Why Do Orthodox Christians Fast?

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  1. Before the Fall, our first parents ate only vegetables and fruits in Paradise. When we fast, we are returning to the “diet” of Paradise.
  2. When our first parents fell, it was by eating that which God told them not to eat. Man’s original disobedience to God was connected with pleasing the stomach. To overcome this disobedience in our own flesh we have to deny our stomach.
  3. The Holy Fathers teach us that gluttony gives birth to all the other passions. In other words, the most basic form of pleasing ourselves is to eat what we want when we want it. If we can’t control this basic physical kind of selfishness, we will have no power over any of our other forms of selfishness. By cutting off our selfishness in this physical, most basic way, we lay a foundation for controlling all of our passions and acquiring virtue.
  4. In the Gospel, we see that Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself fasted for
    40 days in the wilderness before He was tempted by Satan, in order to give us an example of how we are to fight Satan. How can we not follow His example? In the Old Testament book of Exodus, we see that Moses fasted for 40 days on Mt. Sinai while he was conversing with God and receiving the Law. If we wish to know God, we have to fast, too!
  5. In the Lives of the Saints, there is not a single saint who attained holiness without FASTING. How can we light candles to them, kiss their icons, ask their help, but not imitate what they did, to the best of our ability?
  6. Fasting teaches us to be grateful for what we eat. In an affluent society, it is especially important not to take God’s gifts for granted. Our food and drink are among God’s most basic gifts, and if we do not appreciate them, we will not appreciate anything.
  7. Fasting is the necessary basis of an unselfish way of life, in which we don’t please ourselves all the time, but look primarily for how to please God and to make OTHERS happy. Controlling our stomach is the most basic form of controlling everything we are, everything we do, everything we own and use. This is fundamental human psychology; it is the way we are made, and there is no getting around it. If modern people really want an “addiction free” society liberated from the “welfare mentality,” a society in which everyone is cheerful, dutiful, unselfish, and productive, FASTING is the first practice they should institute!

Why do we fast on Wednesdays and Fridays?
 

Wednesday is the day on which Judas went to the leaders of the Jews and agreed to betray our Savior. Friday is the day on which Our Lord suffered His terrible Passion on the Cross. In repentance for our sins, and to honor His sufferings for us, the Church dedicates many of the hymns of nearly every Wednesday and Friday throughout the year to the Cross of Christ, and we fast on these days nearly every week. This is explained in the Synaxarion read at the Nymphios Service on the night before Holy Wednesday every year, the night on which we remember the betrayal of Judas and the repentance of the sinful woman who washed Our Lord’s feet with precious ointment, her hair, and her tears.


The Rules of Fasting

According to the Holy Canons and Sacred Customs of the Orthodox Church, as Passed Down from the Holy Apostles and Our Holy Fathers of the Earliest Generations of the Church

Wednesdays and Fridays – We fast on every Wednesday and Friday throughout the year except during the following periods:

  • The period from the Nativity of the Lord through the day before the eve of Theophany (7 January through 17 January NS, which are 25 December through 5 January on the Church calendar).
  • The week of the Pharisee and the Publican, which is always three weeks before Great Lent. (The beginning of Great Lent varies year to year according to the Paschalion, the system for determining the date of Pascha and the entire set of feasts and fasts associated with Pascha.)
  • The week of Cheesefare (Tirophagia), on which we eat all foods except meat throughout the week – that is, we can have dairy products, fish, oil, and alcoholic beverages even on Wednesday and Friday, but we eat no meat whatsoever throughout the week.

Fasting Seasons – During these holy seasons, every day is a fast day:

  • Great Lent and Holy Week - Great Lent starts on “Clean Monday,” that is, the day after “Forgiveness Sunday”; it is the Monday before the “Sunday of      Orthodoxy.” We fast through Holy Saturday. The dates of these vary from year to year according to the Paschalion.
  • The Apostles Fast – The Fast of the Apostles begins on the Monday after All      Saints Sunday, which is the first Sunday after Pentecost, whose date      varies yearly according to the Paschalion. We fast through July 11 (NS), which is the day before Ss. Peter and Paul (June 29 on the Church calendar, July 12 on the civil calendar).
  • The Dormition Fast (the “15 in August”). We always fast from the 1st of August (Old Style) through the 14th of August (Old Style) to prepare for the Dormition of the Theotokos on August 15/28. This means that we fast from 14 August through 27 August according to the secular calendar.
  • The Nativity Fast – We always fast from the 15th of November (OS) through Christmas Eve, December 24 (OS) in preparation for Christmas. This means that we fast from 28 November through January 6 on the secular calendar.

Special Fasting Days - We always fast on:

  • 29 August/11 September, in honor of the Beheading of St. John the Forerunner
  • 14/27 September, the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

How Strictly Do We Fast on Certain Days?

The basic fasting “diet” excludes meat, dairy products, fish, alcohol, and foods cooked in oil. This is called “xerophagia,” that is, “dry eating.” Most Wednesdays and Fridays, as well as all the weekdays of Great Lent and the 15 in August, are supposed to be days of “xerophagia.”

On Saturdays and Sundays during the fasts, we are always allowed at least oil and wine, except on Holy Saturday, which is a day of xerophagia. On Saturdays and Sundays on which we are preparing for Holy Communion, we eat only a little oil.

On the Saturdays and Sundays of the Apostles’ Fast, we eat fish, as well as oil and wine.

The same holds true for the Nativity Fast, until St. Spyridon’s Day (12/25 December), when we stop eating fish.

On the Tuesdays and Thursdays of the Apostles’ Fast and Nativity Fast, we have oil and wine.

The Beheading of the Forerunner (29 August/11 September) and the Exaltation of the Cross (14/27 September) are always days of xerophagia, except when they fall on Saturday or Sunday, when we have oil and wine.


Fasting in Preparation for Holy Communion

Those who normally keep the established fasts should keep xerophagia for three days before receiving Holy Communion.

Those who are lax in keeping the fasts the rest of the year must fast for at least 8 days of xerophagia before receiving Holy Communion.

If a Saturday or Sunday falls during our keeping of xerophagia before Communion, we should eat a little bit of oil on these days, to honor their joyful character in the spirit of the canons which forbid strict fasting on these days.

Everyone should consult his spiritual father regarding how strictly one should fast. This is ESPECIALLY true in the case of small children, those who are ill or elderly, and pregnant women. The above rules are practical guidelines and must be applied with discretion!

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