Revista Studii Teologice


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Valoarea spirituală a postului după Biblie

Autor(i): Petre Semen
In all the great religions, fasting appears as a self-imposed discipline, intended to restrain bodily impulses and awaken the spirit. A further motivation for fasting is man’s perennial desire to expiate part of his sins and, last but not least, to re-establish his bond with the divinity. The Bible repeatedly mentions fasting as a preparation undertaken by certain people in order to receive God’s commandments, by dream or revelation. King Saul fasts before seeking out the witch of Endor; both Moses and Elijah fast for forty days, before communicating with God on the mountain.
In today’s world, which seeks immediate gratification of all urges, fasting is regarded as the prerogative of the bigoted or the fundamentalist, or even rejected as harmful to the health. Although fasting was not prescribed by divine commandment, the faithful resorted to this spiritual exercise every time they felt it necessary: especially before undertaking any special enterprise, in order to gain further assurance of divine assistance (Jd 20, 26; Est 4, 16), in order to hasten forgiveness for a serious mistake (I Kings 21, 27), to receive healing from severe illness (2 Kings 12, 16; 22), to stop natural disasters (Joel 2, 12-17) or other kind of distress (Idt 4, 9-13), or to commemorate national misfortunes (1 Kings 7, 6; 2 Kings 1, 12; Za 8, 19).
During the exilic and post-exilic period, fasting acquired a formal, commemorative aspect. The prophet Zacharias informs us that in his time, public fasting was observed in order to commemorate the start of the siege of Jerusalem, in the tenth month, (cf. 4 Kings 25, 1), the fall of the city in the fourth month (verses 8-9; Ir 52, 6-7), the destruction of the Temple in the fifth month and the assassination of Gedaliah, the representative of Babilonian authority.
Judaic tradition mentions the most important fast, on the Kippur day, established by divine commandment: „In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month you are to practice self-denial and do no work, ... to make atonement for your sins.” (Lv 16, 29; 23, 27-32). Peculiar to this feast was a total fast day, from the evening of the ninth day to the evening of the tenth, to which penance added. Remission of sins came, however, by the archpriest’s intercession, who first atoned for himself then for the entire people.
The importance of Yom Kippur feast increased after the exile. Actually, following the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 587, when the legal atonement sacrifices could no longer be offered, the importance of fasting – as well as penance, as expiatory means - necessarily increased. This accounts for the more frequent mentions of fasting after the exile, even if it was imposed by spiritual or political leaders (Ezr 8, 21-22; 1 Mac 3, 47; 2 Mac 13, 21).
A Talmudic Yom Kippur prayer reads: „Master of the Universe! It was revealed before Thou that, when the sanctuary was still standing, whoever had sinned would bring animal offerings of fat and blood; thus they hoped for atonement. Now I observe the fasting that consumes my own fat and blood; accept my fat and blood as if sacrificed on Thy altar and grant me Thy grace!”
The prophet Isaiah shows that fasting must not be formally confined to the body, but it involves a deep inner change in the soul: „Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice, and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free, and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry, and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter; when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard... then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and He will say: Here I am.” (Is 58).
A New Testament model for fasting is Saint John the Baptist. In the Sermon on the Mountain, Christ mentions three religious deeds by which one manifests one’s faith: almsgiving or forgiveness, prayer and fasting. While the Pharisees and John’s disciples did indeed fast frequently (Mt 9, 19; Mk 2, 18; Lk 5, 33), even twice a week, especially on Mondays and Thursdays, the Lord does not disapprove of their fasting. Not even the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable was a negative example for his fasting twice a week. The Gospels show that Jesus did not impose on His disciples, or on us, any precise rules or special days for fasting; He did, however, stress that in order to cast out demons, they needed more prayer and fasting, otherwise the demons would not obey (Mk 9, 29).
St. John of the Ladder cautioned us that whoever is too full becomes unable to pray, just like fat birds cannot soar. Even abstinence from too much talking is necessary, as in any conversation it is virtually impossible not to commit some mistake, and the Bible warns us that we will have to give account before God for every idle word.
Fasting must not be a purpose in itself, but it must be employed as a very effective means of spiritual progress. It can be understood as an exercise for re-establishing the balance between body and soul.

Pagini: 27-38