|This article forms part of the series|
|Baptism - Chrismation |
Confession - Eucharist
Marriage - Ordination
|Nepsis - Metanoia |
Hesychia - Phronema
Mysticism - Nous
|Chastity - Obedience |
Stability - Fasting
Poverty - Monasticism
|Humility - Generosity |
Chastity - Meekness
Temperance - Contentment
|Worship - Veneration |
Prayer Rule - Jesus Prayer
Relics - Sign of the Cross
|Apostolic Fathers |
The Ladder of Divine Ascent
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Fasting in the Orthodox Church is usually considered abstaining from certain foods during specific days or periods. However, fasting means more than simply abstaining from foods. It also may include refraining from marital relations and limiting entertainment, for instance. Certainly, it is a time when there is increased focus on refraining from evil actions and thoughts.
Types of fasting
Orthodox Christians usually have one three types of fasting in mind when they speak of fasting.
Ascetic fasting is done by a set monastic rules. These rules exist not as a Pharisaic "burden too hard to bear" (Luke 11:46), but as an ideal to strive for. Ascetic fast rules are not an end in themselves, but are means to spiritual perfection crowned in love, and aided by prayer. The rules mainly consists of total abstinence from certain foods and a substantial dietary reduction.
Eucharistic or liturgical fast
Eucharistic fasting does not refer to the normal abstinence in preparation for receiving the Holy Communion; it means fasting from the holy Eucharist celebration itself. This is done during the week days of Great Lent along with an ascetic fast.
This is a total abstinence from all food and drink for a short duration. This is done for one or even just part of a day, for spiritual concentration on something that is to come. For example, the eve of Christmas, or the time before receiving Holy Communion. It is an ultimate last preparation for a Great Feast or decisive spiritual event.
Extended fasting periods
There are four main periods of extended fasting:
- The Great Lent is the period of six weeks preceding Holy Week in anticipation of the Feast of Feasts, Pascha, followed by the fasting of Holy Week. Great Lent is preceded by the Meatfast, that starts on the Monday after the Sunday of the Last Judgment through Cheesefare Sunday.
- The Nativity Fast (or Advent; also called St. Philip's Fast, coming immediately after his feast on November 14), is the period from November 15 to December 24 (forty days) in anticipation of Christmas, the Festival of the Nativity of the Savior.
- The Apostles' Fast is the period from the Monday after All Saints (a variable feast) to the feast day of Ss. Peter and Paul on June 29.
- The Dormition Fast is the period of the first two weeks of August in anticipation of the feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos.
- Eve of Theophany (January 5)
- Beheading of St. John the Baptist (August 29)
- Elevation of the Holy Cross (September 14)
- All Wednesdays, except for Fast-Free Weeks, in remembrance of the betrayal of Christ by Judas Iscariot.
- All Fridays, except for Fast-Free Weeks, in remembrance of Christ’s Crucifixion.
Orthodox Christians also regularly fast on Wednesdays and Fridays to commemorate, respectively, Christ's betrayal by Judas Iscariot and His Crucifixion. Monasteries additionally commemorate the angels on Mondays by fasting.
Preparation for receiving the Holy Eucharist
For morning Liturgies, one keeps an absolute fast (no food or drink, even water) on arising from sleep until receiving Communion. Some also abstain from meat and dairy after the preceding Vespers. For afternoon or evening Liturgies, one should keep an absolute fast for at least six hours.
One should always check with the primary celebrant of the Divine Liturgy to verify his expectations regarding preparation for reception of the Eucharist.
Because the celebrating priest or deacon will commune and then consume the remaining Eucharist, he observes an absolute fast before every Liturgy he celebrates.
The fasting discipline may be relaxed, if necessary, when one is travelling or ill. Additionally, exceptions should be made when receiving another's hospitality, because the focus should not be on outward shows of piety, but rather accepting the love and generosity of others. Orthodox Christians should not fast to the detriment of their health. Fasting is a means to an end and not an end in itself. If you are new to fasting, ask your priest for guidance before you begin.
After certain feasts, Orthodox Christians do not fast, in order to show their joy for the feast.
Fasting related to foods has many different degrees. During Great Lent, Wednesdays, and Fridays, daily fasting is at its most strict, abstaining from:
- meat (anything with a backbone),
- dairy products (eggs are in this or the previous category),
- olive oil, and
Additionally, during Great Lent, the size and number of meals, as well as the selection, are smaller. On many other feast or fast days, particular foods are avoided or permitted, in lesser degrees of fasting.
Fasting also partners with prayer, almsgiving and confession, readying the whole person like an athlete, body, mind, and soul, for an upcoming feast, similar to the way in which Orthodox Christians would hope to be properly prepared for the Second Coming. For this reason, during fasting seasons, no marriages should take place. Another important part of any fasting period is going to Confession.
History and Tradition
The Christians inherited the tradition of fasting from the Jews. Jesus, too, gave examples of fasting to his disciples, most notably preceding his forty days in the desert when he was tempted by the devil (Matt 4:1-11).
"...you fast on Wednesdays and Fridays" (Didache 8:1). That Wednesday and Friday fasting was general practice in early Christianity is attested by the first or early second century writing known as The Didache, or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles; outside of the Eastern Church it was not generally recognized that this fasting tradition had been preserved unchanged from such an early date until the discovery of Greek and Latin mss. of The Didache in 1873 and 1900 respectively.