Fasting is an integral part of our Orthodox Christian life, and is a spiritual exercise that, when we embrace it, teaches us self denial, strong will-power and discipline. The purpose of fasting is not simply to “give up things”, but rather to practice self-discipline in a day and age when we are “consumed” by food: with a plethora of diets, cookbooks, TV shows, eating disorders, medical intervention treatments etc, we often allow food to control us.
We fast as a sacrifice, to improve our self-control – by being more disciplined with our physical desires, we become freer to use our life to serve others and not simply to serve ourselves. Our Orthodox liturgical calendar demonstrates the Church’s great wisdom, outlining prescribed fasting days for the benefit of our souls and bodies, to bring us in closer communion with the living God. We are reminded that “Man does not live by bread alone” (Mat 4:4). There are four main periods of fasting during the year where we abstain from meat, dairy, fish and sometimes oil:
• The Great Fast (Lent) – which begins seven weeks before Pascha (Easter).
• The Fast of the Apostles – which starts on the Monday eight days after Pentecost and ends on the 28th June, the eve of the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul. This fast varies in length from 1 to 6 weeks depending on when Pascha falls.
• The Dormition Fast – from 1st to 14th August.
• The Christmas Fast – 40 days from 15th November to 24th December.
In addition to the above periods, we fast every Wednesday (in remembrance of the betrayal of Christ) and Friday (His crucifixion and death), except between Christmas and Epiphany, during Bright Week (after Pascha) and during the week after Pentecost. We fast also on other important days during the year such as the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (Sept 14), the Beheading of St John the Baptist (Aug 29) and the eve of Epiphany (Jan 5).
Is it worth remembering that Adam and Eve were expelled from Paradise because of their lack of fasting, i.e. eating of the forbidden fruit. True fasting goes hand-in-hand with increased prayer and almsgiving. Fasting helps us to pray more fervently, and to have compassion for the poor and hungry.
Source: Lychnos June – July 2017