The spiritual renewal of man is aided by two things, prayer
and fasting. All the saints attained salvation not only by prayer, but also by
fasting. "This kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting," said
the Saviour about driving away an unclean spirit (Matt. ).
For the ancient Christians, fasting meant eating
nothing at all or eating a little of the simplest kind of food, bread and
water. Nowadays, although most people do not fast with such strictness, we
should still abstain from meat and dairy products on fast days, as well as from
everything excessive, and we should try to deepen our prayer and thoughts of
God. Fasting forms in us the habit of abstinence; it helps man restrain his
passions; it strengthens the spirit while weakening the flesh.
Times for fasting were laid down in the ancient
Christian Church, following the example of Jesus Christ, Who fasted for forty
days and spoke about fasting (Matt. 6:16-18).
Some fasts are only for one day, while others last
for many days. The one-day fasts include every Wednesday and Friday and certain
other days in the year, except that fasting is not
required during the following times: the fast-free weeks after Pascha and
Pentecost; the period from Christmas till Epiphany Eve; Cheese-fare Week or
Carnival and the week of the Pharisee and the Publican.
Among the extended periods of fasting the most
important is Lent, called the Great Fast, which begins seven weeks before
Pascha, right after Forgiveness Sunday. The last week of Lent is called Holy
Week or Passion Week, because it commemorates the Passion of our Saviour. On
Friday of Passion Week (Good Friday), it is customary not to eat anything until
the bringing out of the Shroud of our Lord. The other seasons of fasting are:
a) the Dormition Fast, which lasts for two weeks (August 1-15 by the church
calendar, August 14-28 on the civil) and was instituted to prepare us for the
feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God; b) the Apostlesí Fast or St
Peterís Fast, which prepares us for the feast of the holy Apostles Peter and
Paul, beginning on the Monday following Pentecost Week and lasting until July
12 (civil calendar), when the feast is celebrated; c) the Christmas Fast or St
Philipís Fast, which prepares us for the feast of the Nativity of Christ and
lasts for forty days, from November 28 till January 6 (civil calendar). The
last day of this fast, Christmas Eve, is kept with special strictness; people
do not eat anything until the first star has appeared in the sky.