The Prayer

St Seraphim the Wonderworker of SarovWHY DO WE PRAY

If we pray for personal needs only, because we need something, then the most necessary ingredient in relationship is missing: love. In order to establish and maintain a relationship (a dialogue, a communion), our love for God should be at the very heart of our desire to come nearer to Him.

The purpose of prayer is expressed excellently by the verse of Psalm 34:5: “Draw near to Him and be enlightened.”

The purpose of prayer is, simply put, the experience of prayer. And this is coupled with contrition and tears. Tears of repentance are born only through prayer. And prayer again is born only through tears of repentance. St John Climacus stressed this by saying that prayer is “the mother and the daughter of tears.”

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT

“All the virtues and powers of God are attained primarily by prayer. Without prayer there is no spiritual life. If you are not successful in your prayer, you will not be successful in anything, for prayer is the root of everything.” (Father Thomas Hopko) “He who is able to pray correctly, even if he is the poorest of all people, is essentially the richest. And he who does not have proper prayer, is the poorest of all, even if he sits on a royal throne.” (St John Chrysostom)

WHAT ARE ITS BENEFITS

“Prayer is the spiritual food that strengthens our whole being. Prayer enables us to maintain a personal relationship with our loving God. Through that intimate soul to Spirit dialogue, prayer softens our wills so that we can become more receptive to His will. In prayer we can see where we have been, where we are and where we need to direct our steps in order to walk in God’s Way.

“Prayer on a daily basis creates a rhythm to our lives and helps us in attaining the central goal of human life: to become more Christ-like. We may attend Church regularly and be involved in our parish socially, administratively etc, but if we do not take that one-to-one time with the Lord every day to renew and re-vitalize ourselves wit Him, we may find that Christ is no longer our central focus. We can become so involved with the details of modern living that we can forget and lose the joy of real life, squeezing out the Lord.

“Using the established prayers of the Church and the Psalms can and should be a liberating experience for us, one in which our own spirits become more open to the Spirit of God. We soar to the heights of communion with Christ in glimpsing His Way. When we feel His nearness, we receive a foretaste of Heaven. Prayer helps to lessen our dependence on erroneous models for living, such as pride, fear, self-centeredness, and lack of love for others.” (Theodora Dracopoulos Argue)

HOW SHOULD I PRAY

“It has been correctly said that the greatest privilege, but also the greatest problem for the faithful, is prayer. The truth of this observation is clear, since it has to do with the most unequal and unheard of “relationship”, namely communication between created human beings and the uncreated God. This form of communication is first of all impossible and inconceivable, since there is an unbridgeable gap between the corruptible substance of the human person and the supersubstantial and inaccessible God. Yet that which is not possible according to essence, God makes possible and achievable according to His grace and love for humanity.” (Archbishop Stylianos of Australia)

Genuine prayer needs the following:

  • We need to follow the exhortation of the Apostle Peter and be “watchful in prayer,” that is to be attentive with our eyes wide open.
  • We need to direct ourselves towards the mercy of God, humbled and purified by the awe which the sense of God’s immediate presence in the world inspires within us
  • We need to be grateful to God and to love Him unreservedly for His countless blessings
  • We need to have forgiven deep in our heart those who have wronged us. The Fathers stress that even if we are not to blame for the breakdown in relations with our fellow human being we must be willing to forget the wrong that they have done to us. The faithful person seeks neither revenge nor to “pay back”, for the faithful know that only God is entitled to something like that: “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” (Rom 12:19)
  • The atmosphere of prayer must be one of mourning, contrition and repentance. A “broken and contrite heart God will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17)
  • Each of us needs a quiet place to pray. There we should have our icon(s), oil lamp, incense, prayer books, and definitely privacy and quiet.

