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Principles and parameters of fasting


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#1 Jonathan Gress

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Posted 03 April 2008 - 05:44 PM

Apologies for the length of the following, but I have a lot of thoughts I want to share.

I admit I've always been kind of fascinated by rules and systems, so the fasting regulations of the Orthodox Church have given me much food for thought (apologies for the pun). Of course, typically what concerns me most are the 'gray' areas (how many meals a day, what is precisely covered by the ban on wine & oil etc).

However, as Bishop Kallistos says in the introduction to the Lenten Triodion, we are under grace, not the law, so we have to work out with our spiritual fathers what the right system is for us. The rules provide necessary discipline, but they are meant to serve us, not we them.

It seems that what's most important is to have a regular system that reflects the seasons of fasting and feasting in the calendar, but modified according to individual strengths and weaknesses. A severe ascetic may live on bread, vegetables and water once a day for most of the year; during Lent he or she may keep a total fast, and Pascha will be celebrated by one hard-boiled egg. Obviously, that kind of asceticism is beyond most people, but the point is that it's a system which respects the different seasons.

Alternatively, someone new to fasting may need a very relaxed regime, perhaps abstaining only from meat during Lent. As the body gets used to this, a stricter regime can be adopted next year.

Those are my thoughts on general principles.

As to the particulars of the various rules, again it seems a coherent system is required, whatever the actual parameters of that system.

So the bans on fish, wine and oil make a lot of sense in terms of the Greek diet, but less so in the Russian diet, and this is reflected in the actual practices of the two traditions. I know someone in my church who was at Jordanville, and he says that there fish was typically eaten on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, even if the Typicon prohibited fish on those days. In Russia, there are no good protein sources apart from meat, dairy and fish, so if the fast already excludes meat and dairy you are left with little else. In Greece, there are also shellfish and legumes. Hence in the Greek tradition, shellfish are only eaten on wine & oil days (according to my source, who happens to be a Greek monk!).

As for oil, the Russians don't observe that restriction at all, according to my Jordanville friend. Again, this must have something to do with the more impoverished Russian diet. In Greece, olive oil is a fairly basic part of the cuisine, but it is still dispensable in a healthy diet: boiled legumes and grains are quite nourishing in themselves. It is also important to remember (see the handbook by Fr Cownie) that olive oil has a special symbolism in the Bible: it is associated with joy. Other oils do not have that symbolism.

The same goes for wine. Wine, and the grapes from which it is made, is symbolic of happiness, so its use is restricted during fasts. Obviously, the inebriating effect of alcohol must also have something to do with this, but given that drunkenness is a sin in any case, the ban on wine cannot be merely a prohibition on intoxication. On certain days, moderate use of wine is permitted, and for a reason: they are days when the joy of a feast mitigates the severity of the fast.

It makes sense that a ban on wine should also cover spirits, but not necessarily on beer. Russians traditionally consume beer throughout fasts. The ban on wine has no relevance in a culture that doesn't normally use wine, anyway. Moreover, both wine and beer are in fact beneficial to health when consumed moderately, but the poverty of the Russian diet would make it harder to dispense with beer than the Greek diet would with wine. Finally, beer doesn't have the symbolism of wine cf. my comments on oil.

Then there's the matter of how much to eat. My impression is that the two- versus one-meal days do not in fact directly correspond to the strictness of the abstinence rules. Basically, if it's a 'God is the Lord' day (when that is sung at Matins), and there's a Liturgy according to the Typicon, then two meals are allowed, one after Liturgy, the other after Vespers. If it's an 'Alleluia' day, then one meal is allowed after Vespers. This must be because in monasteries, or wherever the Typicon is observed strictly, the noonday meal must happen, at least in theory, between the sixth and ninth hours, and the evening meal between Vespers and Compline. On Alleluia days, there's no break between the sixth and ninth hours. From this we can deduce that whenever the Typicon prescribes a Liturgy for that day, after the sixth hour (if you follow the Russian use), then two meals are allowed. But if Typica is prescribed, and any Liturgy that occurs happens after Vespers (e.g. Presanctified, or Vesperal Liturgy on Christmas Eve), then one meal is allowed. Hence, a two-meal day may have strict abstinence, while a one-meal day may have wine & oil or even fish.

What if you normally eat three meals a day? This bothered me, since the rules seemed designed for monasteries where only two meals, at most, are eaten. The solution is to work out a personal system that respects the seasons as well as your own needs. For instance, on one-meal days, you might eat breakfast and dinner but skip lunch.

