Why We, As Orthodox Christians,
Should Fast
Nikolaj Kostur

"If any bishop, presbyter, deacon, reader, or singer does not fast the holy Quadragesimal fast of Easter, or the fourth day [Wednesday], or the day of Preparation [Friday], let him be deposed, unless he be hindered by some bodily infirmity. If he be a layman, let him be excommunicated."* Thus states Apostolic Canon 69.

Is this Canon of the Holy Orthodox Church being followed? The answer is, sadly, no. If it was to be enforced, a large percentage of all Orthodox Christians would be excommunicated from the Church. However, the fact that this canon is so poorly followed does not mean that it should not be followed. It definitely should be. Orthodox Christians must obey the Church. But why are they not doing so? Orthodox Christians are beginning to lose their faith. They have begun to be lazy, not living the life in the Church, but rather living a life with the Church, if that! The Orthodox spirituality and piety has diminished greatly.

Bishop Nikolaj Velimirovic says in the Prologue from Ochrid, "Never break the fast on Wednesdays and Fridays. This fast is ordained by the Church, and is well-attested. If, at any time in your life, you break this fast, pray for forgiveness and do not sin again. Devout people do not regard themselves as dispensed from this fast either when traveling or in sickness. St. Pachomius once met some people who were carrying a corpse, and saw two angels in the funeral procession. He asked God to reveal to him the mystery of the presence of the two angels at the burial of this man. What special good had he done that the two angels should escort him to the grave? Then, by the providence of God, the two angels came across to [St.] Pachomius and explained to him: “One of us is the angel of Wednesday, and the other the angel of Friday. As this man fasted every Wednesday and Friday right up to his death, we are giving his corpse a solemn escort. As he kept the fast up to his death, so we are here to glorify him.”

Truly, how hard is it to fast twice a week? Will we die from not eating milk or meat products? No, we shall not die due to that. It is a very small sacrifice to abstain from certain foods on these days. But will we die spiritually if we don’t fast? Surely our spiritual life will be hurt if we do not follow the Canons of the Holy Orthodox Church. "...Seek ye first the kingdom of God" [Matt 6:33]. Is it worth the price of losing Paradise not to fast? Some even dare to say that by solely abstaining from meat that they are fasting! This is not fasting. We must observe fasting without dairy products zealously. Also, most fast days require that we do not eat fish, especially in Great Lent, and on some days we are not allowed to drink wine or have olive oil in our food. One must obtain an Orthodox Calendar that shows what we may and may not have on certain days.

But is fasting just abstaining from food? No, fasting is much more than this. When Orthodox Christians fast, they may not have marital relations or make merry. This is utterly forbidden by the Church. By going to a party on a fast day, this Canon is not being followed.

In conclusion, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, fasting is not death, but rather life to our spiritual self. When fasting, one prays better. God gives man the strength to follow Him. He only requires of us unworthy, wicked servants that which we can handle.

May Christ our True God, Who fasted forty days in the desert, give us the strength to follow His commandments. May His holy ones, who are at His Throne, especially the holy fathers who were inspired by the Holy Spirit to write the Canons of the Holy Orthodox Church, help us struggle with fasting and grant us the mindset to keep vigil. To Him be glory and praise, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen!

* The Seven Ecumenical Councils of the Undivided Church. Henry R. Percival, M.A., D.D. WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan. Page 598.