Our Church adopted fasting from the Old Testament. Christ Himself fasted and preached about its significance (Matt. 6:16, Mark 2:20 and 9:29). The Early Church too, observed fasting (Acts 13:2, 14:23 and II Cor 2:27). As early as the beginning of the third century, we have documents (of Didache) substantiating the early establishment of regular fasting days such as Wednesday and Friday: these two days are symbolic, and commemorative of Christ’s betrayal and crucifixion. By the end of the fourth century, the forty-day (Great) Lenten fast was wide-spread. Later other fasting periods were adopted by our Church.
Fasting, accompanied by prayer and charity, is a way of disciplining our entire person. It is our body’s participation in the spiritual struggle. Contrary to what most people think, it underlines - rather than undermining - the significance of the body towards whose glory it also contributes. Furthermore, fasting is a small way of sharing in contemporary suffering throughout the world.
In our ecclesiastical calendar, fasting usually precedes great feasts and acts as a preparation for these events.
During fasting periods, the faithful are encouraged to increase their struggles in prayer, to reflect and confess, as well as make a more concerted effort to offer charity.
Fasts prescribed by the church
1. Wednesday and Friday
Every Wednesday and Friday is to be observed with fasting unless some important Feast takes precedence over the fast. (See exceptions noted below.)
The Fast on Wednesday is in memory of the betrayal of the Lord, and the Fast on Friday is in remembrance of His Passion and Death upon the Cross.
2. Special Fast Days
August 29 - the Beheading of St John the Baptist
September 14 - the Elevation of the Holy Cross.
January 5 - the Eve of the Epiphany.
3. Lent, the Great Fast
Lent begins forty days before Palm Sunday, on the Monday after Cheese-fare Sunday and lasts until the evening preceding Palm Sunday. Holy Week is a special Fast in honour of our Lord’s Passion and lasts from the evening of Palm Sunday through to Holy Saturday.
4. The Fast of the Holy Apostles.
The Fast of the Holy Apostles begins on the Monday after All Saints’ Sunday (the Sunday after Pentecost) and lasts until June 29, the Feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul. The Fast varies in length according to the date of Easter.
5. The Fast of the Theotokos
The fast which precedes the Feast of the Falling-asleep of the All-holy Theotokos begins on August 1 and lasts until the day of the Feast August 15.
6. The Fast before Christmas
The Fast before Christmas begins November 15 and lasts until the day of the Feast of the Nativity December 25.
7. Periods when fasting is forbidden.
The Church forbids fasting during the following periods:
From December 25 to January 4.
The week following the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee.
The week following Meat-fare Sunday (abstinence from flesh-meat is required during this week but no fasting).
The week following Easter.
The week following Pentecost.