The Two Meanings of Fasting

St. Tarasius the Archbishop of Constantinople

Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,

PSALM 87[86]

His foundation loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob. Glorious things are spoken of You, O city of God! I will make mention of Rahab and Babylon to those who know Me; behold, O Philistia and Tyre, with Ethiopia: this one was born there. And of Zion it will be said, 'This one and that one were born in her; and the Most High Himself shall establish her.'

The Lord will record, When He registers the peoples: 'This one was born there.' Both the singers and the players on instruments say, All my springs are in You.'

(Psalm 86[87] deals with the salvation of the Gentiles and has a unique liturgical usage. It is sung on Christmas Eve at the Vesperal Liturgy, with v. 6 being a reference both to the registry of the people by Caesar, and to the registry by God of His people in Heaven.)



(Saint Paisios the Great)

"Lord Jesus Christ my God, today grant me a good day without sin and vain distractions. Lord, do not abandon me. Lord, do not turn away from me. Lord, extend to me a hand of assistance. Lord, support me in the fear of You. Let this fear of You but also Your love be implanted deeply into my heart. Lord, grant compunction and humility to my heart. Lord, grant me constant tears and contrition and the remembrance of death. Lord, deliver me from every temptation of the spirit and of the body. Lord, uproot from me negligence, laziness, sorrow, forgetfulness, insensitivity, callousness and surrender to captivity of my mind. Lord, as You know and as You want, have mercy on me and forgive all of my transgressions. Lord, having attained peace through a good repentance and a ready and full confession, I hope that You will permit my lamentable soul, in due time, to make its exodus from this body in pure and perfect faith. Amen.


Saint James the Just and Holy Apostle

"What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,' but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.  But someone will say, 'You have faith, and I have works.' Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.  You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe--and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?"(St. James 2:14-20)

Please note further on the importance of works. Saint Matthew 25:31-46. ("The standard of judgment is uncalculated mercy toward the needy. The works produced by faith are emphasized, for a saving faith produces righteous works…The needy are the intimate "brethren" (v.40) of Christ. "The least of these" (v. 45) may refer primarily to Christian missionaries or to the needy Christians and, by extension, all who suffer. Jesus identifies Himself with the poor and the outcast and invites to brotherhood all who are kindled with love for others (1 John 4:20). These are crowned with grace. (The Orthodox Study Bible)



On February 25th Our Holy Orthodox Christian Church commemorates, honors and entreats the holy intercessions of the following Saints, Forefathers, Fathers, Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Preachers, Evangelists, Martyrs, Confessors, Ascetics, Teachers and every righteous spirit made perfect in Our Holy Orthodox Christian faith: Our Father among the Saints Tarasius the Confessor, Archbishop of Constantinole; Saint Alexander of Puteoli was perfected in martyrdom by the sword; Holy Hieromartyr Reginus, Bishop of Scopelos; Saint Anthony was perfected in martyrdom by fire; Saint Theodore, the Fool-for-Christ's sake; Holy Hieromartyr Marcellos of Cyprus, Bishop of Apamea in Syria, was perfected in martyrdom by the sword; Saint Walburga, Egoumenissa (Abbess) of Heidenheim in Bavaria, daughter of Saint Richard, king of Wessex and fellow laborer of Saint Boniface, the Enlightener of Germany.

+By the holy intercessions of Your Saints, Holy Martyrs, Holy Hieromartyrs, Holy Ascetics, Holy Mothers, Holy Fathers, Holy Bishops, Holy Archbishops, Holy Abbesses, Holy kings, O Christ Our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen

SAINT TARASIUS, PATRIARCH OF CONSTANTINOPLE. His predecessor, Patriarch Paul, secretly left the patriarchal throne, retired to a monastery and received the Great Habit. This was during the reign of Irene and Constantine. By Paul's advice, Saint Tarasius, a senator and advisor to the Emperor, was chosen as Patriarch in 784 A.D. He quickly passed through all the stages of ordination and became Patriarch. A man of great physical stature and great zeal for Orthodoxy. Saint Tarasius accepted this undesired state in order to help in the struggle of Orthodoxy against heresy, especially that of Iconoclasm. He was responsible for the summoning of the 7th Ecumenical Council in Nicaea in 787 A.D., where the iconoclasts were condemned and the veneration of the holy icons was restored and confirmed. Saint Tarasius was very compassionate to the poor and indigent, building them shelters and feeding them, but he was decisive with those in power in the defense of faith and morals. When the Emperor Constantine divorced his lawful wife, Maria, and took a kinswoman to live with him, seeking the Patriarch's blessing to remarry, Saint Tarasius not only withheld his blessing, but first counseled and then reproached him, and finally excommunicated him. As death approached, those round him saw him answering the demons: "I am not guilty of that sin, nor of that one', until he was incapable of speech. He then began defending himself with his arms, driving them away from him. As he breathed his last, his face shone as with the light of the sun. This truly great hierarch entered into rest in 806 A.D. He had governed the Church for 22 years and four months.


