“While Christ Himself was fasting in the wilderness, He defeated our tempter by force and took away his power against mankind”

Moses fasted for many days. Awaken your minds, I entreat You, and lift them up at this opportune time, in company with Moses when he went up the mountain towards God. In this way may you start off afresh on your ascent, and be lifted up together with Christ, who did not merely go up a mountain but up to heaven, taking us with Him. Moses fasted for forty days on the mountain and according to the Scriptures he saw God, not darkly but face to face (Exod. 24:18). He talked to Him as someone would speak to his friend (Exod. 33:11, Deut. 34:10). He learnt from God and taught everyone about Him: that He is He Who eternally Is (Exod. 3:14) and will never cease to be, that He summoned what did not exist into existence, brought all things out of non-being and will not let them fall back into non-existence. In the beginning He brought the whole visible creation out of nothing all at once, just by a nod and His will. “In the beginning”, it says, “God created the heaven and the earth” (Gen. i:i), not empty of course, nor without all that lies between them. The earth was interspersed with water, and both were full of air, animals and plants of various kinds, whereas the heavens were full of the various lights and fires, from which the universe is formed. …

At the creation first one thing was brought into existence, then another, then another and so on in turn. Last of all came man (Gen. 1:26), who was worthy of God’s greater honor and consideration both before and after his creation. All the visible world was made before him for his sake. Immediately after the foundation of the world, before he existed, the kingdom of heaven was made ready for him. A divine Counsel concerning im preceded him, and he was created by God’s hand and in His image. He did not take his whole being from matter or the visible world, like the other living creatures did, but only his body. His soul he took from the heavenly realms, from God Himself when He breathed life into him in a way that defies description (Gen. 2:7). Man was a great wonder surpassing all else, towering above every­thing, superior to all. Man was capable of knowing God, as well as receiving Him and declaring Him, and was most certainly the highest achievement of the Creator’s sublime majesty. He had paradise for his home, specially planted by God (Gen. 2:8ff). There it was his lot to have sight of God, speak to Him face to face and receive a counsel and command­ment from Him concerning the fasting appropriate to that place (Gen. 2:16-17). If he kept and observed this, he would remain free from death, toil and pain for ever.

Alas, he chose the treason of the serpent, the originator of evil, in preference to this commandment and counsel, and broke the decreed fast. Instead of eternal life he received death and instead of the place of unsullied joy he received this sinful place full of passions and misfortunes, or rather, he was sentenced to Hades and nether darkness. Our nature would have stayed in the infernal regions below the lurking places of the serpent who initially beguiled it, had not Christ come. He started off by fasting (Matt. 4:2, Luke 4:2, cf. Mark 1: 13) and in the end abolished the serpent’s tyranny, set us free and brought us back to life, as Moses foretold (Deut. 18:15, 18-19, Acts 3:22; 7:37). After fasting on the mountain Moses received tablets, the work of God (Exod. 31:18), and later received again, on a second set of tablets, the law written by the finger of God (Exod. 34:1-4). He instructed the holy nation in the law and by his work he hinted at, and showed a glimpse of, Christ’s future ministry. As Moses appeared as the liberator and savior of Abraham’s race, so later Christ did the same for the whole human race.

Elijah, when he too had fasted forty days (I Kgs. 19:8), saw the Lord on the mountain, not in fire, as the elders of Israel had earlier (Exod. 24:9-10, Deut. 5:23), but passing beyond the fiery vision by his God-pleasing fast, he saw the Lord in the sound of a light passing breeze (I Kgs. 19:12 LXX). He had approached more closely to our Lord’s words, “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). For the sound prefigured the Truth and the preaching of Him who is Truth Itself, which rang out round all the ends of the earth, and the passing breeze prefigured the Spirit and grace.

From this vision while fasting Elijah also received power to anoint a prophet in his stead and bestow upon him a double portion of the grace he possessed, and to mount up above the earth in mid-air (2 Kgs. 2:9-11). This pointed clearly towards Christ’s ascension from earth to heaven which was to happen later (Acts 1:9-11). While Christ Himself was fasting in the wilderness, He defeated our tempter by force and took away his power against mankind (Matt. 4:1-11, Mark 1:13, cf. Luke 4:1-13). Having at last put down his tyranny, he set our nature free and handed him over for sport to all those willing to live according to His Gospel. In this way He fulfilled the words of the prophets and by His works inscribed grace and truth upon the symbolic events which took place in ancient times.

You see the benefits of fasting, and how it has made us worthy of so many great gifts? Even from its opposite, unlimited eating and self-indulgence, it is possible to see the advantage of fasting. For the last two weeks our city was given over to gluttony and lack of self-restraint, and straight away we had troubles, shouting, fights, disturbances, shameless songs and obscene laughter. But this week when the fast came it made everything more honorable. It took us away from frivolity’s expensive cares, stopped us tolling for the sake of our useless stomachs, set us instead to works of repentance and persuaded us not to labor for the food which perishes but for the food which endures to eternal life.

St Gregory Palamas

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