When our Lord Jesus Christ instructed His disciples on how to fast, He said, "When you fast," not "IF you fast;" there is a difference. Fasting for God's people is obligatory tradition handed down to the church from our Lord Jesus Christ and his holy Apostles. Fasting must not be thought of as a burdensome duty but a wonderful opportunity to reach new, higher spiritual levels in your walk with Christ. Below are some brief helps to get you started in this most important spiritual discipline.
Archimandrite Markell (Pavuk) recommends people, who have decided to keep fast for the first time, to limit themselves gradually, but not only in food.
Such people should start small when fasting. First, one needs to fast (not to partake of meat and milk) at least on Friday. Thenfastone more day: onWednesday. During Great Lent one needs to complicate fasting further: to fast during the first and last weeks before Pascha. Thus, fasting will gradually turn into a habit. The soul itself will long for fasting for the sake of attainment of peace, love, and mercy.
Besides keeping oneself from non-Lenten food, one needs to drastically limit oneself in watching entertaining TV shows, listening to modern rock and pop music that relaxes and nurtures human arrogance and aggressiveness. At the beginning of the day one should definitely read morning prayers, at the end of the day – evening prayers (prayer books are sold at each Orthodox church for a fairly reasonable price). Fasting and praying are like two wings that cannot be separated by no means, for a person will not be able to fly anywhere having just one wing. A person, who fasts without prayer, without reconcilement with their neighbors, can greatly harm their health. It is essential to attend the house of God every Sunday and to confess one’s sins and to receive Holy Communion at least once a month. Every time the church holds some sort of meeting of “General staff for the salvation of the soul”, at which attentive people are given important instructions and benevolent force for implementing these instructions. There is another very important rule that God Himself gives to those, who fast, “When you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly” (Matthew 6:16-18). Thus, fasting is primarily a means to curb our proud and selfish self. Secondly, fasting is a means of attaining the unfeigned love for God and neighbors. The one, who rejects to fast afraid for one’s health and at the same time pointing at others, who do not fast, apparently prosperous and happy people, thereby shows one’s spiritual insensibility and ill health, indifference and ego. They will never be able to find peace in their souls and truly love other people, even if they resort to the services of best psychologists. With a judicious measure and with advice from an experienced priest only fasting brings peace, tranquility to the soul and sacrificial love for God and others. Translated by Julia Frolova