An explanation of the traditional Lenten fasting discipline

The primary aim of physical fasting is to make us conscious of our dependence upon God. If practiced seriously, the Lenten fast involves, at least initially, a considerable measure of real hunger and a feeling of tiredness and physical exhaustion.

The purpose of this is to lead us in turn to a sense of inward brokenness and contrition; to bring us to the point where we appreciate the full force of Christ’s statement, “Without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). If we always take our fill of food and drink, we easily grow over-confident in our own abilities, acquiring a false sense of autonomy and self-sufficiency. Ultimately, fasting leads not to hunger and weariness, but to wakefulness, freedom and joyfulness in full reliance on God. While some (e.g. the infirm and those on medication) may find it necessary to adjust (not disregard!) the fast according to their frame, those who are physically able are encouraged to observe the traditional Lenten fasting discipline:


  1. During the week between the Sunday of the Publican & the Pharisee and that of the Prodigal Son (February 4-11), there is a general dispensation from all fasting. Meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy may be eaten even on Wednesday and Friday.
  2. In the following week (February 12-18), the traditional fast (no meat, poultry, fish, eggs or dairy) is kept on Wednesday and Friday.
  3. In the week before Great Lent (February 19-25), abstinence from meat, poultry and fish is observed, but eggs and dairy may be eaten on all days, including Wednesday and Friday.
  4. Beginning on Pure Monday — the first day of Great Lent (February 26) — the  traditional fast is observed on all days of  the week. Exceptions: On the great feasts of the Annunciation (March 25) and Palm Sunday (April 7), it is permitted to eat fish.
  5. During Pure Week (February 26-March 2), on any day when the Divine Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is celebrated, and on the first four days of Great and Holy Week (April 8-11) it is traditional that only one meal be taken, and that, following the Liturgy or the last service of the day.
  6. On Great and holy Friday (April 12) and Great and Holy Saturday (April 13), it is traditional that no meals be taken.


Fasting, however, is not merely a matter of diet. True fasting is to be converted in heart and will; it is to consciously return to God in heart, mind, soul and body. In the words of St. John Chrysostom, fasting means “abstinence not only from food but also from sins.” “The Fast,” he insists, “should be kept not by the mouth alone, but also by the eye, the ear, the feet, the hands and all members of the body.” Let each of us, as bride, prepare by prayer, true fasting and almsgiving to receive the heavenly Bridegroom — Christ risen from the dead, trampling down death by death!



Give up watching television one evening a week. Visit some lonely or sick person instead.

Give up looking at other people’s worst points. Concentrate on their strong points and positive attributes.

Give up speaking unkindly. Let your speech be generous and understanding.

Give up your worries. Trust God with your problems and frustrations.

Give up hatred or dislike of anyone. Learn to love instead.

Give up the fear which prevents Christian witness. Seek courage to speak about your faith to others.

Give up spending so much time with newspapers and magazines. Use some of that time to study your Bible.

Give up grumbling. Learn to give thanks in everything.

Give up ten to fifteen minutes each day. Use that time in prayer.

Give up buying anything but essentials for yourself. Give that money to God’s work or someone in need.

Give up judging by appearance and by the standards of the world. Learn to give up yourself to God.

From Word Magazine
Publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America
March 1996
p. 13