The only way to resolve all this satisfactorily is by negotiating, together with your spiritual father, your strengths and weaknesses, and coming up with a regular system. A lot of my struggles have had to do with working out a coherent system, whether of prayer, fasting or whatever else goes into Orthodox living. But the most important factor, I'm coming to appreciate more and more, is absolute consistency and regularity in whatever you do. If you can only cope with ten minutes of prayer in the morning and evening, and have to eat dairy during Lent, so be it, as long as you are consistent and _always_ pray ten minutes each morning and evening, and don't touch meat during Lent, whatever else you do.

Sorry, these are way more than two cents worth. I'd appreciate any feedback!

in Christ

Jonathan

Edited by M.C. Steenberg, 13 April 2008 - 05:50 PM.
Added blank lines between paragraphs


#2 Paul Cowan

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Posted 04 April 2008 - 03:24 AM

I was told to keep my eyes on my own plate.

What is hard about doing this is that there is a plank in it.

Phillipians 2:12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.



Monasteries are the higher water mark we should all strive to attain. It is through the prayers and direction of our spiritual father that we manage with what God has given us. Rules and regulations are all well and good and need to be heeded, but not at the expence to the harm of our souls and bodies as they both also belong to God.

Paul

#3 Effie Ganatsios

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Posted 04 April 2008 - 08:33 AM

We were given a lecture a couple of days ago conerning fasting.

First and foremost : fasting is a very private affair and we should concern ourselves with our own fasting needs and no-one else's. Secondly, the various rules can be changed for individuals if there is a good reason for this i.e. health.

Each person is an individual and while it does some people good to fast strictly, it might not be such a good idea for others.

Fasting from food is just one part of the fasting procedure.

Healthwise, fasting is very good for your body if you are healthy, and what causes most of our illnesses in our well-fed societies is too much food rather than too little.

Whatever comes out of the ground is suitable for fasting. In the past, the olive oil procedure included the skins of animals and that is why we fast from olive oil on certain days.

I can't remember everything that was said. I was going to write some things down while the priest was talking but I ended up just listening.

He emphasized time and time again that the Church does not force anyone to fast and that fasting is hidden and personal. Anyone who boasts to others about how strictly he or she fasts, has hidden faults that need to be faced squarely by that person.

Effie

#4 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 04 April 2008 - 05:17 PM

Effie wrote:

Whatever comes out of the ground is suitable for fasting. In the past, the olive oil procedure included the skins of animals and that is why we fast from olive oil on certain days.


That's very interesting. I've never heard of this explanation before.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#5 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 04 April 2008 - 11:20 PM

According to what I have been told, Russians, during Lent, will strive to observe the same rules as others, but you can't pass through the Russian climate on just boiled vegetables, and so some oil is used to fry off previously boiled vegetables, and men commonly drink beer.

#6 Paul Cowan

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Posted 05 April 2008 - 02:13 AM

He emphasized time and time again that the Church does not force anyone to fast and that fasting is hidden and personal. Anyone who boasts to others about how strictly he or she fasts, has hidden faults that need to be faced squarely by that person.

Effie


I try not to boast of my fasting, but in my job we eat out or cater alot. I am constantly being asked to go eat and just as much decline to go. After making excuses after excuses, I finally got tired and told them I am fasting and they stopped asking me to go. I was not boasting, though I DO have many hidden faults.

At what point does telling others become boasting? Frankly I do most things poorly including fasting.

Paul

#7 Dimitris

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Posted 05 April 2008 - 07:15 AM

I have another question: When was the system of fasting rules fixed? Was it during an Ecumenical Council? Was it during local synods of the autocephaleous churches? Or hasn't it been fixed at all?

Dimitris

#8 Effie Ganatsios

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Posted 05 April 2008 - 07:15 AM

I try not to boast of my fasting, but in my job we eat out or cater alot. I am constantly being asked to go eat and just as much decline to go. After making excuses after excuses, I finally got tired and told them I am fasting and they stopped asking me to go. I was not boasting, though I DO have many hidden faults.

At what point does telling others become boasting? Frankly I do most things poorly including fasting.

Paul


Paul, that is definitely NOT boasting. You were honest and gave a truthful explanation about why you couldn't eat certain foods.

I believe that boasting is when people make a point of the fact that they are fasting, discuss their "virtue" constantly, and perhaps without realizing it, compare themselves favourably to others, who have decided for personal reasons not to fast.

As we were told last Monday, fasting is personal and should not be discussed on a personal level. Fasting "rules" need to be discussed so that we can learn and apply these in fasting periods.

Knowing you do something "poorly" means you are on the right road to doing something properly. To be honest, I am in the same boat!!! (smile).

