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:
The various fasts are as follows (all dates are according to the Church calendar):
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:
Days on which fish is permitted in addition to oil and wine:
The following days are fast-free:
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The Patriarchal Encyclical of 1920 foresaw a series of steps toward the “union of the Churches,” of which the first was the change of the calendar for the simultaneous celebration of feast days by all the “Churches.” The content of the encyclical was kept secret from the faithful and only after a few years became known. Read more...
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Q. There seems to be a lot of variation in how people observe fasting, but my confessor told me to fast from oil on Wednesday and Friday. Oil is a pretty vague category, though, and I was wondering if I could get a more explicit description of what kinds of food and drink are excluded on strict fast days. Read more...