Living an Orthodox Life: Fasting
Gluttony makes a man gloomy and fearful, but fasting makes him joyful and courageous.
And, as gluttony calls forth greater and greater gluttony, so fasting stimulates greater and greater endurance.
When a man realizes the grace that comes through fasting, he desires to fast more and more.
And the graces that come through fasting are countless....
~Saint Nikolai of Zicha~
is an essential
aspect of practicing the Orthodox life. You cannot
be Orthodox and not fast. Unfortunately, many in the Church today do not
participate in this grace-bestowing and life-giving ascetic practice.
They do this to the loss of their own spiritual and bodily health.
But since you are not one of those people, you will need an Orthodox calendar to help you know which days we are to fast,
and which type of fasting is prescribed. There are many good ones available:
I prefer the one in English published by St. John of Kronstadt Press.
But St. Herman of Alaska Press and St. Nectarios Press each produce good
calendars in English. They all combine both the
Church ("Old") Calendar and the Civil ("Papal",
or "New") Calendar.
The Rule of Fasting in the Orthodox Church, by Father Seraphim (Rose) of Platina.
The Meaning of the Great Fast. From the introductory material
in the Lenten Triodion. By Mother Mary and Archimandrite [now Bishop] Kallistos (Ware).
Concerning Fasting on Wednesday and Friday, by St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite. An excerpt from the Exomologetarion: A Manual of Confession.
Helpful Principles of Fasting: Simplicity, Satiety, and a Litmus Question.
An Anonymous Letter to a New Convert.
of Piety: basic and helpful information on fasting. Provides the seasons
and guidelines for fasting.
An Answer to a Question About Sexual Abstinence During
Fasting Periods, by Archbishop Chrysostomos.
the Spirit of Gluttony. Book V from the Institutes of St. John
The Catechetical Homilies and Testament
of St. Theodore the Studite, Homilies 47 (Concerning Fasting, Dispassion, and Purity) and 48 (Concerning
Now We Should Adorn Our Eternal Habitation with Virtue).
Various Replies to Questions on Fasting, from Orthodox
Thoughts on Fasting and Temperance, by Archimandrite Sebastian Dabovich.
When Are We to Fast?: Midnight-to-Midnight, or Vespers-to-Vespers. From The
Shepherd, Vol. XV.
Fasting and the Church Year,
helpful information from the Greek Orthodox Church of the Transfiguration
in Lowell, MA.
Introduction to the Philokalic Book of St. Gregory of Sinai. Covers a range of topics including
prayer and fasting. From Elder Basil of Poiana Marului: Spiritual Father of St. Paisy Velichkovsky.
How Should We Conduct Ourselves During Meals?: Chapter 1 from How to Live a Holy Life, by Metropolitan Gregory of St. Petersburg (1784-1860).
On Fasting: Ch. VIII from Field Flowers,
by St. Paisy of Neamt.
Reasons to Fast by Fr. Alexander Lebedeff
From Iniquities and Foods - By the Rev. George Mastrantonis, Greek
Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
Feasts, and Fasts, by the Ever-Memorable
Metropolitan Philaret of New York.
Fasting, by a Monk of the Orthodox Church.
Writings of Archbishop Averky of Blessed Memory. Translated and distributed
on the Internet by the Brotherhood of St. Niphon.
Fasting in the Orthodox Church, by Archimandrite
Akakios, Abbot of St. Gregory Palamas Monastery in Etna, CA (The
Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies). This
is the best summary of the Orthodox teaching on fasting. Read Chapter
3, "Fasting and Contemporary Orthodoxy in the Americas".
The Lenten Triodion (see above description in the "Orthopraxis & the Divine Services" section).
Fasting and Science by Constantine Cavarnos,
(The Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies): this is the best short
work I have read on the subject. Dr. Cavarnos knows this subject well.
In his famous Anchored in God he writes (pp. 29-30):
Fasting takes into
account both the quantity and the quality of food. The idea is to eat
a smaller amount of food during a fasting day; to abstain from fats
and oils, as these tend to fatten the body and thereby to arouse lust
and make one physically and spiritually lazy; to abstain from meat,
fish, and products of animal origin, as these tend to excite carnal
desire; and also to abstain from mere delicacies, as the consumption
of these is a form of self-indulgence. St. John Climacus (c. 525-605)
says: "Satiety of food is a begetter of unchastity." He also
says, "Let us cut down fatty and greasy foods that inflame carnal
desire, and foods that sweeten and tickle the larynx" (The
Ladder, Migne PG 88, 864, 865).
The practice of
fasting is not regarded as an end in itself, as something having instrinsic
value, but only as a means, as a necessary condition for the spiritual
life. It belongs to the category of what the Eastern, Byzantine Fathers
call "bodily virtues," among which are prostrations, standing,
and vigils. Referring to these, St. John Damascene (c. 676-c. 754) says
that they "are rather instruments for the virtues; they are necessary,
in one practices them with humility and spiritual knowledge. For without
them neither do the virtues of the soul come into being, but in themselves
they are of no benefit, any more than plants without fruit" (Philokalia,
2, 17). And St. Gregory the Sinaite (1289-1360), speaking specifically
of fasting, observes: "Constant fasting whithers lust and gives
birth to self-restraint" (Philokalia, 2, 272); while Callistos
and Ignatios Xanthopoulos remark: "Fasting and self-restraint are
the first virtue, the mother, root, source and foundation of all good"
(Philokalia, 2, 370).
Other food for thought, from the wise Nicephorus Theotokis:
"When we fast,
we search the earth and sea up and down: the earth in order to
collect seeds, produce, fruit, spices, and every other kind of growing
edible; the sea to find shellfish, mollusks, snails, sea-urchins, and
anything edible therein. We prepare dry foods, salted foods, pickled
foods, and sweet foods, and from these ingredients we concoct many and
motley dishes, seasoned with oil, wine, sweeteners, and spices.
Then we fill the table even more than when we are eating meat.
Moreover, since these foods stimulate the appetite, we eat and drink
beyond moderation. And after that we imagine that we are fasting....
taught those who fast in this way that such a variety and such quantities
of food constitute a fast? Where did they read or hear that anyone
who simply avoids meats or fish is fasting, even if he eats a great
amount and different kinds of food? Fasting is one thing, great
variety in food another; fasting is one thing, eating great amounts
of food another." [Fasting and Science, 18-19]