By Sofia Mavrou,
When referring to religious fasting, what is meant is the abstinence from specific foods (animal products, olive oil, wine), harmful thoughts, lies, judgmental comments, cursing, and whatever stains a Christian’s soul before the four big celebrations of the Orthodox Church; Easter, Christmas, Apostles’ Fast and the Assumption of Mary. As far as historians are concerned up until today, there has not been a period in time when people were not engaged in fasting. Ancient Egypt, ancient India, and ancient Greece were interested in the concept of fasting and its benefits, spiritually and physically.
Many records demonstrate that Pythagoras (580-500 BC) and his followers were fond of vegetarianism. What is more, the great mathematician and philosopher were one of the very first advocators of fasting, since he went through it for 40 days in an endeavor to increase his mental perception. Additionally, Hippocrates (460-357 BC), the father of modern medicine, who created the Mediterranean diet, did consult his ill patients to refrain from food because “When a patient is fed too richly, the disease is fed as well”.
Fasting also includes acts of giving. Almsgiving is one of the major notions during the days of fasting. Praying and studying the Bible are increased, as well. It is a struggle one goes through, in an attempt to come closer to God and eventually receive the Holy Communion. It is not designed for making the man suffer, but exactly the opposite of that. One starts to abstain from food because it is the easiest way to start controlling their whims. They wield the power and they systematically practice being in control of their body. It might seem indifferent if you eat a couple more hamburgers on Friday night and drink a bottle of wine all by yourself, because “who knows when you will go out again?”; but keep in mind that nobody is born obese or alcoholic; one becomes.
However, it does not mean that if you abstain from excessive consumption of food, you have won the “fasting race”. As mentioned above, food supremacy is not that intricate for a determined believer. The most challenging part is the ascendancy of the mind. It is believed that if you can rule the desires of the body, one day you might be able to rule your thoughts too. Few and far between reach this level of control; to replace the negative thoughts with optimistic ones, to not criticize but understand and accept, to not yell but take the responsibility, to not frustrate but pray, to not imitate but create.
Rationally, these manifold abstinences lead to manifold benefits. The first has already been implicitly stated. The individual who will take up fasting is more likely to discipline themselves given the boundaries they set for a period of time and are willing to follow. The second aspect implicates the health-related benefits, which recently have been the subject of scientific inquiry. For fasters, fruits are a convenient alternative during fasting periods. Thus, the consumption of vitamins and minerals notes an upsweep. As a result, daily energy intake does not diverge compared to the non-fasters’ corresponding intake. Furthermore, fasting is more or less a kind of detox both for the body and the soul. For the former, because the fasters give up saturated fat, fast food, and sugared nourishments, and for the latter because the fasters release themselves from toxic mindsets and get familiarized with praying, meditation and consistency.
Indeed, fasting may appear demanding and unnecessary for some, but usually, those claiming such views are the ones who have not attempted it. Its effects are shown in the long term and are very rewarding for body and mind altogether, independently of religious labels. Otherwise, it is preferable that you have arguments for not accepting something, rather than not attempting it.
The history of fasting. neoskosmos.com. Available here
The impact of religious fasting on human health. nutritionj.biomedcentral.com. Available here