General articles on fasting
After prayer, the Holy Fathers attach a particular importance to fasting. They understand the soul and body as one entity and treat them as such in all of their manifestations. The soul has a life-giving, as well as a ‘death-giving’ influence on the body and vice versa.
There is no fulfillment of the human character unless all the components of the soul (intellect, will and emotion) and of the body, act together. This is impossible to achieve without fasting, both physically and spiritually.
Fasting does not mean that we are merely to abstain from certain foods. In the first place it implies a renunciation of evil thoughts, desires and actions.
Physical fasting is certainly an important means of successful combat against sin, especially the sin of pride, which is the “mother of all sins.”
The body which sins together with the soul should also share virtue with the soul.
Real fasting is above all abstention from every type of greed, lust and frivolousness. The Holy Fathers say that, unless we fast spiritually, God will not accept our physical fast. Fasting has a primarily spiritual meaning and is intrinsically linked to our whole spiritual life. Real fasting helps a person achieve inner peace and tranquility. It is when he achieves this peace that one learns that his salvation lies only in God’s hands, in His all-mercifulness.
The founder of Christian asceticism, our Savior Jesus Christ, strengthened Himself with a lengthy fast before setting out to work on the salvation of the human race. All ascetics also used fasting as a means of helping them embark on the journey of the Cross to serve the Lord. By fasting, we do not intend to destroy our bodies, but rather to destroy our passions.
Fasting teaches us to eat smaller quantities of food rather than simply to eat more infrequently. It is unreasonable to wait until a certain moment of the day, then rush to the table and insatiably devour enormous quantities of food, fasting or not. We should avoid being choosy and satisfying our palates. Foods should be simple, not spicy and exotic.
Food should be taken on a regular basis and in such quantities that the body can draw benefit from it to be our ally in virtue and good works. Other wise it may happen that the soul also loses its strength when the body weakens.
How to fast
The Holy Orthodox Church has established four fasts during the year: Great Lent (7 weeks before Pascha), the Apostles’ Fast, the Fast of the Dormition and the Nativity Fast. There are also fasting days during the year – every Wednesday and Friday (except during Bright Week and the week after Nativity) and on certain feastdays: the day before Theophany, the Beheading of John the Baptist and on the feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross.
On this page we would like to present a guideline for fasting, as prescribed by the Orthodox Church. Sources from the Serbian Orthodox Church have been used.
Some fasts are stricter than others. Great Lent is the strictest Fast, together with the Fast of the Dormition of the Theotokos. During these two fasts, oil is allowed only on Saturdays and Sundays and on certain feasts. For example, on the Feast of the Holy Martyrs of Sevastopole, oil and wine are allowed. On Palm Sunday, fish, oil and wine are permitted, as well as on the joyous feast of the Annunciation, unless it falls during the last week of Lent – Passion Week. During the Dormition fast, fish is allowed only on the feast of the Transfiguration of our Lord.
The Apostles’ and Nativity fasts are more relaxed. Oil is allowed on Tuesdays, Thursdays and weekends, whereas Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays are no-oil days. There are certain feasts during which fish and wine are also allowed: the Presentation of the Theotokos, the feast of St Nicholas etc.
There are certain days during which we abstain from food completely, or eat only bread and water. This is usually done on Holy Friday and on the first three days of Great Lent.
These are the basic guidelines, but every Christian should always consult his or her priest or spiritual father before the beginning of a fast. Not everyone can take upon himself the strict rule of abstention, especially the very young, the very old, the sick, pregnant and lactating women and those who engage in hard physical labor.