WHAT PRAYERS SHOULD I SAY, HOW OFTEN & WHEN SHOULD I PRAY

The saints in their writings stress the need for a specific format of prayer called the “rule of prayer”. The idea is to choose a set of prayers that best suits our individual needs and to use it every day. This rule should come out of an Orthodox prayer book which contains prayers written by holy people. The rule is a discipline which helps develop our relationship with God, and because the prayers were written by people who came very close to God, they help us enter that mindset . We can speak to God in our own words, but this is in addition to our rule of prayer.

The Church Fathers tell us that prayer should include:

  • Praise- expressing the awe, honour, and love that we have for God, He who created us out of nothing and who saved us
  • Thanksgiving- for all that God has done for us, blessings that are apparent and not apparent
  • Petition- we can express our needs to God, but need to acknowledge that God knows what is best for us better than we do, and we need to primarily ask that God’s will be done in our lives. We ask God to guide us, help us to live His way, to serve Him, His Church and other people. Our primary request in prayer needs to be for the pardon of our sins.

We can pray for others, in general terms and for specific people, mentioning their names, for living people and for people who have died. Hopefully we do not hate anyone, but, if we do, we need to pray for them.

A regular time for prayer each day helps us to build a strong link with God and this to deeply experience His love and personal blessing on us. We may be busy, however we need to set priorities in our lives, if we crowd out prayer we are cheating ourselves.

Very Rev. Dimitri Kokkinos

Parish Priest of St. John The Forerunner – Parramatta (NSW)

References
Αρχιεπισκόπου Αυστραλίας Στυλιανού. Περί Προσευχής. Γέφυρες. Αθήνα 1999
Theodora Dracopoulos Argue. Practicing daily Prayer in the Orthodox Christian Life. Light and Life Publishing Company. Minneapolis 1989
Fr Thomas Hopko The Orthodox Faith. Volume iv Spirituality. Dept of Religious Education, The Orthodox Church of America 1984

The Jesus Prayer

The-Mandylion

The Jesus Prayer is the traditional practice of ceaseless prayer (cf. 1 Thess. 5:17) in the Orthodox Christian Tradition. The standard formula of the Jesus Prayer reads: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me” or, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, the sinner.” In practice, a variety of forms can be used. The shortest forms are simply “Lord, have mercy” or even more simply “Jesus.”

The Jesus prayer has a biblical foundation. It is based on the combination of two prayers in the Gospel: that of the blind man in Jericho, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Luke 18:38), and that of the tax collector, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” (Luke 18:13).

The Jesus Prayer is meant to be cultivated ceaselessly, not just during our specified prayer times. We can focus on this prayer while we are doing our ordinary daily tasks of walking, driving, cleaning, cooking, managing children, or anytime, night or day. When this prayer is practiced over time, it can enter into the heart and become what is called “the prayer of the heart.” The immersion into the Holy Name of Jesus, which is a continuation of our baptismal immersion, brings our attention to Christ and Christ, in turn, dwells in us. The prayer warms the heart and becomes an experience of God’s Presence.

Many people have become familiar with the Jesus Prayer through the classic book, “The Way of a Pilgrim”, the story of an anonymous Russian pilgrim who lived in the middle of the nineteenth century. We are told that the pilgrim began by saying the Jesus Prayer a certain number of times everyday, increasing from several hundred to several thousand times a day with continuous effort. Then to his surprise, as he tells us, “Early one morning the prayer woke me up as it were.” Ever since then he found the prayer repeating itself constantly in keeping with the rhythm of each heartbeat. It was as though he were carrying a small “murmuring stream” flowing unceasingly in his heart. Prayer in such a person is no longer a series of activities but a permanent state. Bishop Kallistos Ware, however, warns the readers of the Pilgrim against gaining the wrong impression that this journey from strenuous prayer to self-acting prayer is easily attained. The rapid achievement of the pilgrim is something altogether exceptional. More usually, prayer of the heart comes only after a lifetime of ascetic practice.

