Extended fasting periods
There are four main periods of extended fasting:
- The Great Lent is the period of six weeks preceding Holy Week in anticipation of the Feast of Feasts, Pascha, followed by the fasting of Holy Week. Great Lent is preceded by the Meatfast, that starts on the Monday after the Sunday of the Last Judgment through Cheesefare Sunday.
- The Nativity Fast (or Advent; also called St. Philip’s Fast, coming immediately after his feast on November 14), is the period from November 15 to December 24 (forty days) in anticipation of Christmas, the Festival of the Nativity of the Savior.
- The Apostles’ Fast is the period from the Monday after All Saints (a variable feast) to the feast day of Ss. Peter and Paul on June 29.
- The Dormition Fast is the period of the first two weeks of August in anticipation of the feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos.
- Eve of Theophany (January 5)
- Beheading of St. John the Baptist (August 29)
- Elevation of the Holy Cross (September 14)
- All Wednesdays, except for Fast-Free Weeks, in remembrance of the betrayal of Christ by Judas Iscariot.
- All Fridays, except for Fast-Free Weeks, in remembrance of Christ’s Crucifixion.
Orthodox Christians also regularly fast on Wednesdays and Fridays to commemorate, respectively, Christ’s betrayal by Judas Iscariot and His Crucifixion. Monasteries additionally commemorate the angels on Mondays by fasting.
Preparation for receiving the Holy Eucharist
Fasting is a part of the preparation for receiving the Body and Blood of Christ. Additionally, confession and a specific rule of prayers are necessary for proper preparation. For morning Liturgies, one keeps an absolute fast (no food or drink, even water) on arising from sleep until receiving Communion. Some also abstain from meat and dairy after the preceding Vespers. For afternoon or evening Liturgies, one should keep an absolute fast for at least six hours. One should always check with the primary celebrant of the Divine Liturgy to verify his expectations regarding preparation for reception of the Eucharist. Because the celebrating priest or deacon will commune and then consume the remaining Eucharist, he observes an absolute fast before every Liturgy he celebrates.
The fasting discipline may be relaxed, if necessary, when one is traveling or ill. Additionally, exceptions should be made when receiving another’s hospitality, because the focus should not be on outward shows of piety, but rather accepting the love and generosity of others. Orthodox Christians should not fast to the detriment of their health. Fasting is a means to an end and not an end in itself. If you are new to fasting, ask your priest for guidance before you begin.
- After certain feasts, Orthodox Christians do not fast, in order to show their joy for the feast.
- Afterfeast of the Nativity of Christ to Theophany Eve (December 25 through January 4)
- The week following the Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee (first week of the Lenten Triodion)
- Bright Week (the week after Pascha)
- Trinity Week (the week after Pentecost)