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Fasting Guidelines


Fasting is integrally related to prayer and acts of charity. When Orthodox Christians integrate these three things into their daily activity, they are like vigilant sentinels, anticipating the man of eternity, who goes beyond himself to God. The whole man, body and soul, participates in the act of fasting. The body’s participation in the spiritual exercise (ascesis) is sought not through suffering and affliction, but in endurance through abstention and resistance to distractions.

Let us observe a fast acceptable to the Lord. The liturgical year contains a number of important fast days and fast periods of varying lengths as following:

1. The weekly fast on all Wednesdays and Fridays (except during Bright Week, the Leave-taking (Apodosis) of Pascha, the week after Pentecost, the period between Christmas and Theophany, and the first week of the Triodion, i.e. after the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee. When a Great Feast of the Lord or of the Theotokos happens to fall on one of these days, the fast is normally abolished.

2. The day before (Paramone) the Feasts of Christmas and Theophany.

3. The Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross (September 14) and the Beheading of St. John the Baptist (August 29). When these two feasts fall on a Saturday or Sunday the fast is less severe but not abolished.

4. The five periods of fasting.


1. The Great Lent, which lasts for fifty days. Adherence to monastic traditions also calls for a partial fast during the week preceding the beginning of Lent.

2. The Holy Week. A lesser fast is observed on the Saturday of Lazarus and Palm Sunday. A strict fast is observed from Holy Monday through the Paschal Vigil.

3. The Fast of the Apostles begins on the Monday after the Sunday of All Saints and ends on June 28, the eve of the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul the Apostles. The duration of this fast depends on the date of Pascha; however, in modern usage this fast is not observed with strictness.

4. The Fast of the Dormition of the Theotokos (August 1-14).

5. The Fast of Christmas (November 15-December 24). In modern usage a strict observance of this fast commences after December 12. (The celebration of the Marriage Service which is generally prohibited during fasting periods is permitted between November 15 and December 12).

The rules concerning fasting generally refer to the number of meals taken daily and the type of food that is permitted. On an ascending scale, the severity of the fast is measured as follows:
1. abstention from meat (the least severe);
2. abstention also from animal products, such as eggs, milk, butter, and cheese;
3. abstention from fish and;
4. abstention from oil and wine.

The fewer meals taken daily also indicates the severity of the fast. The most severe fast is called “dry eating” (xerophagia), and consists in the consumption of water, bread, juices, honey, nuts, and in a less severe form, fruits and boiled vegetables.