Fast means abstinence of food or of certain kinds of food. In the Old Testament, we find many references concerning fasting. In some psalms, fasting is beautifully described. For instance, “I afflicted myself with fasting…my knees are weak through fasting; my body has become gaunt (haggard, lean)” (Ps. 35:13; 109:24).
In the New Testament, we find that our Lord Jesus Christ fasted for forty days and nights before He embarked upon His mission. Referring to evil spirits, He said, “This kind never comes out except by prayer and fasting” (Mt. 17:21). When Jesus Christ was asked why His Disciples do not fast, He explained that it is because He is still with them; when He departs from the earth “then they will fast” (Mt. 9:15).
The Orthodox Church prescribed fasting for the following reasons:
- fasting restrains the body and stimulates spirituality, such as humility, piety, kindness, and so on.
- fasting should always accompany repentance, especially before confession and Holy Communion.
- with fasting we prepare ourselves for great holidays and for the Holy Communion.
- with fasting we commemorate the events from the lives of our Lord and His saints.
There are four fasting seasons prescribed by the Orthodox Church:
- Advent, which begins six weeks before Christmas, on November 28th, according to the new style calendar. In Serbian, it is called “Bozicni post.”
- Lent, which begins seven weeks before Easter. One week before Lent is called “preparatory week” (in Serbian, “Bela nedelja”), because during that week dairy food is permitted. In Serbian, Lent is called “Uskrsnji post.”
- The Apostolic fast was instituted in memory of SS. Peter and Paul, the Holy Apostles. This fasting season begins a week after Pentecost and lasts until the holiday of SS. Peter and Paul, July 12th according to the new style calendar. This fasting season is called in Serbian “Petrov post.”
- The Fast of our Lady was instituted in memory of the Assumption of the Mother of God. This fast season begins on August 14th according to the new style calendar and lasts until the Day of Assumption, August 28th. In Serbian, this fast season is called “Gospojinski post.”
The Orthodox Church has ordered that every Wednesday and Friday throughout the year should be observed as fasting days. The reason for this is that on Wednesday, Judas betrayed our Lord Jesus Christ, and on Friday, our Lord Jesus Christ was crucified and died.
From the book, Divine Liturgy, Prayers, Catechism, St. Sava Seminary Fund, 1979.