St John Chrysostom – On The 40 Day Fast
Why do we fast for forty days? Formerly many believers approached the sacraments without any particular preparation, especially at the time when Christ first gave them to us. But when the fathers realised the harm that could result from such neglect, they took counsel together and decreed that a period of forty days of fasting be set aside, during which the people would meet to pray and listen to the word of God. During this Lenten season each of the faithful would undergo a thorough purification by means of prayer, almsgiving, fasting, watching, repentant tears, confession, and every other remedial measure. Then when they had done all in their power to cleanse their consciences, they could approach the sacraments.
It is certain that the fathers did well to use such lenience in their desire to establish us in the habit of fasting. As we know, we could proclaim a fast throughout the whole year, and no one would pay any attention. But now, with a set time for fasting of only forty days, even the most sluggish need no exhortation to rouse themselves to undergo it; they accept it as a regular observance and recurring encouragement.
So, when someone asks you why you fast, you should not answer: because of the Passover, or because of the Cross. Neither of these is the reason for our fasting. We fast because of our sins, since we are preparing to approach the sacred mysteries. Moreover, the Christian Passover is a time for neither fasting nor mourning, but for great joy, since the Cross destroyed sin and made expiation for the whole world. It reconciled ancient enmities and opened the gates of heaven. It made friends of those who had been filled with hatred, restoring them to the citizenship of heaven. Through the Cross our human nature has been set at the right hand of the throne of God, and we have been granted countless good things besides.
Therefore we must not give way to mourning or sadness; we must rejoice greatly instead over all these blessings.
Source: Lychnos Feb 2019 / Mar 2019