"Is not this the fast that I have chosen" (Isaiah 58:6).

In the name of the father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God, Amen!

"Is not this the fast that I have chosen" (Isaiah 58:6).

Saint Isaac the Syrian on Fasting

The man who loves the conversation of yoke-mate fasting is a friend of chastity. Just as the satisfaction of the belly is the source of all evils, and as the slackness of sleep kindles the lust of fornication. But fasting and wakefulness in God’s service by withstanding the sweetness of sleep through crucifying the body throughout the day and night, are God’s holy pathway and the foundation of every virtue. Fasting is the champion of every virtue, the beginning of the struggle, the crown of the abstinent, the beauty of virginity and sanctity, the resplendence of chastity, the commencement of the path of Christianity, the mother of prayer, the well-spring of sobriety and prudence, the teacher of stillness, and the precursor of all good works. Just as the enjoyment of light is coupled with healthy eyes; the desire for prayer accompanies fasting that is practiced with discernment.

When a man begins to fast, he yearns in his mind to enter into a conversation with God. The body that fasts cannot endure to sleep upon all night. Fasting naturally incites wakefulness unto God during day and night. The empty body of a faster is not greatly wearied by the battle against sleep. Even if his senses are weakened, his mind is wakeful unto God in prayer. It is better for a man to desist from his liturgy because of weakness due to fasting than because of sloth due to eating. When the seal of fasting is set upon a man’s lips, his thought reflects with compunction, his heart pours forth prayer, gloom lies upon his countenance, shameful thoughts are far removed from him, cheer cannot be detected in his eyes, and he is an enemy of lusts and vain conversations. No one has ever seen a discerning faster enslaved by evil desires. Fasting with discernment is a spacious mansion for every good thing, but he who neglects to fast makes very good totter. Fasting was the commandment that was given to our nature, in the beginning, to protect it with respect to the tasting of food, and in this point, the progenitor of our substance fell. However, where the first defeat was suffered, the ascetic strugglers make their beginning in the fear of God as they start to keep His laws.

The Savior also manifested Himself to the world by fasting. After His baptism, the Spirit led Him into the wilderness and He fasted for forty days and forty nights. Likewise, all who set out to follow in His footsteps make the beginning of their struggle upon this foundation. For this is a weapon forged by God, and who shall escape blame if he neglects it? If the Lawgiver Himself fasts, who among those who keep the law has no need for fasting? This is why the human race knew no victory before fasting, and the devil had never experienced defeat from our nature, but this weapon has made him powerless from the outset. Our Lord was the firstborn Leader of victory, so as to set the first crown of victory upon the head of our nature. When the devil, that foe and tyrant, sees a man bearing this weapon, he is frightened. He recollects and considers that defeat, which he suffered in the wilderness at the hands of the Saviour; at once his strength is shattered and the very sight of this weapon, given us by our Commander-in-chief, burns him. What weapon is more powerful and gives more boldness to the heart in the time of battle against the spirits of wickedness, than hunger endured for Christ’s sake? For the more, the body toils and endures hardship when the phalanx of the demons encompasses a man, the more his heart is given succor by the power of confidence. He who has armed himself with the weapon of fasting is afire with zeal at all times. Elias the zealot also pursued the work of fasting when he was zealous for God’s law. Furthermore, fasting reminds the faster of the commandments of the Spirit and it is an intermediary between the old Law and the grace given us by Christ. He who is negligent with respect to fasting is slothful, heedless, and feeble in the other ascetical struggles. And he manifests inception and an evil token of slackness in his soul, thus giving his antagonist an opportunity for defeating him. It is evident that he who enters naked and unarmed into the struggle will retreat from it without gaining the victory; for his limbs were not shielded with the warmth of fasting’s hunger. Such is the nature of fasting, that whoever perseveres in it will possess an unshakeable mind, one ready to encounter and repel all the troublesome passions.

It is said concerning many of the martyrs, that when they foreknew, the day on which they were to receive the crown of martyrdom, they did not taste anything the preceding night. From evening till morning, they stood to keep vigil in prayer, glorifying God in psalms, hymns, and spiritual odes. And they looked forward to that hour with joy and exultation, waiting to meet the sword in their fast as ones prepared for the nuptials. Therefore, let us also be vigilant, we who are called to an unseen martyrdom, so we can receive the crowns of sanctification.

St Isaac the Syrian, First Collection, from Homily 37.


Glory be to God, Amen.

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