On Fasting

1. The Present Time

Nowadays food is very important. There is a crisis of obesity in this country, but in other countries that is not so. We could even say that half the world east too much and half the world does not eat enough. There are problems of anorexia (eating too little) and bulimia (eating too much). Many, many people try and slim, going on diets. People try and lose weight, joining gyms and fitness clubs, spending a lot of money. Many are worried about additives in food, too much sugar or salt or fat. Others are worried about genetically modified food. What was simple is now complicated. Look at the lists of ingredients on any packet of food. What is our solution? It is to avoid extremes, to eat natural and fresh food, lots of fruit and vegetables. That is why we have fasting in the Church.

2. Why do we fast?

Adam and Eve were expelled from Paradise because of food. We abstain from certain foods at certain times of the year, so that we can re-enter Paradise. In history, no-one ate meat until the time of Noah because by his time people had become weak and needed strength. Basically, we are what we eat. If we eat lots of animal foods, we may become like animals.

3. When do we fast?

We fast on most Wednesdays and Fridays (Wednesday was the day that Judas betrayed Christ and Friday the day that they crucified Him) and during four fasts per year. These are: the forty days and Holy Week before Easter; the weeks before the Feast of Sts Peter and Paul on 12 July; the two weeks at the end of August for the Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God on 28 August; the forty days before Christmas. So we fast for 6 months of the year and for 6 months we do not. This is balance. We fast so that we can pray more easily, so that we can feel lighter. If you don’t pray when you fast, you will feel irritable. Fasting and prayer always go together. We can use the money that we save from buying less food, especially expensive meat, to help poor people or charities. This is called almsgiving.

How do we fast?

5. Fasting means not eating foods that come from animals and eating the rest in moderation. Fasting is purely voluntary and there are different levels of fasting, according to our age, ability and experience. In simple terms, the first level is not to eat meat, the second not to eat fish, the third not to eat eggs, the forth not to eat dairy produce (cheese, milk, yoghurt etc). Of course, no-one expects small children, pregnant and breastfeeding women and ill people to fast. But still everyone can make an effort!

First published on 1 March 2017 in ‘Searchlight’, the quarterly magazine of St Alban’s Orthodox Youth Club.