One of the obstacles in attaining ceaseless prayer is that the human mind is always active. St Theophan the Recluse says that thoughts keep moving restlessly and aimlessly in our mind like the buzzing of flies. It is of little use to say to ourselves “stop thinking” we might as well say “stop breathing.” The rational mind cannot remain completely idle. But while it lies beyond our power to make the continual chattering of the thoughts disappear, what we can do is to detach ourselves from it, gently but persistently. In order to let go the multiplicity of thoughts we must, as Diadochus of Photike recommends, give the mind “some task which will satisfy its need for activity,” that is, something which will keep it sufficiently occupied, without allowing it to be too active. For the same purpose, St Theophan teaches that “to stop the continual jostling of your thoughts you must bind the mind with one thought, or the thought of One [i.e. God] only.” In our case, this one single thought or “the thought of One only” is the holy name of Jesus. The Jesus Prayer is thus a way of keeping guard over the mind and the heart.

Although it uses words, the invocation of the name of Jesus, because of its brevity and simplicity, is capable of leading us beyond the words into the eternal silence of God. The Jesus Prayer is not just a technique devised for leading people into quiet and stillness. According to the biblical tradition, a name stands for the person. The name “Jesus” was announced by an angel to indicate his saving mission (“Jesus” means “he who saves”). During his ministry on earth saving power constantly came forth from his person to heal the sick and deliver the possessed from the dominion of evil spirits. The invocation of the holy name of Jesus has a sacramental effect that renders the Saviour present to us, enabling us to experience his power over the evil spirits.

The idea of “presence” is essential to the Jesus Prayer. However, it deals with a non-iconic or imageless presence of the Lord. St Gregory of Sinai gives this instruction to those who practice the Jesus Prayer: “Keep your intellect free from colours, images and forms.” Our awareness of the presence of Jesus must not be accompanied by any visual concept but must be confined to a simple conviction or feeling. Through the invocation of the name we are united with Jesus in a direct, unmediated encounter, that is, without any intermediary concept or image. We feel his nearness with our “spiritual senses”, much as we feel the warmth with our bodily senses on entering a heated room.

As long as the prayer remains in the mind, or in the head, it is incomplete. It is necessary to descend from the head to the heart, to “find the place of the heart.” To be more exact, we must descend with the mind to the heart: to “bring down the mind into the heart.” Our aim is “prayer of the mind in the heart.” It is the special power of the Jesus Prayer to accomplish the union of the mind and the heart.

In order to bring the mind into the heart, our heart must first be awakened. As Christians we have received the Holy Spirit at our Baptism and Chrismation. As the Holy Spirit dwells in the sanctuary of our heart and is unceasingly praying in us, we ourselves carry within us a constant prayer. But most of us are unconscious of his presence and the prayer which continuously goes on in us. Our heart lies asleep and needs to be awakened to this inner reality. The Jesus Prayer is a powerful means for awakening our heart, enabling us to become aware of the secret indwelling of the Spirit in a conscious way.

It is important to realise that the essential point of the prayer is not the act of repetition in itself, but the One to whom we speak. The prayer is not simply a rhythmic incantation or ‘mantra’ but an invocation addressed to another person and thus implies a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The Jesus Prayer exists within a certain context which is, first of all, one of faith and repentance. Removed from this context the prayer loses its meaning. The invocation presupposes our faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour. Without this confession of faith there is no Jesus Prayer. Also, repentance implies that we are attempting to live a life “in Christ” and so, aspiring always to be Christ-like.

The aim of the Jesus Prayer, therefore, is not simply the laying aside of all thoughts, but an encounter with Someone. It is not so much prayer emptied of thoughts but prayer filled with the Beloved – our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Rev. Chris Dimolianis
Parish Priest of St Efstathios – South Melbourne (VIC)

The Sign of the Cross

Sign-of-the-Cross-final

The sign of the Cross has been used by Christians since the time of the Apostles. It is a pious act, which the Orthodox Christians make in the following manner; the thumb, the index and the middle finger of the right hand are joined together, while the remaining two fingers are bent and touching the palm of the hand. At first, the forehead is touched, then the breast, the right shoulder and the left shoulder.

