The Rules of Fasting

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My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. O ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.

THE MEANING OF THE GREAT FAST: THE RULES OF FASTING

Within this developed pattern of Lent, what precisely do the rules of fasting demand? Neither in ancient nor in modern times has there ever been exact uniformity, but most Orthodox authorities agree on the following rules:

(1)  During the week between the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee and that of the Prodigal Son, there is a general dispensation from all fasting. Meat and animal products may be eaten even on Wednesday and Friday.

(2)  In the following week, often termed the 'week of Carnival', the usual fast is kept on Wednesday and Friday. Otherwise there is no special fasting.

(3)  In the Week before Lent, meat is forbidden, but eggs, cheese and other dairy products may be eaten on all days, including Wednesday and Friday.

(4)  On weekdays (Monday to Friday inclusive) during the seven weeks of Lent, there are restrictions both on the number of meals taken daily and on the types of food permitted; but when a meal is allowed, there is no fixed limitation on the quantity of food to be eaten.

(a)   On weekdays in the first week, fasting is particularly severe. According to the strict observance, in the course of the five initial days of Lent, only two meals are eaten, one on Wednesday and the other on Friday, in both cases after the Liturgy of the Presanctified. On the other three days, those who have the strength are encouraged to keep an absolute fast; those for whom this proves impracticable may eat on Tuesday and Thursday (but not, if possible, on Monday), in the evening after Vespers, when they may take bread and water, or perhaps tea or fruit-juice, but not a cooked meal. It should be added at once that in practice today these rules are commonly relaxed. At the meals on Wednesday and Friday xerophagy is prescribed. Literally, this means 'dry eating'. Strictly interpreted, it signifies that we may eat only vegetables cooked with water and salt, and also such things as fruit, nuts, bread and honey. In practice, octopus and shellfish are also allowed on days of xerophagy; likewise vegetable margarine and corn or other vegetable oil, not made from olives. But the following categories of food are definitely excluded:

(i)              meat;

(ii)            animal products (cheese, milk, butter, eggs, lard, dripping);

(iii)          fish (i.e. fish with backbones);

(iv)          oil (i.e. olive oil) and sine (i.e. all alcoholic drinks).

(b)  On weekdays (Monday to Friday inclusive) in the second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth weeks, one meal a day is permitted, to be taken in the afternoon following Vespers, and at this one meal xerophagy is to be observed.

(c)   Holy and Great Week: On the first three days there is one meal each day, with xerophagy; but some try to keep a complete fast on these days, or else they eat only uncooked food, as on the opening days of the first week.

On Holy and Great Thrusday one meal is eaten, with wine and oil (i.e. olive oil).

On Holy and Great Friday those who have the strength follow the practice of the early Church and keep a total fast. Those unable to do this may eat bread, with a little water, tea or fruit-juice, but not until sunset or at any rate not until after the veneration of the Epitaphion at Vespers.

On Holy and Great Saturday there is in principle no meal since according to the ancient practice after the end of the Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great the faithful remained in church for the reading of the Acts of the Apostles, and for their sustenance were given a little bread and dried fruit, with a cup of wine. If, as usually happens now, they return home for a meal, they may use wine but not oil; for on this one Saturday, alone among the Saturdays of the year, olive oil is not permitted.

"...it is essential to bear in mind that 'you are not under the law but grace' (2 Corinthians 3:6). The rules of fasting, while they need to be taken seriously, are not to be interpreted with dour and pedantic legalism; "for the Kingdom of God is not food and drink, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Romans 14:17). (Source: The Lenten Triodion. Translated from the original Greek by Mother Mary and Metropolitan Kallistos Ware).

(To be continued)

Please note: It would be naive of me to believe that the contemporary Orthodox Christian would practice the above type of fasting today. However, the question is, does the contemporary Orthodox Christian practice or observe any kind of fasting today? The real and true answer, of course, is no. I am actually afraid to ask the contemporary Orthodox Christian if he or she has a spiritual life, i.e., if there is a prayer life, a sacramental life, furthermore, is there at least an adherence to the basic truths, precepts, discipline, traditions, teachings, values, morality, dogmas, canons, etc. of our Holy Orthodox Faith?

Holy and Great Lent is also a time of reevaluation of our priorities, of our commitment to Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, of sincere reflection, of dedication to our Church, of repentance, of acts of mercy or charity, and of spiritual renewal.

Use this holy season to your advantage and seek the help, guidance and inspiration of the Almighty and Merciful God.

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"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--Saint John Chrysostom

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

+Father George