Fasting is spiritually useless if prayer is not intensified and almsgiving is absent. I see fasting as the connection between prayer and alsmgiving between the interior and exterior. So, I am re-reading St. Paul's magnificent Letter to the Romans. Today I reached chapter six, in which Paul writes about the meaning and effects of baptism. Baptism, the apostle writes, makes us dead to sin "but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (v. 11). "Therefore," he continues, "do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts" (v. 12).
In my experience, nothing is more anti-climactic than the moment immediately following giving into a lust. I will illustrate by sticking with the topic of fasting. As I mentioned, I am free in this regard. To fast not only means to be hungry, but oftentimes to never desire food more than when I am intentionally and freely doing with none, less, and/or eschewing certain foods. If I obligate myself on pain of sin, that is, I fail to see myself as free this regard, it becomes a true temptation, a giving into moralism, which is seeking to keep the rules for the sake of keeping the rules and not for a greater end. So, the most important thing, when I feel like giving up, is to remind myself that I am doing this because I choose to do it, which has a way of bringing me back to why I am doing it, that greater end. However, whenever I give in I am beset by remorse because the fulfillment I seek, even through my body, is certainly not to be found in a Little Debbie's snack cake, or a McDouble cheesburger!
The power of sin over our bodies is not an inevitability. Rather, "it is something we allow by our free will." According to ancient Christian tradition, to which we turn to learn the truth about God, ourselves, and the world, the aspect of human nature most damaged in Fall and "the first thing Christ heals" is our will. Christ's "healing enables us to make right choices, especially against sin." Our mortal bodies demand pleasure, at times our bodies scream for pleasure, pleasure for its own sake. Even these burning desires, if we examine them, are nothing except our desire for what is ultimate, our metaphysical rebellion against the contingency of the world, pointing us to what will truly satisfy.
Spiritual disciplines, like fasting, but only when undertaken freely, allow us to direct our bodies instead of being directed by them. The only power sin has over us is the power we give it. Hence, "[o]nly our own listlessness, dejection, indifference or laziness can defeat us." Christ, in and through the sacraments, beginning with baptism, restores our human nature to what God originally intended us to be (all quotes in the above paragraph are taken from the footnote on Romans 6:11 in the Orthodox Study Bible, pgs. 351 & 353). Belonging to Jesus Christ is what allows us to live this way.