The Fast and Our Time

greenfield*Below is an excerpt from an interview with Rastko Jovic, Docent at the Theological Faculty in Belgrade, from the April 1, 2017 issue of the Patriarchate magazine Pravoslavlje:

It would be customary for us, in the beginning, to hear of the appearance of the fast and its Biblical foundation?

-In the Old Testament they fasted  for various reasons, for the forgiveness of sins, or when they needed to communicate with the spirits of the dead, or it was a petition to God to remove a misfortune that fell on the people, or it was a preparation for dialogue with God. Therefore, in the Old Testament there were a multitude of reasons for fasting. However, the fast is not something special and unique to the Jewish people, other nations had it as well, for instance the Phoenicians, but also ancient Greeks. Early Christianity, therefore, moved between various different interpretations of the fast, but it also made radical changes. Unlike the Jews of the Old Testament, Christianity didn’t have a division between clean and unclean foods. This created a great change which allowed for a social interaction between Christians who converted from Judaism and those who who had pagan backgrounds. Also, this allowed the mission of the Church to be more successful and penetrating. And the fast which was taken from Judaism, now received a new meaning of which we have evidence early on. And so The Shepard of Hermas speaks of the fast the saving of money which later need to be given to the poor, while Aristides from the II century writes to Emperor Hadrian that the Christians fast two or three days a week in order to secure food for the needy. Already here we see great changes and the reshaping of the meaning of the fast, the fast becomes Christologically based.  Christ is the God-man, and as our Savior He, in His person, unites God and man, so that love for Christ is at the same time love God and man. And it is particularly out of this reason early Christianity strives to express this newness and through the newly conceiving of the fast. No longer do we fast in order to reduce the relationship between God and man, but now the fast gets a dimension of help and love for our neighbors, which was a living witness of the relationship with God. Of course, it is necessary to avoid idealizing and historical period, since the understanding of the fast was interpreted differently at different times in history in relation to the dominant theological views and energies within Christianity.