“Our modern and secular culture knows little of the value of fasting as the ancients understood it. For us, any denial of our bodily desires is at the best unnecessary and at the worst unnatural and harmful. Abstaining from food is acceptable if part of a weight-loss program, for it has an acceptable goal in mind- namely, looking slim and sexy. But abstaining from food because it is Great and holy Friday (or some other fast day) with the goal in mind of pleasing the Lord is less acceptable to our culture.
This means that between the weight-loss programs in our culture and the ascetic fasting in all ancient cultures, a great gulf has been fixed. The ancients would have considered the goal of looking slim and sexy frivolous and unworthy, and our present culture considers ancient fasting odd and perhaps pathological.
Nonetheless, the ancients were right about this- as all monastics will attest. Fasting (that is fasting from food; sexual abstinence during such fasts was assumed) brought with it inner power and the possibility of heightening ones spiritual powers and entering a higher realm. Such requirements seem odd to our culture. If God wants to share something with someone, why doesn’t He just do it? But this did not seem odd to the ancients. They knew that man lived in a world of distraction and shadows, the eyes of his heart and mind constantly turning this way and that. In this state he as in no shape to receive and appreciate higher and shattering truths.
Our culture would view any such revelation in terms of sharing facts, information, and data- as something to be received by the mind. Not much inner preparation is required to receive delivery of such information; it would be akin to simply downloading and opening a computer file.
In fact, however, revelation from God is never simply about facts. Divine revelation fills and breaks and shatters and heals and rebuilds the heart, working like saving leaven to eventually transform one’ entire life.”
-Fr. Lawrence Farley from his excellent new book “One Flesh Salvation Through Marriage in the Orthodox Church”.