The True Fast

Fasting as a religious rite had its beginnings far back in antiquity. In many forms of worship preceding the advent of Christianity, abstention from food for a longer or shorter period as an act of piety was formally observed. The ancient Hebrews set aside definite seasons for fasting, and a similar custom was established early in the development of the Christian church. This custom has been maintained throughout the centuries up to the present day. Polycarp spoke of such periods; and Irenæus, in the second century, told of the extreme severity of the rite of fasting as practiced by members of the early Christian church. As to the ancient origin of the rite, there seems to be no uncertainty; and it is of interest that an early Christian Father, Tertullian, in the third century, stated his conviction that fasting as a sacred rite had its origin "in paradise." The only period of fasting which he mentions was the Lenten season. While it appears that in the earliest times fasting was undertaken for the purposes of appeasing an angry deity, with the development of Christianity the observance took on a spiritual significance.

The name "Lent" has an interesting origin. The Anglo-Saxon root of the word meant originally to lengthen. Later in Old English it came by analogy to mean spring, the season of lengthening days. From a brief period of fasting at first observed, during the seventh century it came to include a period of forty days, corresponding, it is said, to the length of time spent by Christ Jesus in fasting in the wilderness. As Lent is now observed, it extends from Ash Wednesday until Easter. Apparently its purpose is as an occasion for growth in grace through a higher realization of man's oneness with the Father and for spiritual preparation for the celebration of the Passion of the Savior and the Easter festival. While Christ Jesus established no definite season of fasting, certain Christian peoples believe they have found in the gospels a warrant for the continued observance of the custom. Christian Scientists understand, however, that he regarded fasting as a spiritual rite to be undertaken at all times, rather than as a festival to be periodically observed. No better exposition of his views, perhaps, is found anywhere in the four gospels than in the second chapter of Mark, where, in reply to the query put by the followers of John the Baptist, "Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but thy disciples fast not?" it is recorded that in his reply he implied that so long as the bridegroom is present there is no need for fasting, but when absent, "Then shall they fast in those days." This passage considered in the light of the definition of "bridegroom" in "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" (p. 582) is especially illuminating. "Bridegroom," Mrs. Eddy states, means "spiritual understanding; the pure consciousness that God, the divine Principle, creates man as His own spiritual idea, and that God is the only creative power."

Further light is had on this subject in the reply of Jesus, also recorded in Mark, conveying the great lesson that the fast was for the purpose of restoring the spiritual vision, of reestablishing the presence of good. When the disciples asked why they had been unable to heal the deaf and dumb youth, he replied, "This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting." Surely the fast to which he refers is something vastly different from a mere abstention from the use of food and from the common pursuits and pleasures of mankind. It was, manifestly, withdrawal from the physical senses with their false testimony regarding life, man, and the universe, to find within true consciousness the facts of being, God and His spiritual universe. It was the finding of God as divine Mind and loving Him subjectively. In support of this view is the statement by Mrs. Eddy on page 220 of Science and Health, "The belief that either fasting or feasting makes men better morally or physically is one of the fruits of 'the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,' concerning which God said, 'Thou shalt not eat of it.'"

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Spiritual Sense
March 25, 1922

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