches us how to fast. The Holy Apostles and their disciples also fasted and established fasting for all Christians.
Lent is good for the soul and the body because it strengthens the body and purifies the soul. It preserves the health of the body and gives wings to the soul. This is why the Old Law recommends and imposes it so often. “Do not be insatiable in all your enjoyment, and do not bend too much food. There will be sorrow in much eating, and insatiableness will come to fatness. For the foolish many have perished, and the foolish shall multiply his life,” says the wise Jesus, son of Sirach.
The Holy Father praises and recommends fasting with perseverance. Lent soothes the body’s restlessness, defeats the unsaturated appetites, cleanses and revitalizes the soul, and elevates and eases it.
Read also: Why is Pentecost called Whitsunday?
How is Lent kept?
Fasting is a duty of the excellent believer, which is contained in the second commandment of the Church. The Holy Solemns and the ordinances the Holy Fathers give severely punish those who do not keep the fasts. But we must fast not only with the body but also with the soul. That is to say, not only by eating and fasting but also by breaking ourselves from sins and temptations. With the breaking away from sweet eating, let us strive to cleanse our body and soul, spending ourselves in prayer and repentance.
The whole, authentic and perfect Lent is fasting from food, together with fasting from works, and is kept by fasting, prayer, and refraining from pleasures. This is what the Church encourages us in her hymns of the Lenten services: “Let us fast, fast received, blessed by the Lord; true fasting is the abstaining from evil, the loosing of the tongue, the putting away of anger, the turning away from lust, from flattery, from lying and from false oaths.
Although much of the clinical research on fasting is limited to animal studies, the many personal accounts of fasters are remarkable, encouraging, and heartening. Many people find that fasting makes their minds sharper and their thinking more transparent. Interestingly, many of the benefits of fasting do not come directly from fasting but from calorie restriction, lower fat, better sleep, less inflammation, and lower salt intake.
What are the four types of fasting?
True fasting is, therefore, that which happily combines the two aspects of fasting: the physical aspect and the soul aspect, so when the restraint from food is combined with the condition from sin and the continuous striving towards virtue and spiritual progress.
Regarding the degree of severity or harshness, there are four kinds of fasting, namely:
- Fasting or total fasting – consists of abstaining from all food and drink.
- Strict fasting (xerophagy) – dry food: bread, seeds, dried fruit, and water, only once a day after 3 pm.
- Common or ordinary fasting – eating food prepared from vegetable foods with oil, eating several times a day, and tasting a little wine (some say wine is not allowed).
- Fasting or light fasting – eating fish and drinking wine.
It follows, therefore, that the complete fast unites the bodily and spiritual infirmity. The fasting times offer the Christian the most suitable conditions, atmosphere, and means of inculcation and moral improvement.
- Lent is the joy of the holy prophets. The apostles and the musicians rejoice in it, for they have all worked and labored without labor and have struggled and labored in fasting.
- Among the Holy Fathers who have particularly emphasized the importance of fasting are Irenaeus, Jerome, Augustine, Epiphanius, Peter of Alexandria, Basil the Great, Athanasius the Great, Gregory the Theologian, Gregory of Nyssa, Timothy and Theophilus of Alexandria, John Chrysostom, Nichifor the Confessor, Maxim the Confessor, John Damascene, and others. But they do not forget to emphasize that the bodily fast without the soul is devoid of moral value.
- Christian fasting, which is the most practiced, involves eliminating from the diet products of animal origin, such as meat, dairy products, and eggs, being allowed only foods of vegetable origin. Fish is permitted on certain days, known as “unleavenings.”
Lent is an invitation to invest, more than usual, physical energy in spiritual energy through prayer, almsgiving, and spiritual readings. The Holy Fathers called fasting without prayer “fasting of demons” because demons do not eat because of their physical nature, nor do they pray.
Lent fasting is a duty of every Christian. The whole, authentic and perfect fast is both bodily and spiritual. Fasting from food, together with fasting from work, fasting from food, and also from eating. This is what the Church encourages us in the songs of her Lenten services: Let us fast, fast received, acceptable to the Lord; true fasting is the turning away from wickedness, the restraint of the tongue, the denial of wrath, the turning away from lust, from flattery, from lying, from lying oaths. The absence of these is the actual and welcome fast.
Thank you for your time! Have a wonderful day and much success fasting and observing the Lenten season.
- Bandeira, F., Lent, R., & Herculano-Houzel, S. (2009). Changing numbers of neuronal and non-neuronal cells underlie postnatal brain growth in the rat. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106(33), 14108-14113.
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