For Orthodox Christians, the middle of November means the beginning of the Advent Fast. It is a time of preparation for the great feast of the Incarnation of the Word, a preparation which needs to be analyzed at the beginning of each fast.
”As we all know, there is a physical fast and there is a spiritual fast. The physical fast is when the stomach abstains from food and drink. The spiritual fast is when the soul abstains from evil thoughts, deeds, and words,” says St. Tikhon of Zadonsk. We must begin by fasting from food and drink, knowing well that this is just the beginning of fasting. Physical fasting helps to put our passions to death. For having less and poorer food denies the body the sensation of being full. The body that is less nourished does not manifest inclinations toward the passions. This is a reality which must be experienced during fasting. We cannot experience this with only a few days of fasting, but only after prolonged effort can we feel that our bodies are in such a state.
St. Tikhon then speaks of spiritual fasting: "True and pure fasting is abstinence from all evil. If you wish, O Christian, for the fast to be beneficial, then while you are fasting physically, fast also spiritually and fast continually. As you curb your stomach, in the same way curb your thoughts and your evil passions. Let your mind fast from vain thoughts. Let your mind fast from keeping account of evil. Let your will fast from your evil desire. Let your eyes fast from seeing evil: "Turn my eyes away from worthless things” (Psalm 118:37).
St. Tikhon exhorts us to a spiritual fast which represents the most profound aspect of fasting. Much more difficult, but totally necessary if we wish to fast profitably. For both physical fasting and spiritual fasting ought to yield spiritual fruit. And this fruit is peace of soul, and greater and more heartfelt prayer that brings us closer to God. We fast out of love for God and the desire to feel Him near. We fast in order to gain the light our minds need to understand spiritual and earthly problems. We fast in order to experience what the Savior Himself went through in the wilderness, and then told us that "man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” We fast from earthly things in order to nourish ourselves on spiritual things.
St. Tikhon concludes his brief remarks on fasting with an insistent exhortation: "Repent, and cease from every evil word, deed, and thought, adopt the virtues, and you will always be fasting before God.”
Let us seek to fast according to St. Tikhon’s challenge, and to prepare ourselves appropriately for the feast of our Lord’s Nativity!