I have further questions, and they are related not only to sexual relations on fast days, but also to those relations on feast days. Even though it is not mentioned as often as the issue of fasting days, I have came across many passages in the Orthodox writings which deal with having sex on feast days.
The canons of the Church are indeed guidelines, something not to be treated legalistically, which are applied usually in moderation *by the bishop or the priest to each person* according to each person's disposition and circumstances in such a manner as to be beneficial to the healing of the soul and each person's salvation.
1. In one of the texts on lives of the Saints, there was an example of a child who would have grown up to be a great sinner because his parents conceived him on Easter, but an angel took his life, so that he could be saved. I am sorry that I don't remember which Saint's life this was told in, but it is a famous example, as it is taken from an encounter with an angel who taught the Saint not to question God's judgments.
2. I remember how I read somewhere what Saint Kosmas of Ethol wrote, it was something about God punishing people who make love on Sunday with premature death and how He throws those people to Hell, and similar.
3. More recently, I read a text by a certain nun Eupraxia, from the Greek island Kalimnos. She passed away sometime around 1950. The text is a testimony of her near-death experience, which lasted for three days, and happened before she became a nun. Anyway, there was one point in the vision, where the nun saw a man and a woman in torment in some bed with flames. The explanation was that they "lived in debauchery and didn't respect feast days".
So, what is to be made of this? Should feast days be abstained? If so, which feast days?
I am aware that couples should abstain after receiving Communion, but there are two questions:
1. how long should they abstain after Communion?
2. what if they don't take Communion on a particular Sunday or a feast day? This is especially important because, as far as I know, for the last several centuries (before the 20th) frequent Communion wasn't practiced for laymen, yet these rules existed in the Church.
Also, some priests in the Serbian Church insist that marital fast applies to the evening before fast days, but I didn't see what their position is on making love on the evening of a fast day. If you abstain from sex on Thursday evening because tomorrow is Friday, should you also abstain on Friday evening?
To make things even more complicated, there is the issue of duration of a feast day. I read somewhere that a feast day doesn't end with an evening service for the following day, but that it extends to the morning of the next day. That would mean, for example, that if couples must abstain "on Sunday", that would mean abstaining from Saturday evening until Monday morning! Such a heavy burden to carry, frankly, I don't like it.
I am afraid to ask a priest on this matter, as I have seen instances of people (myself included) getting answers which seem to be either too liberal or too strict. Is there an official position of the Church on when marital ascetics should (or must) be practiced? My post is probably confusing, but it only illustrates confusion in my mind and my nous.
Could some of the fathers on this forum share their perspective?