Holy Epistle Lesson: St. June 1:1-10
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. Luke 22:39-42, 45-71; 23:1


"A brother asked Abba (Father) Poemen, 'What is a hypocrite?' The old man said to him, 'A hypocrite is he who teaches his neighbor something he makes no effort to do himself. It is written, 'Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye, etc.' " (St. Matthew 7:3-4).


by Father Alexander Schmemann (Source: Great Lent)

At this point, the next question arises: If Eucharist is incompatible with fasting, why then is its celebration still prescribed on Saturdays and Sundays of Lent, and this without 'breaking" the fast? The canons of the Church seem here to contradict one another. While some of them forbid fasting on Sundays, some others forbid the breaking of the fast on Sundays, some others forbid the breaking of the fast on any of the forty days. This contradiction, however, is only apparent, because the two rules which seem to be mutually exclusive refer in fact to two different meanings of the term fasting. To understand this is important because we discover here the Orthodox "philosophy of fasting" essential for our whole spiritual effort.

There are indeed two ways or modes of fasting rooted both in Scripture and Tradition, and which correspond to two distinct needs or states of man. The first one can be termed total fast for it consists of total abstinence from food and drink. One can define the second one as ascetical fast for it consists mainly in abstinence from certain foods and in substantial reduction of the dietary regimen. The total fast, by its very nature, is of short duration and is usually limited to one day or even a part of one day. From the very beginning of Christianity, it has been understood as a state of preparation and expectation--the state of spiritual concentration on that which is about to come. Physical hunger corresponds here to the spiritual expectation of fulfillment, the "opening up" of the entire human being to the approaching joy. Therefore, in the liturgical tradition of the Church, we find this total fast as the last and ultimate preparation for a great feast, for a decisive spiritual event. We find it, for example, on the eves of Christmas and Epiphany, and above everything else it is the Eucharistic Fast, the essential mode of our preparation for the Messianic Banquet at Christ's table in His Kingdom. Eucharist is always preceded by this total fast which may vary in its duration but which for the Church constitutes a necessary condition for Holy Communion. Many people misunderstand this rule, seeing here nothing but an archaic prescription and wondering why an empty stomach should serve as a prerequisite for receiving the Sacrament. Reduced to such a physical and grossly "physiological" understanding, viewed as mere discipline, this rule, of course, loses its meaning. Thus it is no wonder that Roman Catholicism which long ago replaced the spiritual understanding of fasting with a juridical and disciplinary one (cf. for example, the power to "dispense" from fasting as if it is God and not man who needed fasting!) has nowadays virtually abolished the "Eucharistic" fast. In its true meaning, however, the total fast is the main expression of that rhythm of preparation and fulfillment by which the Church lives, for she is both the expectation of Christ in "this world," and the coming of this world into the "world to come." We may add here that in the early Church this total fast had a name taken from the military vocabulary; it was called statio, which meant a garrison in the state of alarm and mobilization. The Church keeps a "watch"--she expects the Bridegroom and waits for Him in readiness and joy. Thus, the total fast is not only a fast of the members of the Church; it is the Church herself as fast, as expectation of Christ Who comes to her in the Eucharist, Who shall come in glory at the consummation of all time.

Quite different are the spiritual connotations of the second type of fasting which we defined as ascetical. Here the purpose for fasting is to liberate man from the unlawful tyranny of the flesh, of that surrender of the spirit to the body and its appetites which is the tragic result of sin and the Original Sin and of the Original Fall of man. It is only by a slow and patient effort that man discovers that he "does not live by bread alone"--that he restores in himself the primacy of the spirit...The art of ascetical fasting had been refined and perfected within the monastic tradition and then was accepted by the entire Church. It is the application to man of Christ's words that the demonic powers which enslave man cannot be overcome but by "prayer and fasting." It is rooted in the example of Christ Himself Who fasted forty days and then met Satan face to face and in this encounter reversed the surrender of man to "bread alone," thus inaugurating man's liberation. The Church has set apart four periods for the ascetical fast: the seasons before Pascha, Christmas, the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, and the Dormition (Koimisis) of the Mother of God. Four times a year she invites us to purify and liberate ourselves from the dominion of the flesh by the holy therapy of fasting, and each time the success of the therapy depends precisely on the application of certain basic rules among which the "unbrokenness" of fasting, its continuity in time, is the major one.

A Pastoral advice: It is extremely important that we, as Orthodox Christians, follow the guidelines for fasting of our Holy Orthodox Church. It is wrong for us to modify the fast so as to eat the foods and drinks i.e., wine etc. that we desire. We must also follow the fast with understanding, with the true Christian spirit and obedience to our Holy Tradition. If our personal spiritual investment is not correct than we will fail to receive the good fruits of fasting. Saint John Chrysostom states, "Fasting of the body is food for the soul." Though fasting focuses inward on the heart, it is nonetheless an act of philanthropy (charity), of agape, of giving to the other in this world. This is constantly reminded to us by the Holy Fathers and Mothers of the Church. It is one of the reasons that almsgiving is tied into fasting, and when we fast, we deliberately engage in acts of kindness(compassion), reclaiming not only our body, but our times and our activities back from our selfish preoccupations into an orientation aimed at the other, at all of creation. Saint John Chrysostom asks, "Do you fast?" Then feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, visit the sick, do not forget the imprisoned, have pity on the tortured, comfort those who grieve and those who weep. Be merciful, humble, kind, calm, patient, sympathetic, forgiving, reverent, truthful, and pious so that God might accept your fasting and might plentifully grant you the fruits of repentance."

With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George