Besides the impression which the sign of the Cross makes on the senses, it reminds us of its spiritual meanings. The three fingers joined together symbolise the Oneness of God in the three Persons of the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The two fingers, pressing the palm of the hand, signify the union of the two natures in Christ, the Divine and the Human The touch of the forehead signifies that God is in our head (in our mind), the touch of the breast signifies that God is in our heart (in our feelings), the touch of the shoulders signifies that God is in our limbs, directing them as He wills. In other words, by the sign of the Cross we dedicate to the service of God all the power of our mind, heart, and soul.

We are led to this service of God by means of the sign of the Cross, because it reminds us of Christ’s death on the Cross, to which “God gave His only-begotten Son” out of His love to the world (John 3:16). The sign of the Cross on our bodies is also a prayer for God’s blessing upon us and others. It has often proved a protection against evil, whether in one’s inner thoughts or outward actions, when made in true faith in its power.

Therefore, we rightly make the sign of the cross when we start and close our prayers; when we enter a Church; when we kiss the Icons of the Saints; when the name of the Persons of the Holy Trinity, the name at the Virgin Mary, and of the Saints are pronounced during the Services; when sacred instances occur during the Divine Liturgy; when we start and finish our meals; and on many other occasions. Its frequent repetition, when we are mindful of its significance, can become to us a source and fountain of every blessing.

Fasting in the Orthodox Church

Introductory Remarks

The Orthodox Church has now entered a new Liturgical period of time, which is known as the Triodion and Great Lent. The season of Great Lent is an opportunity for all faithful to prepare for the great feast of the Resurrection of Christ. Just like any great event requires a time of preparation, so too the season of Great Lent is that time of the year where all Christians seek to renew and restore their communion with God. In this sense, Great Lent is that period of time, offered by the Church to remind her faithful to seek to do and be all that they should do and be throughout the entire year. In this way it is a time of renewed devotion to prayer, fasting, repentance and giving to those in need – that is, freely deciding to follow Christ and His commandment of loving God and neighbour.

Far from being a time of morbidity, gloominess or dreariness, as many might suppose, it is a time of joyful expectation. Indeed, it is a time of eager expectation for the bestowal, by God, of His greatest gift to the world – that is, the gift of eternal life by the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ. The hymns of Great Lent begin with this air of festivity:

“Let us begin the Lenten time with delight… let us fast from the passions as we fast from food, taking pleasure in the good words of the Spirit, that we may be granted to see the holy passion of Christ our God and His holy Pascha spiritually rejoicing”.

It is precisely within this context, that fasting is to be properly understood and experienced – that is, as a means of renewing our relationship with God assured of the joy of His loving kindness and mercy. Accordingly, fasting has to be observed with a sense of resurrectional joy knowing that the victory of life has already been granted through Christ’s resurrection from the dead. Before looking specifically at the historical evolution of the Lenten fast as a means for preparing to encounter the risen Lord, we will briefly examine the place of fasting in the life of the Church in general. Only then will we be in a position to approach the true meaning of fasting.

Historical Evolution of Fasting in General

As early as the second century, in early Christian texts such as the Didache and The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles one finds references to Wednesdays and Fridays as days of fast. In the eighth chapter of the Didache, the faithful are advised as follows:

“Let not your fasts be with the hypocrites, for they fast on Mondays and Thursdays, but fast on Wednesdays and Fridays.”