Effie

#9 Effie Ganatsios

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Posted 05 April 2008 - 07:21 AM

I have another question: When was the system of fasting rules fixed? Was it during an Ecumenical Council? Was it during local synods of the autocephaleous churches? Or hasn't it been fixed at all?

Dimitris


Dimitri, we were told during the same lecture I mentioned above, that these rules for Christians came about slowly in the first two hundred years and were determined by local conditions. I so regret not taking notes but it's too late now.


Effie

#10 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 05 April 2008 - 02:30 PM

The Didache (1st century) already mentions the Wednesday & Friday fast.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#11 Dimitris

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Posted 05 April 2008 - 07:51 PM

I am sorry, I seem to have overread this.

Kind regards,
Dimitris

#12 Rick James York

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Posted 08 April 2008 - 06:43 AM

MODERATOR'S NOTICE: The following message has been posted by an account engaged in on-line identity fraud. The member 'Rick James York' is identical to members 'Rostislav' and 'John M.' The current post, made before discovery of this fact, is being retained in order to preserve the flow of threads; but readers should be aware of this case of multiple identity.

Whatever comes out of the ground is suitable for fasting.

That's great news! We're having rabbit stew for dinner tomorrow!

Just joking.

Forgive me. I could not help it. James

Edited by Administrator, 10 June 2008 - 09:46 AM.
Added notice of identity fraud


#13 Effie Ganatsios

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Posted 10 April 2008 - 06:14 AM

That's great news! We're having rabbit stew for dinner tomorrow!

Just joking.

Forgive me. I could not help it. James


My husband is an avid gardener, James. When do you plant them, how do you plant them, what kind of fertilizer do you use, and when do you harvest them? I love gardening!

Effie

#14 Jonathan Gress

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Posted 12 April 2008 - 03:35 PM

According to what I have been told, Russians, during Lent, will strive to observe the same rules as others, but you can't pass through the Russian climate on just boiled vegetables, and so some oil is used to fry off previously boiled vegetables, and men commonly drink beer.


Yes, that would make a lot of sense.

I was struggling for a time with questions like 'can I use other vegetable oils?' 'can I drink beer' and so on. I wasn't sure what to make of the different traditions. Your Triodion or liturgical calendar will tell you the 'official' rules, but then you read about or observe what traditional Orthodox societies actually do and it's rather different! But the huge variation tells you that fasting really does have to be a private thing, adopted to both local and personal circumstances. You always have to ask yourself 'what's the spirit behind the letter of the rules?'

One thing I wonder about is how to accommodate human weakness. It seems that in every Orthodox society, ways were invented of making fasting less onerous. Some might condemn this weakness, but it seems to me that it's better to fast lightly for the whole of Lent, than to fast strictly for a week or two, and then lose it and break the fast, either in letter, like eating dairy, or in spirit, like getting drunk on something technically allowed, like beer. So it seems that among Russian laymen, the general custom emerged of abstaining from meat and dairy only (at a Russian church I attended, fast days were never marked according to the severity of the fast, they were all the same). For a lot of people, it's hard enough to give up meat and dairy without also giving up fish and alcohol. As Andreas also explained, in the Russian climate, it would be very hard indeed to live on a diet as strict as that prescribed by the Typicon.

Even among the Greeks, who are supposed to be the strictest, I have come across interesting relaxations. For example, it seems that the Lenten 'lagana' bread is traditionally made for Clean Monday only. On that day I read that's it's traditional to go out for picnics and have vegetarian and seafood dishes. I was shocked because elsewhere I'd read you were supposed to eat nothing that day!! But you can hardly condemn them for doing this. If you're blessed by your spiritual father to eat fried calamari and fly kites in the spring sunshine on the first day of Lent, then do so!

#15 Demetrios

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Posted 17 April 2008 - 12:48 PM

We were given a lecture a couple of days ago conerning fasting.



Whatever comes out of the ground is suitable for fasting. In the past, the olive oil procedure included the skins of animals and that is why we fast from olive oil on certain days.



Effie


I think olive oil was stored in animal skins years ago. My family has produced olive oil for generations and too my knowledge. Animal fat was never used in the production of olive oil. Pure olive oil becomes solidified in cold temperatures. It sometimes resembles animal fat or butter. It is frequently used in the production of soap and other cosmetic products. I believe the reason we don't consume it during fasts is because of it nourishing qualities.
Fasting is used to oppress the physical body in order to allow the spiritual side of man to take over. When I fast I find myself become depressed and see others and myself in a different way. I become more loving towards others and caring about there needs. All of the products that we are called to stop using usually keep the body well nourished and when the body is nourished it tends too be more animal like and a predator likeness. Fasting makes me into a different person. One can say that it sheds off the flesh to reveal who man truly is.

