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Marital Fasting and the "Grey Zones" of the Calendar

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#1 Father Philosoph Uhlman

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Posted 22 March 2012 - 07:11 AM

During Cheesefare week this year I was asked by someone whether marital fasting was in effect during cheesefare week and a couple of other times during the year?

This is likely a very modern sort of question based in an excessive concern and preoccupation with all things sexual and the relentless drive to visibilise everything, but I myself wondered whether there were any clear guidelines around marital fasting in these "grey" sort of areas of the calendar?

I tended to think of marital relations as being the equivalent of consuming meat in thinking about fasting in relation to the passions and flesh - so my guess was no marital relations during Cheesefare - but is this a correct assumption about what is the point of concern here? The canons that I've looked at tend to speak of fasting generally without subdividing it into discrete types of fasting, but I wonder whether the subject of marital fasting involves a little more than the level of passions current in the body, and not perhaps also matters of where the mind is directed.

Does anyone, have any knowledge of what is said concerning Meatfare, Cheesefare, and post-festal periods like Paschaltide, the period between Nativity and Theophany, and the periods of the afterfeasts? I've left the Publican & Pharisee as its specific aim is quite evident. My sense would be in the first cases of at least with Cheesefare that it would be contrary to the spirit of moving towards lent and the resistance and renunciation associated with our energies, while in the case of the latter sort of periods of celebration marital relations would direct us away from being minded towards the celebration of the feast. Thinking about Bright week in particular, and the traditions the first 3 days or the entire week being described as a single day, it seems to me that it would be just as unacceptable and double-minded to have marital relations during the after-feast as having relations on the feastday itself.

But I wonder if anyone can offer up what has been transmitted concerning these things in the father or within received tradition?

#2 Olga



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Posted 22 March 2012 - 07:29 AM

A good rule of thumb as to when couples should abstain is to look at the periods during the year where Orthodox weddings are prohibited. Some liturgical calendars, and many parish handbooks, list these times. Cheesefare Sunday is considered the last day of the post-Nativity period where weddings may be conducted.

#3 Fr. Michael L.

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Posted 22 March 2012 - 07:44 PM

As always asked your spritual Father/Confessor. However there are two schools of thought on this matter as I have been told.

One will say if it is a fast day then no marital relations. I would not include cheese-fare in this as it is a ramping down of sorts to prepare us for the Great Fast not really lenten in spirit i.e. maslenitsa (IMHO).

Th other school of thought is best expressed by Arch-priest Alexander Lebedeff - see his response to this question below:

Re: Fasting from the Flesh

--- In ask_the_archpriest@y..., "Marie Ward" <marieward@h...> wrote:
> Father, bless.
(This is a marriage kind of a question, so I will understand if
you cannot answer it on a mailing list. Please forgive me if it is wrong to
ask about this sort of thing.)
> A.B. asked a question using this phrase:
> "the fast from the flesh of the Great Fast"
> Does this mean for the *entire* 8 weeks of fasting? Eight weeks?!
How is this possible? Fasting from food and tv effects only me, but
fasting from the flesh forces someone else to fast also. Whether or not he wants
to. The arguments that this would cause in our home if I tried to fast
in this way!
> Or worse: what if my husband went along with this and then a few
weeks into the fast, I wanted to stop fasting but he didn't? And he
refuses to stop the fast? Then what would I do? I could not go to the priest
and ask him to make my husband stop fasting.
> Why would the Church put such a huge burden on us? At a time when
we are so easily annoyed with each other because of the food fast, to keep
us separated in this way. It does not make sense to me...
> the handmaiden of the Lord,
> Marie


Dear Marie,

Here is what I posted recently about this subject on another list.


This discussion reminds me of a true story from my own experience.

Not long after we were married, my wife and I (I was a third year
Seminarian at Jordanville then), were invited to have lunch by one of
the old Russian couples that lived in the so-called "Russian village"
about a mile from the monastery. We gladly accepted (we were so poor, we were
subsisting mainly on macaroni, so any invitation "out" was deeply
appreciated). After a wonderful Russian meal, the old "babushka" of
the house took us over to the side and conspiratorily whispered: "I know
you're recently married, but you do know, of course, the Church rules on
when you can, and when you can't?"

It was pretty clear what she was talking about, so we just politely

She went on: "Well, you can't do it on Tuesday, because that's the
eve of a fast day; you can't do it on Wednesday, because it's a fast day; you
can't do it on Thursday, because that's the eve of a fast day, also; you
obviously can't do it on Friday, because that's a fast day, too; you
can't do it on Saturday, because that's the eve of a Feast Day, and you
can't do it on Sunday, because that's a Feast Day."

"What about Monday?" I asked.

"Well, you can't do it on Monday, either, because of an old pious
custom, since Monday is dedicated to the Bodiless Powers, the Angels, who are
an example of purity--and it's also a fast day among monastics."

I asked the venerable Babushka, "And you followed these rules
strictly when you were young and just married?"

"Oh, no," she replied, "We were young and foolish, and didn't know
any better. . . "

The point of this story is that old babushkas are the first to point
out restrictions that do not at all exist according to the Church. The
scriptural admonition is for married couples *not* to deny each other
sexual relations, except by mutual consent for the purpose of prayer
and fasting.

Abstinence from sexual relations (by mutual consent) is certainly
appropriate the evening before receiving the Holy Sacraments, and
during the day that one receives them. It is certainly *not* an absolute
"requirement" of the Church to abstain on all fast days (and on the
eves of fast days), or during the 11 days after the Nativity when marriages
are not permitted.

The Russian Church in the 13th century issued guidelines for married
clergy on these issues, and they included as days of mandatory abstinence
only the first and last week of Great Lent, the two weeks of Dormition Lent,
and Wednesdays and Fridays during Nativity Lent and the Lent of the Holy

The married state is blessed and the marriage bed is undefiled. The
Holy Church in protecting the sanctity of marriage and the well-being of
the spouses, as well as encouraging procreation and the raising of "fair
children" has no interest in creating artificial impediments to
preclude spouses from "rejoicing in one another."

If anyone wishes individual guidance on these matters, they should,
of course, consult with their Spiritual Father.

With love in Christ,

Prot. Alexander Lebedeff


Edited by Michael L., 22 March 2012 - 07:45 PM.

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