Fasting and the Church Year
Fasting in the Orthodox Church is often misunderstood. Fasting is part of our life in Christ and our struggle to becoming God-like. Fasting, accompanied by prayer and good works, is a spiritual aid which disciplines the body and soul and enables them to strive together to bring the whole person closer to God. Fasting is something regulated by the Church, but it is not something that we judge in our neighbor. We do not fast so others can see that we're "Good Christians", or so we'll be "worthy" to take Holy Communion, Holy Communion is a gift. In Christ's own words - "What goes into a man's mouth does not make him unclean, but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him unclean." (Matt 15:11)
Fasting is something that we each struggle with to the best of our abilities. This does not mean that we can write our own prescription for fasting. However, our Spiritual Father can guide us to the best method of fasting to match our own spiritual development and circumstances. The fasts prescribed by the Church include fasting from various foods - in some cases meats and fish, in others dairy products are included, and in others even foods with oil are included in the fast. No fasting on Saturdays and Sundays is still regulated by the Liturgical Calendar and the Seasonal Fasts, (ie. Great Lent, the Fast of the Theotokos, etc.). Again, an Orthodox Christian should consult with his/her Spiritual Father when formulating a personal pattern of fasting or one for a family.
Fasts Prescribed by the Church
Wednesday and Friday
Every Wednesday and Friday is to be observed with fasting unless some important Feast takes precedence over the fast. The Fast on Wednesday is in memory of the betrayal of the Lord, and the Fast on Friday is in remembrance of His Passion and Death upon the Cross.
Fast for Holy Communion
When all other Fasts are observed, the only Fast for Holy Communion is no food after the evening meal, no water after midnight, and nothing in the morning.
Special Fast Days
August 29 - Beheading of St. John the Baptist
September 14 - Elevation of the Holy Cross
January 5 - Eve of Epiphany
Lent begins forty days before Palm Sunday, on the Monday after Cheese-Fare Sunday, and lasts until the evening preceding Palm Sunday. Holy Week is a special Fast in honor of our Lord's suffering and Passion, and lasts from the evening of Palm Sunday through Holy Saturday.
Fast of the Holy Apostles
The Fast of the Holy Apostles begins on the Monday after All Saints' Sunday (the Sunday after Pentecost) and lasts until June 29, the Feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul. This Fast varies in length according to the date of Easter.
Fast of the Theotokos
The Fast which precedes the Feast of the Dormition of the All-holy Theotokos begins on August 1 and lasts until the day of the Feast on August 15.
Fast before Christmas
The Fast before Christmas begins on November 15 and lasts until the day of the Feast of the Nativity, December 25.
When Fasting is not Permitted
The following are fast days when fish is permitted:
1. Annunciation Day - March 25. If it does not fall during Lent, then the day is completely fast-free.
2. Palm Sunday
3. Transfiguration - August 6.
The following are days that are completely fast-free:
1. From December 25 to January 5.
2. The week following the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee.
3. The week following Meat-fare Sunday (abstinence from meat only during this week).
4. The week following Easter.
5. The week following Pentecost.
6. All Saturdays, except Holy Saturday.
7. All Sundays.
When Various Services are not Permitted
Weddings are not permitted on:
1. January 5-6 (Epiphany)
2. Lent and Holy Week
3. August 1-15 (Fast of the Theotokos)
4. August 29 (Beheading of St. John the Baptist)
5. September 14 (Elevation of the Holy Cross)
6. December 13-25 (Christmas Fast)
7. Weddings are not allowed on the day before all major Feast Days of the Church, all Holy Days of Our Lord, and Holy Pentecost (see above). Weddings are not allowed on these days unless absolutely necessary and then only by special permission of the Diocesan Bishop.
Baptisms are not permitted on:
1. December 25 - January 6
2. Holy Week
3. Major Feast Days
Baptisms are not allowed on these days except in the case of an emergency or when absolutely necessary and then only by special permission of the Diocesan Bishop.
Funeral services are allowed on any day of the year, except on Sundays, unless absolutely necessary and permission is obtained from the Diocesan Bishop.
Memorials are not permitted on:
1. From Saturday of Lazarus through Sunday of Thomas
2. All the Feast Days of our Lord
3. August 15
Information is based on the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America Yearbook.
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