In Orthodox Christian tradition, fasting involves abstaining from certain foods and activities as a means of spiritual discipline and growth.
The purpose of fasting is to help individuals cultivate self-control, discipline, and humility, as well as to detach themselves from the material world and focus on their relationship with God. Fasting is viewed as a way to purify the body and soul, as well as to prepare oneself for prayer and spiritual contemplation.
The Orthodox Church observes a variety of fasts throughout the year, with the most rigorous being the Great Lenten Fast [‘የዐቢይ ጾም’] which lasts for 50 days leading up to Easter. During this time, Orthodox Christians abstain from meat, dairy, eggs, and other animal products, as well as from other activities such as entertainment.
While fasting is primarily a religious practice, it has been found to have numerous health benefits as well. In this article, we will explore the health benefits of fasting from both scientific and Orthodox Christian perspectives.
Health Benefits of Fasting – Scientific Perspective
- Weight Loss: Fasting has been found to be an effective way to lose weight. When you fast, your body begins to burn stored fat for energy, which can lead to weight loss.
- Improved Insulin Sensitivity: Fasting has been found to improve insulin sensitivity, which is the ability of your body to use insulin effectively. This can help to lower your risk of type 2 diabetes.
- Reduced Inflammation: Fasting has been found to reduce inflammation in the body. Inflammation is a key contributor to many chronic diseases, including heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease.
- Improved Heart Health: Fasting has been found to improve heart health by reducing blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and triglycerides.
- Increased Autophagy: Fasting has been found to increase autophagy, which is the process by which your body cleans out damaged cells and generates new ones. This can help to reduce your risk of cancer and other diseases.
Health Benefits of Fasting – Orthodox Christian Perspective
Fasting is a spiritual practice that is meant to help Christians grow closer to God. It is a time for prayer and reflection, and for focusing on spiritual matters rather than worldly ones. Matthew 6:16-18 – “Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.”
Fasting requires self-control, which is a virtue that is highly valued in the Orthodox Christian tradition. By practicing self-control during fasting, Christians can strengthen this virtue and apply it to other areas of their lives.
Isaiah 58:6 – “Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?”
Fasting is also a time for Christians to practice compassion and generosity towards others. By abstaining from food, Christians can save money and resources that can be used to help those in need. Luke 5:33-35 – “And they said unto him, Why do the disciples of John fast often, and make prayers, and likewise the disciples of the Pharisees; but thine eat and drink? And he said unto them, Can ye make the children of the bridechamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days.”
Fasting is a way for Christians to practice humility, by recognizing their own weaknesses and limitations. It is a reminder that humans are not self-sufficient, but rather depend on God for sustenance. Joel 2:12 – “Therefore also now, saith the Lord, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning:”
Fasting is also a way for Christians to come together as a community. Orthodox Christians often gather for prayer and worship during the fast, and share meals together after the fast is broken. Acts 14:23 – “And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.”
In conclusion, fasting has numerous health benefits from both a scientific and Orthodox Christian perspective. From a scientific perspective, fasting has been found to promote weight loss, improved insulin sensitivity, reduced inflammation, improved heart health, and increased autophagy. From an Orthodox Christian perspective, fasting has spiritual benefits, promotes self-control, compassion, humility, and community. The Bible encourages fasting as a means to draw closer to God, and numerous verses speak to its importance. While fasting may be difficult for some, it is a practice that can lead to many positive physical and spiritual outcomes.
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