How to fast

There are different degrees of fasting that have been passed down to us. Remember these are not laws or rules that we are to blindly follow but are proven practices that can help us come closer to God. Orthodoxy is not legalistic or rule oriented. The rules or guidelines that have been established for us are there for our spiritual benefit. We have to use them with the appropriate attitude to receive the benefit. In this matter be sure to follow the guidance of your spiritual father. We must beware of putting too much attention on the physical aspects before we have matured in our inner work because this can lead us to thinking that we do all the work and then forget that is the grace of God that we are trying to come in union with and to follow. We can become proud of our physical achievements and lose our contact with God because of our sinfulness and self-centeredness. Fasting is not a contest but it is an important self-discipline that will help us come closer to God when practiced with the proper attitude.

Levels of Fasting

The most strict way of fasting to to abstain from all food.

The next level is to abstain from all animal products such as meat and dairy products along with oil and wine.

Then the next level is to allow wine and oil.

Then to allow fish.

The most common fast today is to abstain from the eating of meat. But this is not what the tradition of the church suggests we do. The Weekday fast by Tradition and Canon is to abstain from all animal products such as meat and dairy products along with oil and wine. But abstainng from meat may be a starting point as we are so attached to eating of meat in our current culture compared to the earlier periods of Church history when eating meat was considered a luxury. So for us today this may be a difficult first step to take, but don’t end here.

Begin your practice of fasting by starting the practice of the weekly fast on Wednesday and Friday. Make it a rule. This will make you think during the week about you purpose to come closer to God. It will reinforce you prayer life. It will also prepare you for participating in the sacrament of Holy Communion each Sunday which will further support your spiritual growth.

The Church publishes a calendar which has the traditional guidelines for each day on fasting. Once you have succeeded in abstaining from meat on these days then you can look at this calendar and make your fast more strict.

How Do We Fast During Lent?

Since the earliest days of the Church Great Lent has been prescribed as a fasting period for Orthodox Christians. The Fast in included in the Canons of the First Ecumenical Council. Such an action shows the importance our Church Fathers put on this period of fasting for our spiritual benefit. Today many say this is only for monks, but the Canon is clear that it applies to ALL Orthodox Christians. The monks often choose an even more strict guideline for their fast. The actions of the Council show us that the fast was a common Tradition from the earliest of times that they affirmed in the regulations of the Church.

The fast was originally much stricter than we know of it today. Of course, the general diet was much simpler then. Then, bread and water were them basis of the fast if not total abstention.

Included on this page is the common set of guidelines for fasting during this period. Many ask if it is OK to substitute non-dairy products for dairy products such as soy milk and other such substitutes. Usually this is accepted as it indicates that a family is making an effort to change their habits to the best of their ability. Not everyone today is capable of the fast that the early Christians undertook. We might say that we are weaker in our self-discipline and our bodies are used to a more complex diet. While the strict fast will yield the maximum spiritual benefits, each one must determine their own guidelines for the fast and then to apply their self-discipline to hold too it.

While we know that a fast is not for the purpose of our health, modern science has much evidence of the health benefits of fasting. One will find that they have more energy and that it is a period of cleansing of the body. Now there are certainly cases where due to medical reasons fasting is not to be followed such as a woman who is pregnant. Even in the early days a woman who was pregnant was not permitted to fast. Fasting is not for the purpose of punishing our bodies, its for our spiritual growth, so the Church understands these needs. You should undertake the fast with the guidance of your spiritual confessor.

We also know that the fast is not just about limiting the foods we eat. John Chrysostom was very eloquent in describing the broader meaning of the fast. He writes: “It is possible for one who fasts not to be rewarded for his fasting. How? When indeed we abstain from foods, but do not abstain from iniquities; when we do not eat meat, but gnaw to pieces the homes of the poor; when we do not become drunkards with wine, but we become drunkards with evil pleasures; when we abstain all the day, but all the night we spend in unchastened shows. Then what is the benefit of abstention from foods, when on the one hand you deprive your body of a selected food, but on the other offer yourself unlawful food?”

As we said in an earlier article on why we fast, fasting is a time for withdrawal from our normal busy secular way of life. It is intended to be a period were we simplify our life so we can devote more time to prayer and charity. Its a time for repentance, confession and partaking of Holy Communion. Part of the reason for limiting food is to spend less time cooking, and to spend less on our food so we will have extra monies to help those in need.

Review the fasting regulations of the Church and make some specific plans for your fast. Try and follow the schedule prescribed to the best of your ability. So we leave you with the question, How do you fast?

 

Regulations on Fasting

Sundown on Cheese Fare Sunday to Pascha

Abstinance of:

Meat/Meat Products
Dairy Products
Fish/Shellfish
Olive Oil
Wine

NO Abstinance of:

Fruit
Vegetables
Vegetable Products

Saturdays* & Sundays throughout the Great Fast

*(All but Great Saturday on which a strict fast is kept)

Abstinance of:

Meat/Meat Products
Dairy Products
Fish

NO Abstinance of:

Shellfish
Fruit
Vegetables
Vegetable Products
Olive Oil
Wine

Feast of the Annunciation & Palm Sunday

Abstinance of:

Meat/Meat Products
Dairy Products

NO Abstinance of:

Shellfish & Fish
Fruit
Vegetables
Vegetable Products 
Olive Oil
Wine