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Early Christian Evidence For Orthodox Fasting

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#1 Eric Todd

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Posted 19 March 2014 - 10:40 PM

I am aware of the Patristic evidence for the importance of fasting, in the Didache, in the Shepherd of Hermas, Tertullian, etc. The historical witness is clear: we should fast.

Yet what does that mean? How should we fast?

I wonder, however, what evidence there is from the ante Nicene Church for the way we fast in the Orthodox Church during Lent or on Wednesdays and Fridays--ie a mostly vegan, "Daniel Fast".

#2 Kosta


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Posted 20 March 2014 - 06:37 AM

It is the tradition as passed down. No need for something written down as the observance was not uniform nor was the length of time uniform.   Of course later on rules were written etc,  and the fasts were expanded. For example fasting was always mandatory on Wednesday's and Friday's to remember the betrayal and passion of Christ. But as the laity began communing less frequently the fast required one week of fasting for such cases.



The Roman Church also held a strict fast on the Sabbath because that was the day the apostles mourned Christ as he laid in the tomb while his opponnents celebrated his death. Thus roman Christians commemorated this day with sadness like the disciples did. This fast day which was never accepted in the east prohibited the eating of oil. Probably in the earliest time it was a prolonged period of time of abstinence from all food.


Tertullian spoke of breaking the fasts at the ninth hour as customary, presumable all food was abstained until that hour.  He also alludes that water was the only drink sanctioned during the fasts. What time the fast started Im not sure, I haven't looked into it.  Dionysios of Alexandria says some fast all 6 days of holy week, we presume it means certain foods were abstained from and what was eaten was scant.  Dionysios also touches upon what times the fast should end as there was some diversity of practise at that time.


Irenaeous wrote:


For the controversy is not merely as regards the day, but also as regards the form itself of the fast. For some consider themselves bound to fast one day, others two days, others still more, while others [do so during] forty: the diurnal and the nocturnal hours they measure out together as their [fasting] day. And this variety among the observers [of the fasts] had not its origin in our time, but long before in that of our predecessors, some of whom probably, being not very accurate in their observance of it, handed down to posterity the custom as it had, through simplicity or private fancy, been [introduced among them]. And yet nevertheless all these lived in peace one with another, and we also keep peace together. Thus, in fact, the difference [in observing] the fast establishes the harmony of [our common] faith. (Fragments of Irenaeous ch3)


St Irenaeous above mentions "the diurnal and nocturnal hours", not sure how much this reveals.

Most likely studying the quartodeciman controversy and how things were don in the Asia Minor churches will reveal how the fast was practiced. Irenaous above is alluding to the fasting practices of the Asia Minor churches with those of Rome.   Many scholars believe the saying in Luke 22.15-16 : ..."With desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I say unto you I will not eat anymore, thereof until it be fulfilled in the Kingdom of God" to be a reference to urge Christians to fast and not observe the jewish Passover.  

Edited by Kosta, 20 March 2014 - 06:41 AM.

#3 Father David Moser

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Posted 27 March 2014 - 01:36 AM

Fr Serge Sveshnikov gave a presentation on fasting to the clergy of the Western American Diocese (ROCOR) in which he maintained that when the ascetic fathers speak of "fasting" the assumption is a complete fast (no food). I'm not sure I agree with his assertion, however, his scholarship is usually pretty good.


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#4 Salaam Yitbarek

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Posted 30 March 2014 - 03:53 AM

I would say that for most Ethiopian Orthodox fasting means not eating till noon or 3pm, except for Saturdays and Sundays, and what they eat is vegan. This is understandably similar to the Copts. Do Eastern Orthodox laity today practice any kind of regular complete fast?

#5 Kosta


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Posted 30 March 2014 - 08:15 AM

Orthodox fast is also primarily vegetarian. Its probably no different than the Copts. Although I hear the Copts also abstain from shellfish.

#6 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 30 March 2014 - 08:19 AM

Some years ago, there was a programme on television here about a (black) journalist who went to share the life of a poor family in Ethiopia. They lived in absolute poverty, dwelling in a grass hut and having nothing to eat save 'wild cabbage soup'. They got some bread once a week at church which was several miles away - they walked. Even so, on fasting days, they ate nothing until 3pm. I felt thoroughly ashamed though it didn't make me any better. 

#7 Kosta


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Posted 09 April 2014 - 05:03 AM

The above posts should be presented at the up coming Orthodox council where fasting regulations will be discussed.  When Tertullian spoke of breaking the fast at the 9th hour, he meant 3pm.


St Nikodemos spoke of this same thing on his commentary on the 64th apostolic canon:

"Fasting is one thing and leaving off fasting is another thing, and abolishing fasting is still another thing. Thus fasting,  properly speaking, is complete abstinence from food of all kinds, or even when one eats but once a day, about the ninth hour, dry food, or more explicitly speaking, plain bread and water alone.


Leaving off fasting is when one eats before the 9th hour, even though it be merely figs, or currants or raisins, or anything else of this kind. Or if, besides bread and water, He should eat also some kind of frugal and cheap comestibles, such as for instance legumes, wine, oil, or shellfish.


Abolishing fasting on the other hand, is when one eats of all food, including meat, and fish, and milk, and cheese and the rest."


The Church is to preserve the unchanging tradition. When the Church requires a strict fast and advises that no wine is permited, it really is saying no beverages other than water. As wine (and probably milk) were the only beverages of the time. It also means to avoid eating before 3pm. The council should seek ways to preserve the tradition and bring it back to remembrance, not change it.  Kudos to the Ethiopians for preserving the tradition to our own day.

Edited by Kosta, 09 April 2014 - 05:05 AM.

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