|Refectory of Monastery Hilandar, Mount Athos|
The Church of Christ commands its children to lead a temperate way of life, particularly singling out days and periods of required abstention —fasts. The righteous of the Old Testament fasted, Christ Himself fasted (Matthew 4).
The weekly fast days ("continuous" weeks excepted) are Wednesday and Friday. The Wednesday fast was established in memory of Judas’ betrayal of Christ, and on Friday — in memory of the Savior’s sufferings and death. On these days it is forbidden to eat meat or milk products, eggs, fish (according to the Charter, fish and oil are permitted from Thomas Sunday to the feast of the Holy Trinity), and during the period from the All-Saints’ Week (the first Sunday after the Feast of the Holy Trinity) until Christmas one should refrain from fish and oil on Wednesdays and Fridays.
There are four protracted fasts in the year. The longest and strictest is Great Lent, which lasts for seven weeks before Easter. The strictest of the weeks are the first and the last, Passion Week. This fast was established in memory of the Savior’s forty-day fast in the desert.
The Assumption fast is similar to Great Lent in strictness, but it is shorter, from August 14 to the 27th. The Church devotes this fast to the Most Holy Mother of God, Who, standing before God, unfailingly prays for us. In these two strict fasts fish can be eaten only three times — on the Feast of the Annunciation (April 7), the Entrance of the Lord into Jerusalem (a week before Easter) and the Transfiguration of the Lord (August 19).
The Christmas fast lasts 40 days, from November 28 to January 6. Fish is permitted during this fast, except for Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. After the feast day of St. Nicholas (December 19), fish can be eaten only on Saturdays and Sundays, and during the period from January 2 to January 6 strict fasting should be observed.
The fourth fast is the fast of the Holy Apostles (Peter and Paul). It begins on the Week of All Saints and concludes on the feast day of the Heads of the Apostles Peter and Paul, July 12. The charter concerning food in this fast is the same as for the first half of Christmas fast.
Single days of strict fasting are the eve of Epiphany (January 18), the feast day of the beheading of John the Baptist (September 11) and the Elevation of the Lord’s Cross (September 27).
Some weakening of the strictness of the fasts is permitted the sick, as well as those doing heavy labor, expectant and nursing mothers. This is done, so that the carrying does not lead to a steep drop in strength, and the Christian would have enough strength for prayer rule and necessary duties. But fasting should not be strictly physical, but also spiritual. "He who considers that fasting is simply abstinence from food is mistaken. True fasting," teaches St. John Chrysostom, "is the withdrawal from evil, the curbing of the tongue, the laying by of anger, the subduing of passions, the ceasing of gossiping, lying and perjury."
The body of one fasting, not burdened with food, becomes light, and is fortified for accepting blessed gifts. Fasting subdues the desires of the flesh, softens the temperament, suppresses anger, restrains impulses of the heart, invigorates the mind, brings serenity to the soul, eliminates intemperance. By fasting well, says St. Basil the Great, by refraining from all sin, with all the senses, we fulfill the pious duty of an Orthodox Christian.
OFFSITE: Beginning Orthodoxy, Part 2 - Original article