Our Church adopted fasting from the Old Testament. Christ Himself fasted and preached about its significance (Matt. 6:16; Mark 2:20 and 9:29). The early Church also observed fasting (Acts 13:2; 14:23 and II Cor. 2: 27). From very early times we have documents (such as Didache of the 12 Apostles) substantiating the early establishment of regular fast days, such as Wednesday and Friday: these two days are symbolical and commemorative of Christ’s betrayal and crucifixion. By the end of the fourth Century, the forty-day (Great) Lenten fast was widespread. Later the Church also adopted other fasting periods.
Fasting, accompanied by prayer and charity, is a way of disciplining our entire person, not just the body. Contrary to what most people think, it underlies – rather than undermining – the significance of the body towards the glory it also contributes. Furthermore, fasting is a small way of sharing in contemporary suffering throughout the world.
In our ecclesiastical calendar, fasting usually precedes great feasts and acts as a preparation for these events.
Fasts Prescribed By The Church
Wednesday and Friday:
Every Wednesday and Friday is to be observed with fasting unless some important Feast takes precedence over the fast. (See exceptions noted below.)
The fast on Wednesday is in memory of the betrayal of the Lord, and the fast on Friday is in remembrance of His Passion and Death upon the Cross.
Special Fast Days:
August 29: the Beheading of St John the Baptist;
September 14: the Exaltation of the Holy Cross;
January 5: the Eve of Epiphany.
Lent begins forty days before Palm Sunday, on the Monday after Cheese-Fare Sunday and lasts until the evening preceding Palm Sunday through to Holy Saturday. On 25 March and on Palm Sunday, Orthodox faithful are allowed to have fish.
The Fast of the Holy Apostles:
The Fast of the Holy Apostles begins on the Monday after All Saints’ Sunday (the Sunday next after Pentecost) and lasts until 29 June, the Feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul. This Fasts varies in length according to the date of Pascha (Easter).
The Fast of the Theotokos:
The Fast, which precedes the Feast of the Dormition of the All-Holy Theotokos, begins on August 1 and lasts until the day of the Feast 15 August.
The Fast of the Nativity:
The Fast, which precedes Christmas, begins on 15 November and lasts until the day of the Feast of the Nativity, 25 December.
Periods When Fasting Is Not Allowed
The Church does not allow fasting during the following periods:
- The week following the Sunday of the Pharisee and Publican;
- The week following Meat-flesh is required during this week but no other fasting);
- The week following Holy Pascha (Easter);
- The week following Pentecost;
- The period between Nativity and the Eve of Epiphany;
- All Saturdays, excepting Holy Saturday, and all Sundays (wine and oil are always permitted on these days even during Great Lent, but meat, fish and dairy products maybe restricted.
Fasting can be difficult for many and there are many who are unsure of how to prepare appropriate foods to provide the necessary nourishment for the body. Below are a couple of sites that offer recipes to help with preparing good fasting food.