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At the end of February, we entered that beautiful time of the year known as Great Lent. During this 40-day period that precedes Holy Week, we should strive to turn our attention away from mundane and ordinary things…and toward God. One of the most effective ways to do this is by practicing the spiritual discipline (or exercise) known as fasting. By abstaining from certain foods, we learn the important virtue of self-discipline. By controlling what we eat, we hopefully can control other behaviors in our life and learn to become more God-centered rather than so self-centered.

When we Orthodox Christians fast, we eliminate certain types of foods from our diet, specifically, meat, fish, dairy products, oil and wine. For those who have never attempted to fast for 40 days however, this drastic change in diet might be too difficult to accomplish all at once. That is why I often recommend that to avoid disappointment and failure in this important spiritual exercise, it might be better to try to work up to the total fasting regimen in stages. First meat, then fish and so on.

The goal is to eat less and more simple foods. In doing so, we hope to turn our attention away from material things like food, toward the more spiritual side of our life. In other words, by watching what we eat, perhaps we can learn to watch what we say, think and do.

With all the emphasis today on satisfying our every desire instantly, fasting empowers us and gives us newfound strength by emphasizing self-discipline in an undisciplined age. Our soul is in need of a respite and some relief from the abrasive things it is subjected to every day. The behavior and examples we see today coming from television shows, movies, Washington D.C. and the financial world are hardly edifying for our soul. Besides that, there is the constant drone of the advertising world. When was the last time you saw a TV commercial that had a slogan like: “Buy this TV later, after you actually have the cash” or “Eat just one of our chips, so you can have some tomorrow?”

Fasting can give us newfound strength in our spiritual life because of the intimacy we gain with God as a result. Remember, the things of God are to be found in simplicity, selflessness, and in serving others.

Even if you have not started yet, it’s not too late. Try to make a sharp break from the way you normally do things this Lent. Try to start the fast tomorrow.