The Fasts of the Orthodox Church

Fasting is an ascetical practice handed down to us from God since the creation of man. The first commandment He gave Adam and Eve was to abstain from a particular fruit. Fasting has been given to us, in part, in order that we learn self-control. It is part of one’s spiritual life and as such one should always be under the guidance of a spiritual father. Practice differs between Orthodox of different nationalities. Even one and the same spiritual father may prescribe different fasting rules for different people. This is in keeping with the Church Fathers who teach that those who have received from God the power to loose and bind - that is the spiritual fathers - must use discretion, sometimes being stern, imposing the full weight of the law, at other times being lenient, condescending to weakness. But his intention is always the salvation of his spiritual child (c.f. Trullo Canon 102). One should consult their spiritual father for specific questions regarding fasting.

St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain outlines for us the ideal for which are striving in his interpretation of the 64th Apostolic Canon:

Fasting is one thing and leaving off fasting is another thing, and abolishing fasting is still another thing. Thus, fasting, properly speaking, is complete abstinence from food of all kinds, or even when one eats but once a day, about the ninth hour, dry food, or, more explicitly speaking, plain bread and water alone. Leaving off fasting is when one eats before the ninth hour, even though it be merely figs, or merely currants or raisins, or anything else of this kind; or if, besides bread and water, he should eat also some kinds of frugal and cheap comestibles, such as, for instance, legumes, wine, olive oil, or shellfish. Abolishing fasting on the other hand, is when one eats of all foodstuffs, including meat, say, and fish, and milk, and cheese, and the rest.

The various types of fast days are as follows:

  1. Strict fast days. On these days we abstain from meat, dairy, fish, wine and oil.
  2. Days on which oil and wine are permitted.
  3. Fish is permitted certain fast days, on these days oil and wine are also permitted.

The various fasts are as follows (all dates are according to the Church calendar):

  1. The Exaltation of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross (Sept. 14). This is a strict fast day, oil and wine are permitted only when it falls on Saturday or Sunday.
  2. The Nativity Fast. This fast starts on Nov. 15 and is broken on the Nativity (Dec. 25). During this fast oil and wine are permitted every day except Wednesdays and Fridays. Fish is permitted on Saturdays and Sundays from the Entrance of the Theotokos (Nov. 21) to St. Spyridon (Dec. 12). Nativity Eve (Dec. 24) is a strict fast day, oil and wine are permitted only when it falls on Saturday or Sunday.
  3. Theophany Eve (Jan. 5). This is a strict fast day, oil and wine are permitted only when it falls on Saturday or Sunday.
  4. Cheese-Fare week. All foods are permitted except meat.
  5. The Great Fast. This fast starts on Clean Monday and is broken on Pascha. During this fast Monday to Friday are strict fast days, oil and wine are permitted only on Saturdays and Sundays. Great Saturday is a strict fast day. February 8, 10, 11, 17, 24, and March 9 are strict fast days when they fall between Monday and Friday of Clean Week. When February 2 falls on Clean Monday, and March 25 falls between Great Monday and Great Thursday oil and wine are permitted but not fish. When March 25 falls on Great Friday or Great Saturday it is a strict fast day because the celebration of the Annunciation is then transferred to the day of Pascha. When April 23 falls on Great Friday or Great Saturday it is a strict fast day because the celebration of St. George is then transferred to Monday of Renewal Week.
  6. The Apostles' Fast. This fast starts the Monday after the Sunday of All-Saints and is broken on the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul (June 29). During this fast oil and wine are permitted every day except Wednesdays and Fridays. Fish is permitted on Saturdays and Sundays.
  7. Dormition Fast. This fast starts on Aug. 1 and is broken on the Dormition of the Theotokos (August 15). During this fast Monday to Friday are strict fast days, oil and wine are permitted only on Saturdays and Sundays. Fish is permitted on the feast of the Transfiguration, Aug. 6.
  8. The Beheading of St. John the Baptist (Aug. 29). This is a strict fast day, oil and wine are permitted only when it falls on Saturday or Sunday.

Wednesdays and Fridays throughout the year are strict fast days. When a feast of particular importance falls on a fast day the fasting is lessened. Oil and wine are permitted on these days when they fall on fast days:

  • September 1, 6, 8*, 9, 13, 20, 23, 26
  • October 1, 6, 18, 23, 26
  • November 1, 8, 12, 13, 14*, 16, 21*, 25, 30
  • December 4, 5, 6, 9, 12, 15, 17, 20
  • January 7*, 11, 16, 17, 18, 20, 22, 25, 27, 30
  • February 2*, 8, 10, 11, 17, 24
  • March 9, 25*, 26
  • April 23, 25, 30
  • May 2, 8, 15, 21, 25
  • June 8, 11, 24*, 29*, 30
  • July 1, 2, 17, 20, 22, 25, 26, 27
  • August 6, 15*, 31

Days on which fish is permitted in addition to oil and wine:

  • September 8, November 14, 21, January 7, February 2, March 25, June 24, 29; August 6, 15, Mid-Pentecost, the Apodosis of Pascha.

    The following days are fast-free:

    • From Dec. 25 to Jan. 4, Jan. 6, the week after the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee, Renewal Week, and the week after Pentecost.
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