Until recently the opinion has been that these fasts were established in opposition to the Hebrew fast days which were Monday and Thursday. Modern scholarship, however – after the discovery of the Qumran documents – has claimed that the fast held on these days by the early Christians originated from the ancient sacred calendar which the Essences observed and which, in all probability was accepted by the early Judeo- Christian communities in Palestine. Later on, the Christians would add a new meaning to these days – as commemorations of the days of Christ’s betrayal and death. These days came to be known as days of fasting or station days. This implies that originally fasting indicated the people of God standing ready and awaiting for the Parousia of the Lord. Hence, fasting had an eschatological meaning to it and the emphasis was not on the ascetical value of fasting. That is to say, the early Christians fasted precisely because they were looking forward, into the future, at the second coming of the Lord. It becomes clear that the pre – Constantine and pre- monastic tradition understood fasting primarily as a one day fast which involved the complete abstinence from food and not the abstinence from certain foods as it understood today.

Development of the Lenten Fast

Fasting, in preparation for Pascha was universal in the Early Church, both in the East and in the West, as evidenced by various second and third century references to the practice. Eusebius, in his Ecclesiastical History makes reference to St Irenaeus who had written on the debate regarding the date for Pascha and on the nature of the period of abstinence preceding it:

“For the controversy is not only concerning the day, but also concerning the very manner of the fast. For some think that they should fast one day, others two, yet others more; some moreover, count their day as consisting of forty hours day and night. And this variety in its observance has not originated in our time; but long before in that of our ancestors.”

Not only does this reference establish that fasting before Pascha was already a custom in the lifetime of St Irenaeus but that it was of even earlier, if not of Apostolic origin. By the fourth century, this pre – Paschal fast had undergone a transformation, both in its form and length. It had evolved into a forty day fast and became centred, as a result of its long duration, more in the restriction of certain kinds of foods rather than total abstinence from food. The first explicit reference to a forty day fast is in the Council of Nicaea (325) in Canon 5. By the end of the fourth century Bishop Kallistos (Ware) concluded that:

“the observance of a forty day fast seems to have been the standard practice in most parts of Christendom…Lent as wee know it … is the result of a convergence between… two elements – between the six day pre- Nicene fast, which was directly in preparation for Easter and the forty day post-Nicene fast, which originally formed part of the training of candidates for Baptism…[but] came to evolve the whole body of the faithful, and not just those preparing for Baptism.”

It is in this prototypic period of the Church’s history that fasting came to be marked by a restriction in the types and quantity of food eaten. And it is this latter meaning that serves as the model for the present day Lenten period of fasting in the Orthodox Church today.

It becomes clear that the Lenten fast, which is observed today, was originally a monastic fast which crept into the life of the whole Church. That is to say that this fast was ascetical, a mortification of the flesh whose purpose it was to assist the monk in his spiritual ascent to theosis. Asceticism, of which fasting is a form, is not something optional but is a necessary tool for the successful attainment of salvation. A contemporary monk of Mount Athos, Father Tickon wrote: “whoever fasts shows that he has started to transcend earthly and temporal things and longs for the heavenly and eternal things.” However, one must be careful not to make fasting an end in it self, a law or an obligation. Rather, an honest attempt must be made to empty ourselves, to become transparent and allow the grace of God to permeate within us. Fasting, in this sense is a means, which the Church offers its faithful members as an opportunity for them to transform their hunger and thirst for food into hunger and thirst for God Himself.

Biblical Basis for Fasting

The practice of fasting is clearly evident in the Scriptures and is indeed attested to by Jesus Himself, who fasted and taught His disciples to fast.

“And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Mt. 6: 16-18).

Firstly, the above passage, by Jesus clearly underlines the importance of fasting. It does not say, for example “and if you fast”, that is to say, it does not make fasting an option for Christians but a prerequisite for their spiritual life: Jesus said, “and when you fast”. So important is fasting that even Jesus said that without it some forms of evil could not be conquered and overcome (cf. Mt. 17: 21).

