Fasting and Humility of Soul

March 01, 2013

Fasting and Humility of Soul

An Excerpt from the Writings of St. Athanasius the Great

Many, crowding to the fast, pollute themselves in the thoughts of their hearts, sometimes by doing evil against their brethren, sometimes by daring to defraud. And, to mention nothing else, there are many who exalt themselves above their neighbours, thereby causing great mischief. For the boast of fasting did no good to the Pharisee, although he fasted twice in the week1, only because he exalted himself against the publican. In the same manner the Word blamed the children of Israel on account of such a fast as this, exhorting them by Isaiah the Prophet and saying, ‘This is not the fast and the day I have chosen, that a man should humble his soul; not even if thou shouldest bow down thy neck like a hook, and shouldest strew sackcloth and ashes under thee; neither thus shall ye call the fast acceptable2.’ That we may be able to show what kind of persons we should be when we fast, and of what character the fast should be, listen again to God commanding Moses, and saying, as it is written in Leviticus, ‘And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, In the tenth day of this seventh month, there shall be a day of atonement; a convocation, and a holy day shall it be to you;and ye shall humble your souls, and offer whole burnt-offerings unto the Lord3.’ And afterwards, that the law might be defined on this point, He proceeds to say: ‘Every soul that shall not humble itself, shall be cut off from the people4.’

St. Athanasius of Alexandria. Select Works and Letters. Edited by Archibald Robertson. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series. Vol. 4. 2nd ed. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1999. pp. 507-8. Online text available at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

  1. Luke xviii. 12.
  2. Is. lviii. 5.
  3. Levit. xxiii. 26, sq.
  4. Levit. xxiii. 29.




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