[Tomorrow, the 16th day of Hatour in the Coptic calendar marks the beginning of the Blessed Fast of the Nativity. May God grant us an acceptable and fruitful fast before Him, to aid us in the salvation of our souls, and to the Glory of His Name.]
Fasting by itself is not a virtue. It is nothing at all. Without prayer, it becomes a bodily punishment that induces spiritual aridity and bad temper. The same is true of prayer; without fasting, it loses its power along with its fruits.
We may liken fasting to a burning coal and prayer to frankincense. Neither has value without the other, but together, the sweet savour of their incense fills the air.
Fasting calms the impulses of the flesh and quenches the fire of passion; it curbs the prattling of the tongue. Thus, it substantially prepares us for the work of prayer and the release of the spirit from slavery to the flesh. In this way, fasting allows the spirit to contemplate the truths of eternity and the age to come.
The following constitute spiritual meanings for fasting:
– Fasting is not a deprivation from certain kinds of food, but a voluntary abstinence from them.
– It does not humiliate the flesh, but refreshes the spirit.
– Nor does it fetter or imprison the senses; it releases them from all that hinders the contemplation of God.
– Fasting does not seek to repress the appetite for food. It renounces this appetite and, in renunciation, elevates it to relish the love of God.
– Fasting does not imply confinement or restriction, but aims at joy and magnanimity of heart.
[Fr. Matta El-Meskeen, Orthodox Prayer Life, Chapter 13]