Secondly, the passage clearly underscores that Christians are not to be ostentatious to, or Pharisaic about, their fasting, but rather to do it in secret, not drawing attention to themselves. With such a principle given by Jesus Himself, perhaps it would be better, for example, when going to somebody”s house during Great Lent, who may not know that it is a fasting period, to eat what is put in front of you thereby not drawing attention to yourself. However, a bishop once said in his sermon: “now, there is a difference between eating what is put before you and putting yourself before what is eaten.” It is not wise to put other Christians down, who may not fast, because their health may not allow. It has to be stated that Jesus Christ was extremely gentle and loving to the tax collectors but was severe to the Pharisees and to the hypocrites.

Saint Paul himself fasted, and in his teaching on food insisted that men and women fast and do so in secret, without mutual inspection and judgement. “Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things.” (Phil 3:17-19).

And elsewhere he wrote: “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are beneficial. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food,” and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.” (1 Cor 6:12-13)

From all the above not only is fasting stressed but also the way the fast should be carried out – that is, in secret and not making it publicly known to others.

The True Meaning of Fasting

The whole purpose of fasting is to enable the Christian to commune with fervour and desire with Jesus Christ. That is to say, the whole rationale behind fasting is to make human persons aware of their dependence upon God. In our fallen state, it is only by self-denial, such as the real physical hunger or tiredness involved in not eating, that we can be led to remember both our broken and created state, and therefore our total reliance on the uncreated God without whom we would not even exist. It is true that when we have eaten well and filled our stomachs with sustenance, a false sense of over-confidence and self-assurance can easily overcome us with the renewed energy gained. And so, just like a little hunger can lead us to a desire to eat, so as to be nourished, in precisely the same way can we be lead to a thirst and hunger for ‘spiritual food’ which is Jesus Christ Himself.

Divorced, however, from this desire to commune with God, fasting can lead to a heightened irritable disposition of the person fasting or it can lead to an over-emphasis of the external rules associated with the fast. This inevitably reduces the practice of fasting to a form of legalism, that is simply to rules regarding what can be eaten and what cannot be eaten. In this way we miss entirely the inward goal of the fast. And without the inner understanding of the nature of fasting, the outward form loses all its meaning. Then the words of Christ, “without me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5) lose all their significance because as long as we think we are abiding by the external rules of fasting then we do not need God. Already we can see that fasting is the sacred pretext for all Christian persons to break the monologue, autonomy and their false sense of security inside their ego.

We can see that the Church, in all its wisdom has placed fasting at the disposal of its faithful members so as to give them the opportunity to gain mastery over themselves by becoming liberated in God. As one of the many tools given by the Church, fasting is also a means which can help us to liberate ourselves from a mere dependence on the things of this world in order to concentrate on the things of the Kingdom of God. It is to give power to the soul so that it will not yield to temptation and sin. It is precisely for this reason that St Seraphim underlined the importance of fasting in terms of an “indispensable means” of gaining the fruit of the Holy Spirit in one’s life.

Humanity does not fast because it pleases God for His servants to not eat, for, as the Lenten hymns of the Church remind us, “the devil also never eats.” Neither do the faithful fast with the belief that somehow their physical hunger and thirst can serve as a ”reparation” for their sins. Such an understanding is never given in the Scriptures nor in the writings of the Fathers. Rather, people fast so that they might more effectively serve God who loves them and has saved them in Christ and the Spirit. From this, it follows that fasting without a conscious desire to live a virtuous life is to miss the whole point of the meaning of the fast. That is to say, fasting without effort in virtue is wholly in vain.

According to abba Dorotheos: “… in fasting one must not only obey the rule against gluttony in regard to food, but refrain from every sin so that, while fasting, the tongue may also fast, refraining from slander, lies, evil talking, degrading one’s brother, anger and every sin committed by the tongue. One should also fast with the eyes, not looking at vain things…A man that fasts wisely… wins purity and comes to humility… and proves himself a skillful builder.”

