The Nativity Fast begins on Tuesday, November 15, continuing for the 40 days which are completed with the Divine Liturgy on Christmas Day, December 25. “Little lent” is a time for prayer, fasting, and almsgiving as we reorient our lives once again to “the Orient from on High”, Jesus Christ. Prayer without fasting is incomplete. Fasting without prayer is dieting. Prayer and fasting without almsgiving is spiritual selfishness. Below are some very helpful sayings from the Desert Fathers which will help us to see the true nature and purpose of fasting:
Amma Syncletica said, “Just as bitter medicine drives out poisonous creatures, so prayer and fasting drive away evil thoughts” (#4).
Abba Poemen heard of someone who had gone all week without eating and lost his temper. The old man said, “He could do without food for six days, but could not do without anger” (#203).
Abba John the Dwarf said, “If a king wants to take possession of a city he begins by cutting off water and food and so his enemies, dying of hunger, submit to him. So it is with sinful passions. If a person goes about fasting and hungry, the enemies of his soul grow weak and surrender” (#3).
“It is better to eat meat and drink wine, and not eat the flesh of one’s neighbors through slander” (Hyperechius, 2).
One day St. Epiphanius…sent someone to Abba Hilarion with this request, “Come, let us see one another before we depart from this life.” When the old man came, they rejoice together in each other’s company. During their meal, they were brought a fowl. Epiphanius took it and gave it to Hilarion to eat. The old man said to him, “Forgive me, but since I received the habit, I have not eaten meat.” Then the bishop answered, “Since I took the habit, I have not allowed anyone to go to sleep with a complaint against me, and I have not gone to rest with a complaint against anyone.” The old man replied, “Forgive me, your way of life is better than mine” (#4).