Fasting is a willing abstinence or reduction from some or all food, drink, or both, for a period of time. An absolute fast or dry fasting is normally defined as abstinence from all food and liquid for a defined period, usually a period of 24 hours, or a number of days. Water fasting allows drinking water but nothing else. Other fasts may be partially restrictive, limiting only particular foods or substances. A fast may also be intermittent in nature. Fasting practices may preclude intercourse and other activities as well as food.
The purpose of fasting is to gain mastery over oneself and to conquer the passions of the flesh. It is to liberate oneself from dependence on the things of this world in order to concentrate on the things of the Kingdom of God. It is to give power to the soul so that it would not yield to temptation and sin. According to Saint Seraphim, fasting is an “indispensable means” of gaining the fruit of the Holy Spirit in one’s life.
Persian King Artaxerxes’ Hebrew cup-bearer, Nehemiah, fasted and prayed after he learned that Jerusalem lay in ruins (Nehemiah 1:4). He confessed his own sins and the sins of his community to God. When Queen Esther understood that all the Jews in the kingdom of Persia were to be killed on a certain day, she commanded her people to fast and pray with her for three days. Only then would she go before the king and ask for his help.