The spiritual fathers, as strictly ascetic as they were, are very clear in their teaching about fasting. They insisted with the Lord and the Scriptures that people are to fast in order to become free from passions and lust. But they insist as well that the most important thing is to be free from all sin, including the pride, vanity and hypocrisy, which comes through foolish and sinful fasting.

“Thus a man who strives for salvation… must not allow himself to eat to fullness… but should still eat all kinds of food so that on the one hand he might avoid boastful pride and on the other hand not show disdain for God’s creation…”

Just as Adam’s tasting of the forbidden fruit enslaved humanity to food, so ascetical fasting has its purpose to return humanity to freedom. We end this brief reflection with the point that unless fasting is accompanied with prayer and love for our neighbour then it is utterly valueless.

Dr Philip Kariatlis
Academic Director and Senior Lecturer in Theology,
St Andrew’s Greek Orthodox Theological College

Footnotes
1. Didache, 1: 321.
2. Eusebius, History of the Church 5, 24, 18
3. Triodion, 30, taken from Archimandrite Akakios, Fasting in the Orthodox Church, pp.9-10.
4. Archimandrite Tickon, The Land of the Living, 635
5. St Abba Dorotheus, Directions on Spiritual Training, cited in T. Hopko, The Orthodox Faith: Spirituality, vol. 4, 148.
6. St Gregory of Sinai, Instruction to the Hesychasts, cited in T. Hopko, Spirituality, 149.

Fasting

Our Church adopted fasting from the Old Testament. Christ Himself fasted and preached about its significance (Matt. 6:16, Mark 2:20 and 9:29). The Early Church too, observed fasting (Acts 13:2, 14:23 and II Cor. 2:27). As early as the beginning of the third century, we have documents (of Didache) substantiating the early establishment of regular fast days, such as Wednesday and Friday: these two days are symbolical and commemorative of Christ’s betrayal and crucifixion. And by the end of the fourth century, the forty day (Great) Lenten fast was wide-spread. Later other fasting periods were also adopted by our Church.

Fasting, accompanied by prayer and charity, is a way of disciplining our entire person, not just the body. Contraty to what most people think, it underlines –rather than undermining- the significance of the body towards whose glory it also contributes. Furthermore fasting is a small way of sharing in contemporary suffering throughout the world.

In our ecclesiastical calendar, fasting usually precedes great feasts and aacts as a preparation for these events.

FASTS PRESCRIBED BY THE CHURCH

1. Wednesday and Friday Every Wednesday and Friday is to be observed with fasting unless some important Feast takes precedence over the fast. (See exceptions noted below)

The Fast on Wednesday in memory of the betrayal of the Lord, and Fast on Friday in remembrance of His Passion and Death upon the Cross.

2. Special Fast Days August 29. The Beheading of St. John the Baptist. September 14. The Elevation of the Holy Cross. January 5. The Eve of the Epiphany.

3. Lent, the Great Fast begins forty days before Palm Sunday, on the Monday after Cheese-Fare Sunday, and lasts until the evening preceding Palm Sunday. Holy Week is a special Fast in honor of our Lord’s Passion, and lasts from the evening of Palm Sunday through to Holy Saturday.

4. The Fast of the Holy Apostles begins on the Monday after All Saints’ Sunday (the Sunday next after Pentecost) and lasts until June 28, the Feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul. This Fast varies in length according to the date of Easter.

5. The Fast of the Theotokos The fast which precedes the Feast of the Falling-asleep of the All-Holy Theotokos begins on August 1 and lasts until the day of the Feast, August 15.

6. The Fast before Christmas begins on November 15 and lasts until the day of the Feast of the Nativity, December 25.

7. Periods when fasting is forbidden

The Church forbids fasting during the following periods:

  • From December 25 to January 4.
  • The week following the Sunday of the Pharisee and Publican.
  • The week following Meat-fare Sunday (abstinence from fleshmeat is required during this week, but no fasting).
  • The week following Easter.
  • The week following Pentecost.