Ecumenical Patriarchate
Archdiocese of Orthodox Parishes of Russian Tradition in Western Europe
Worshipping at St Thomas a Becket’s Church
Cliffe High Street, LEWES BN7 2AW

About Fasting

Father Ian explains:

The Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church (of which the parish is a part) is a body with a long history, and a wide geographical spread. It should, therefore, not be at all surprising that there are (and always have been) differences of practice within it; and that applies as much to the practice of fasting, as it does to the practices of prayer, and worship, that accompany it: what is said here about fasting can only be taken as a general guide.

‘Fasting’ is commonly understood as going without food for a limited period of time, but we more usually employ the term (in the church calendar) as days when we abstain from certain types of food and drink: on ‘Fast Days’ we mostly abstain from meat and fish (including any sea creature with a backbone), eggs and dairy products; also olive oil (other vegetable oils are often substituted) and wine (usually understood as including all alcoholic beverages).

However, fasting should also be done in secret: it is better to break the fast than to draw attention to the fact that we are fasting. In particular, when we are with people who are not keeping the fast, we should be careful to eat what we are given, and also to provide for others a choice of food: no one should be forced to fast.

In Britain, we have a long history of Catholic practice, and substituting fish for meat on Fridays is a well-known custom: however, the wider form of abstention outlined above is not so well-known, and neither is its extension to include all Wednesdays.

Similarly, Lent (or the ‘Great Fast’) is relatively well-known as a period of abstention in preparation for Easter (or ‘Pascha’) but not the fast before Christmas (or the ‘Nativity’) sometimes called the ‘Philip Fast’ (because it starts on 15th November, which is the day following St Philip’s Day). Even less well-known are the fasts in the summer: one before the Feast of SS Peter and Paul (29th June) and one before the Dormition (or Falling-Asleep) of the Most Blessed Virgin (15th August).

The church calendar tells us when these fasts begin (including a number of days not mentioned here) and also those ‘Fast Days’ when fish, wine or oil are allowed: the Calendar published by the Orthodox Fellowship of St John the Baptist is recommended for use in our parish.

‘Fasts’ and ‘Fast Days’ are noted in the church calendar, but the calendar also contains the principal scripture readings (and the names of the saints that are more commonly commemorated) for each day of the year: fasting (as briefly described above) is offered to us by the Church to be used along with prayer (in company with the Saints and the heavenly host). Fasting without prayer will damage you emotionally: if you fast, and find that you are becoming irritable or angry, then either find more time for prayer, or relax the fasting. The change of diet is offered as a help to prayer, and prayer is a way of releasing our spirit to love. If you have loved, and served your family, your friends, your neighbours, and your enemies, you have kept the fast.