Book Notes: The Ways to the Heart. Chapter 7: Fasting in the Old and the New Testaments

Les Chemins du cœurLes Chemins du cœur :
l’enseignement spirituel des Pères de l’Église
= The Ways to the Heart:
The Spiritual Teaching of the Church Fathers
by Archimandrite Placide Deseille
Monastère Saint-Antoine-Le-Grand, 2012
188 pages

Click on the book cover and scroll down to read notes from previous chapters

Chapter 7 is an excellent and comprehensive presentation on fasting. It is entitled, “Humiliate your soul through fasting”.
So I translated it in English and decided to wait for this week to share it with you.
Indeed, in the Orthodox Church, today is what we call Clean Monday, the beginning of Great Lent, that we observe with a very strict fast.
I will share this chapter in three times, so be sure to come back tomorrow and Wednesday to read it all.


Before the Exile: just one fasting day – Yom Kippur
After the Exile: 4 days added, to commemorate Israel’s hardships.
There were also many occasional fasts days, both private and public.
Fasting was an essential element of Israel’s religious life.

  • Fasting was essentially a penitential rite: sin is considered as a sign of unfaithfulness to the Covenant. It is restored through repentance.
    Fasting, accompanied with the traditional manifestations of mourning, is the expression of deep repentance
  • Fasting was closely connected with the idea of supplication.
    A religious person in Israel could not consider urgent prayer without fasting.
    The idea is to humiliate one’s soul to express an attitude of total and trusting surrender to God. Fasting is the typical behavior of whoever counts only on God’s help.
  • Fasting is also preparing to meet God, as illustrated in Moses’ forty days and forty nights of fasting. It is a sign of the human awe in front of God’s majesty and holiness.
  • However, as highlighted by the prophets, fasting cannot be a mere formal act. It must be accompanied with inner dispositions, such as love of neighbors and of social justice.

Hence, fasting, prayer, and almsgiving all went together. This has remained so in the Christian tradition.



Fasting then took on a new meaning, in relation to the person of Christ and to the gift of the Holy Spirit.

  • Christ’s fast
    Christ is the new Moses. He prepared for His ministry and for the accomplishment of His pascal mystery through fasting. It shows hence that fasting is essential for illumination and theosis.
    Through His fast, Christ also showed His trust in His Father.
  • The disciples’ fast
    Matthew 9:14-17 shows that the meaning of the fast is no longer connected to Israel’s hardship, but to Christ’s pascal mystery.
  • Fasting in the Apostolic Church
    – In the Acts of the Apostles, we see the disciples usually associated fasting with prayer, for instance before making an important decision.
    – In Saint Paul’s epistles: led by the Holy Spirit, the Christian is free in regard to the law. His practice of the fast is not incompatible with an authentic spiritual freedom.

Come this way to read next part: Fasting in the Tradition of the Church


Any reflection on fasting?


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