Why do we fast, and from what do we fast, before Pascha?
We fast before the Feast of Feasts, the Resurrection of Christ, to prepare ourselves for the celebration of Our Lord’s eternal victory over sin, corruption, and death, and in anticipation of our own resurrection. Hence, Great Lent is a time of preparation, during which we focus on and anticipate the resurrection of Our Savior by fasting, prayer, and almsgiving.
When we fast, we “shift our focus” from ourselves to God and others, spending less time worrying about what to eat, when to eat, how much to eat, and so on in order to use our time in increased prayer and caring for the poor. We learn through fasting that we indeed can gain control over those things that we too often allow to control us—and for many people, food is a controlling factor. [We live in the only society in which an entire TV network is devoted to food!] While fasting from food, however, we are also challenged to fast from sin, from gossip, from jealousy, from anger, and from those other things which, while well within our control, we all too often allow to control us.
Further, just as we would refrain from eating a lot before going to an expensive restaurant for dinner—if we “ruin our appetite” we will hardly enjoy our dinner—so too we fast before Holy Pascha in order to more fully feast and celebrate on the Feast itself.
During the Great Fast—and all lenten seasons—we are called upon to refrain from meat, dairy, fish, wine, and olive oil. At the same time, we are challenged, within this framework, to fast to the best of our ability, and to do so consistently. If we must modify the extent to which we fast within this framework, it is of course possible, but in every instance our fasting should be consistent and regular, for Christ does not see fasting as an option, but as a “must.” In the Gospel of Saint Matthew, Our Lord says, “WHEN you fast, do not be like the hypocrites,” not “IF you fast” or “IF YOU CHOOSE to fast.”