How and Why we Fast
by Servants' Manual
Fasting weakens the body and elevates the soul. It is a battle against the flesh. A weakened body is less susceptible to sin and more susceptible to an awakened soul. "My knees are weak through fasting, And my flesh is feeble from lack of fatness" (Psalm 109:24). Fasting is the first response to the act of being filled with the Holy Spirit. Fasting on the Mount was the first act of Christ to begin His ministry.
Fasting removes the "lust of the flesh", "the lust of the eyes", and "the pride of life" (1 John 2:16).
The Coptic Orthodox Church designates 210 days per year for fasting.
The Holy Nativity Fast - It is 43 days, from November 25 - January 6, with fish and seafood. No other animal products are allowed. We prepare for Christ coming into the world and in our hearts through fasting.
Jonah's Fast - 3 days, no fish or seafood, and no other animal products, and it is always 2 weeks before the beginning of the Great Lent.
Great Lent - 55 days, no fish or seafood, and no other animal products. It represents the fast of Christ on the Mount of Temptation (40 days), plus 7 days of preparation, plus the Holy Week (8 days).
The Apostles Fast - fish and seafood are allowed. No other animal products are allowed. Always ends July 12th. July 12 commemorates the martyrdom of Saints Peter and Paul.
St. Mary's Fast - 15 days, from August 7 - 21. Fish and seafood are allowed but no other animal products. August 22 is the feast of the Assumption of St. Mary.
We fast every Wednesday and Friday throughout the year, except in the Holy Fifty days. These fasts are without fish, seafood, or other animal products. Judas betrayed Jesus to the chief priests on Wednesday and Friday is the day Jesus was crucified.
Paramouni fasts are always without fish, seafood, or other animal products. Paramouni is the day before the feasts of Nativity and Epiphany. The Paramouni days are fasted to compensate for the feast days falling on a Wednesday or Friday, so that we may have the blessings of the fast and of the feast.
Why can we eat fish and seafood in some fasts and not in others?
Fasting without fish or seafood - Man's original state involved eating only fruits and vegetables. Adam only ate fruits and vegetables in the Garden of Eden. We fast without fish or seafood to go back to our original state, resembling Adam's original state. Christ fasted on the mount without food and water to undo Adam's sin, so that He could correct the sin of Adam, and this is why in Lent for example, we fast without fish - to return to the original Adam.
There are many examples in the Bible demonstrating a way of life eating only fruits and vegetables.
God told Adam to eat fruits and vegetables. "And God said, `See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food'" (Genesis 1:29). God commanded Adam to eat fruits and vegetables after his fall, "Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, And you shall eat the herb of the field" (Genesis 3:18).
The Israelites ate manna in the wilderness. "Now the manna was like coriander seed, and its color like the color of bdellium. The people went about and gathered it, ground it on millstones or beat it in the mortar, cooked it in pans, and made cakes of it; and its taste was like the taste of pastry prepared with oil" (Numbers 11:7-8).
Daniel and his three friends (Shedrach, Meshach, Abednego) only ate vegetables in the house of Nebuchadnezzar. "Please test your servants for ten days, and let them give us vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then let our appearance be examined before you, and the appearance of the young men who eat the portion of the king's delicacies; and as you see fit, so deal with your servants. So he consented with them in this matter, and tested them ten days. And at the end of ten days their features appeared better and fatter in flesh than all the young men who ate the portion of the king's delicacies" (Daniel 1:12-15).
As God spoke to Ezekiel, He told him what to eat: "Also take for yourself wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet, and spelt; put them into one vessel, and make bread of them for yourself. During the number of days that you lie on your side, three hundred and ninety days, you shall eat it. And your food which you eat shall be by weight, twenty shekels a day; from time to time you shall eat it. You shall also drink water by measure, one-sixth of a hin; from time to time you shall drink" (Ezekiel 4:9-11).
So man's original state was to eat only fruits and vegetables. Meat was introduced to man only after the flood. God told Noah in Genesis 9:1-6, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be on every beast of the earth, on every bird of the air, on all that move on the earth, and on all the fish of the sea. They are given into your hand. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. I have given you all things, even as the green herbs. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning; from the hand of every beast I will require it, and from the hand of man. From the hand of every man's brother I will require the life of man" (Genesis 9:1-6).
God approves of man eating meat, as He told Noah, "Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you." There are many other examples in the Bible in which we see God's approval of meat. For example, God nourished Elijah by providing him bread and meat: "And it will be that you shall drink from the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening; and he drank from the brook" (1 Kings 17:4-6).
Thus we do not eat meat and dairy products in fasts because
We return to our original state in Adam in Paradise.
Meat and other dairy products weigh the body down, giving it too much energy and fat. As a result, carnal and bodily desires escalate and thus we become more susceptible to sin.
After a long abstinence, eating meat and animal products often creates the desire for eating more and more, thus defeating the purpose of a fast. Fruits and vegetables, on the other hand, and even fish, curb the desire to eat, even after a long abstinence.
We are allowed to eat fish and seafood in some fasts because:
It makes fasting easier, more practical, and more feasible. If the Church imposed a no animal product and no fish or seafood fast for all of the fasts, very few people would be able to do it, thereby defeating its purpose. The allowing of fish and seafood by the church is a practical compromise.
Fish and seafood does not create the same bodily energy, fat, and carnal desires that meats and other animal products create.
Christ ate fish with the disciples when He had breakfast with them by the sea after His resurrection (John 21:13).
The sign of the c fish is widely used today as a symbol of Christianity. Many of the events in the Bible involved fish in some way. Four of the disciples were fisherman (James, John, Peter, and Andrew). Jesus made the disciples "fishers of men" (Matthew 4:19). Jesus cites Jonah as an example. Jesus feeds five thousand. Jesus feeds four thousand. A sh with a coin in its mouth. Jesus feeds his disciples by the Sea of Galilee after his resurrection. "Simon Peter went up and dragged the net to land, full of large fish, one hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not broken" (John 21:11).
The issue of internal vs. external fertilization: some church fathers write and say that we can eat fish in some fasts and not other animal products because fish reproduce externally, whereas mammals reproduce internally. The notion then is that internally reproductive animals give us greater carnal and bodily desires. This statement is not quite true in at least two respects: i) we are allowed to eat seafood during fasts that allow fish. Shrimp, crab, and other seafood all reproduce internally and so the argument of external fertilization breaks down here, ii) it is not the animal itself or the behavior of the animal that makes us more carnal, it is the meat itself which contains much fat and protein that gives our bodies excess energy and bodily desires, which makes us more susceptible to sin.
How long do we fast before communion? The church says that must fast at least nine hours before Holy Communion. Also, once Communion if given on a Church altar, at least 9 hours must pass before that altar can be used again. There are three occasions in the church year in which the altar is used on the same day, 9 hours apart. These are Christmas, the Resurrection, and Epiphany.
What is the significance of the 9 hours?
The 9 hours also symbolize the time of the third hour to the 12th hour for Jesus on Good Friday. In the third hour, Jesus was scourged, beaten, and delivered to be crucified. In the twelfth hour, He was buried in the tomb.
The nine hours also corresponds to the hours of the Agpeya from sunrise (Prime) to the end of the ninth hour (None). Vespers are the Agpeya readings for sunset and come after the ninth hour readings.
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