Is Fasting a Good Idea?

Notes on the Great Fast

Catechumens: The question with which we’re often greeted by non-Orthodox observing our abstinence during the Great Fast is more or less whether fasting is a good idea. To such questions, we really have nothing to say in any language that would make sense while their presuppositions are presumed intact. First of all, Holy Orthodoxy does not submit itself to external tests of rightness or wrongness; there is no reference standard apart from Holy Orthodoxy by which it can be evaluated or judged. “Truth”, as C.S. Lewis has said, “is its own justification.” References to fasting as healthy, etc., first of all reduce fasting to a decontextualized cultural phenomenon that can be studied sociologically, such that attempts to evaluate it from without mean not objectivity, as Vladimir Lossky observes, but failure to understand. Some things can only be understood objectively from within. Secondly, these justifying attempts pander to notions of an external source of validation imposed upon Orthodoxy by an external culture, in which Orthodoxy, it is incorrectly presumed, is situated. ‘This is Orthodoxy,’ we must say. It is reality. It is subject to no other criteria and is impossible to scrutinize from outside. – Catechetical Letter 4/5/2006

Fasting in Holy Week

Orthodox Church in America

On the first three days there is one meal each day, with xerophagy; but some try to keep a complete fast on these days, or else they eat only uncooked food, as on the opening days of the first week [of the Great Fast]. On Holy Thursday one meal is eaten, with wine and oil (i.e., olive oil). On Great Friday those who have the strength follow the practice of the early Church and keep a total fast. Those unable to do this may eat bread, with a little water, tea or fruit-juice, but not until sunset, or at any rate not until after the veneration of the [Epitaphion] at Vespers. On Holy Saturday there is in principle no meal, since according to the ancient practice after the end of the Liturgy of St. Basil the faithful remained in church for the reading of the Acts of the Apostles, and for their sustenance were given a little bread and dried fruit, with a cup of wine. If, as usually happens now, they return home for a meal, they may use wine but not oil; for on this one Saturday, alone among Saturdays of the year, olive oil is not permitted.

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