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The Meaning of Fasting in the Orthodox Church

by Fr. Milan Savich

Fasting is as old as the human race. Fasting was practiced by pagan religions, Judaism and Christianity, and it was generally considered an important element of religious life, although with different practices and understanding. In the ancient religions of the East fasting meant a complete abstention from food for a certain period of time — one day or more. The origin of fasting as a moral discipline, especially among the old pagan religions is very obscure, just as their understanding of God was inadequate and vague.

The monotheistic, God revealed religion of the "Chosen People" knew about fasting. From the Old Testament we learn that God instituted fasting in Paradise when He said: "But of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." (Gen. 2:17) From this is clear that fasting existed before the "original sin" of Adam and Eve, and it was not ordered as a cure for their sin. The fasting in Paradise consisted of abstaining of certain food — namely of "the fruit of the tree." The tree of knowledge of good and evil was created by God as well as all other trees in Paradise and, as such, preceded the Satan and his sinful machinations. God's commandment to Adam and Even not to eat of the particular fruit was issued as a method of man's discipline of self-control and spiritual growth. This means that the first man in Paradise was not perfect, but was good and capable to improve and develop his spiritual and moral personality.

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