#16 Effie Ganatsios

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Posted 18 April 2008 - 07:15 AM

I think olive oil was stored in animal skins years ago. My family has produced olive oil for generations and too my knowledge. Animal fat was never used in the production of olive oil. Pure olive oil becomes solidified in cold temperatures. It sometimes resembles animal fat or butter. It is frequently used in the production of soap and other cosmetic products. I believe the reason we don't consume it during fasts is because of it nourishing qualities.
Fasting is used to oppress the physical body in order to allow the spiritual side of man to take over. When I fast I find myself become depressed and see others and myself in a different way. I become more loving towards others and caring about there needs. All of the products that we are called to stop using usually keep the body well nourished and when the body is nourished it tends too be more animal like and a predator likeness. Fasting makes me into a different person. One can say that it sheds off the flesh to reveal who man truly is.


Dimitri,I completely agree with your last paragraph.

Animal fat wasn't mentioned in the lecture I referred to. It was something about animal skins. They might have been referring to the storage of olive oil in the distant past and the contact of the olive oil with the animal skin. As I already mentioned, I didn't take notes and have forgotten 80% of what I heard........... very foolish.

I don't know much about olive oil production - We don't have olive trees up here, too cold. My husband has planted two olive trees but they don't produce olives (they haven't grown much either).... I use the leaves for tea. We get our oil from friends in the Peloponesse.

Effie

#17 Carolyn C.

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Posted 08 November 2012 - 02:19 AM

Does anyone know why shrimp, clams, etc. are permitted during the lenten periods, but fish is not? Does it have anything to do with distinguishing early Christians from Jews who were allowed to eat fish, but not allowed to eat any shellfish? I've never been able to understand why lobster would not break the fast but tuna would break it.

#18 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 08 November 2012 - 07:52 AM

Shellfish do not have backbones or blood. Nevertheless, fasting is about more than the rules; we ought to fast in spirit, and whilst (expensive) lobster seems technically all right, it is hardly in the spirit of fasting whereas (cheap) prawns are. Black caviar seems technically all right but is far more expensive than lobster and the same applies. (By contrast, red caviar is relatively cheap in Russian shops, and jars of caviar (ikra) paste are very cheap.)

#19 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 08 November 2012 - 01:49 PM

It is only in modern western cultures that shellfish has been seen as high class food. Before this among those cultures where fish was abundant, shellfish was seen as trash food or certainly at least not as fancy food.

We see this for example even up to recent times where Anton Chekhov in one of his few stories about peasant life in Russia- The Steppe-depicts the peasants reaching into a pond and eating shellfish, or else using this for stew.

In Christ
-Fr Raphael

#20 Father David Moser

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Posted 08 November 2012 - 03:53 PM

Cautionary note: This is all a product of my fevered imagination - but it makes sense to me. Take it for what its worth (certainly not a dogmatic truth).

In my reading of St Basil the Great's Hexameron, he makes a distinction between cold blooded animals and warm blooded animals stating that the cold blooded soul is inferior or less well formed than the warm blooded soul. The link between blood and the characteristics of an organism is common in primitive cultures. In the OT law, the Jews were prohibited from eating the blood of animals (hence the kosher laws about how an animal is slaughtered and how it is prepared for consumption). The animal soul is governed by the animal passions and thus the consumption of the blood of an animal could be perceived as communicating the passionate nature of the animal to the one consuming it. When a person consumes the blood of an animal, it would thus communicate the passionate nature of the animal to the person. Eating the meat/blood of an animal then inflames the passions.

If all this is a valid line of reasoning, then the prohibition of meat and meat products during the fast makes sense, in that by abstaining from the meat/blood of animals, we do not inflame the passions by communicating with the passionate nature of the animal. Since the soul of a cold blooded animal is inferior to that of a warm blooded animal, consuming fish is less inflaming than consuming meat and therefore permitted at times during a fast. Shellfish have no discernible blood and thus do not contribute to the inflammation of the passions and are therefore permitted during the fast.

By the same token, receiving the Body and Blood of Christ communicates to us the divine nature of Jesus Christ and so while we refrain from animal blood to avoid inflaming the passions, we eagerly partake of the Most Holy Blood of Christ that we might strengthen the process of theosis and the development of the divine nature in us.

But then this could all be my foolishness so, caveat emptor.

Fr David Moser




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