Fasting in the Orthodox Church

    1. Nativity Fast
    2. Great Lent
    3. Fast of the Holy Apostles (Ss Peter & Paul)
    4. Dormition Fast
    1. Regarding Oil
    2. Clarification of Food Products
    3. Lenten Recipes (tried and true)
    4. Fasting rules provided in Chapter 33 of the Typicon
    5. Other Fasting resources can be found here.

The Nativity Fast

Beginning on November 28th and ending at 11:59pm on January 6th, the Holy Church Canons state that the first part of the Nativity fast matches the Fast of the Holy Apostles, whereby we abstain from meat, dairy and their byproducts on all days. Fish, shellfish, oil, wine, fruit and vegetables are allowed on all days except Wednesdays and Fridays from November 28th through December 25.

The fast becomes more strict from December 26th through January 6th ; oil and wine are permitted only on Saturdays and Sundays and fish is not permitted at all during these days.

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Great & Holy Lent

Fasting during Great begins at sundown on Cheese-fare or Forgiveness Sunday and is carried through the end of the Paschal services. The following fasting guidlines during Great Lent are from Articles on Orthodox Theology, Doctrine & Practice.

During all of Great Lent, on weekdays (Monday through Friday), we eat no animal products of any kind. We eat no meat, fish, eggs, milk, oil (olive or otherwise), or cheese. In addition, we do not drink any wine or hard liquor. We should make an attempt to eat simply, and not go to great lengths to make sumptuous meals, and devote more time to prayer. The services at the church provide an excellent opportunity for this.

On weekends in Great Lent, we may have wine and Olive oil, but maintain our abstinence from all the other things mentioned above.

We Orthodox Christians, in obedience to the words of our Divine Savior, and in imitation of the saints, set aside a period of intense fasting and prayer in order to purify our spiritual senses so we may see the Holy Resurrection. Following the traditions handed to us by the saints, we abstain from all meat products, all dairy products (including whey and casein), eggs, fish and all oil the entire period of lent. Those who believe that we fast strictly only for the first and last week err and are not in accord with the teaching of the saints. We may use oil and wine on Saturdays and Sundays and any day there is a Polyeleos. We may partake of fish only on the feast of the Annunciation and Palm Sunday.

Only those who are ill or for medical reasons are unable to fast are excused form this God-pleasing struggle. And those people may discuss the matter in confession. Children also fast to their ability, again, discussed privately with the spiritual father. Married couples may not have physical relations the entire of Great Lent. Televisions should be either unplugged or severely limited with no worldly music allowed. Families should gather in prayer more frequently and attend as many church services during the week as they possibly can. Holy Communion and Confession should be observed weekly.

To break the fast is a matter for repentance and confession. To do so by accident is understandable. To knowingly break the fast with no regard or as though fasting were unimportant is definitely a sin which must be confessed.

We can always develop elaborate defenses against fasting, but in the end, if fasting were not vital for our spiritual development, the Lord and His saints would not have commanded it. Some will say that fasting is a matter for monastics. They do not speak the truth. History shows a long practice of strict fasting for all Christians. We may say that fasting is a tool, and not the goal of the spiritual life. But, what physician would perform surgery without the beneficial use of an antiseptic or without washing his hands? What carpenter would build a house with no hammer? What gardener would tend his crops without implements? What Christian would advance to the heavenly kingdom without prayer and fasting?

Taken from a post to the Orthodox mailing list; lightly edited; 21 Feb 1995, Fr. Alexis Duncan <>

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Holy Apostles Fast (Ss Peter & Paul)

Observed from sundown on All Saints Sunday through July 11th, the Holy Church Canons state that similar to the Nativity fast, the Fast of the Holy Apostles sees abstinance from meat, dairy and their byproducts on all days. Fish, shellfish, oil, wine, fruit and vegetables are allowed on all days except Wednesdays and Fridays.

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Dormition Fast

Observed from August 14th through August 27th, the Holy Church Canons state that we abstain from meat, meat byproducts, dairy and their byproducts, fish, oil and wine on all weekdays. While shellfish is permitted at all times, oil and wine may be consumed in moderate quantities on Saturdays and Sundays.

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Lenten Recipes can be found here

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Fasting & the use of Oil

Many Orthodox Christians are unfortunately totally misinformed about the position of the Russian Church regarding Fasting and Oil.

In the Russian Church (in the homeland or abroad) there is no distinction between olive oil and any other type of vegetable oil -- and there never was.

It is in fact many Greeks (both Old and New Calendar) who turn themselves inside out trying vainly to find some justification for their breaking the fasting rules of the Typikon and permitting the use of vegetable oils other than olive oil on non-oil days when the Typikon says plainly: no oil, period).

True, most Russians have no clue that the Church forbids the use of vegetable oil on certain days. We, as priests, try to educate them. In our parish, for example, I publish a monthly calendar which, in addition to the Schedule of Services, indicates the level of fasting indicated by the Typikon for each day (no oil or wine, wine and oil, or fish). Many people in our parish are beginning to try to follow these rules.

The bottom line is clear from the Typikon itself: days on which oil is not permitted are called "dry eating" days which means basically no fried foods, and no oil in the soups or salads. The Church Fathers knew perfectly well that fried foods tasted better than boiled ones; that soups with oil added tasted better than soups made without oil; and that salads with oil dressings tasted better than those without.

This is exactly why olives themselves are permitted on non-oil days, while olive oil isn't; and peanuts themselves are permitted on non-oil days while peanut oil is forbidden: you can't fry anything in olives or peanuts. It is not the essence of the vegetable/fruit itself -- it is what you can do with it to make other foods taste better.

Protopresbyter Alexander Lebedeff ; Posted to an Orthodox mailing list Tue, 21 Dec 1999, slightly edited.

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Clarification of Food Products

Dairy products include: butter, egges, mily, cheese, yogurt and any products that contain any of these ingredients. Also included in this group are whey and casein.

Fish differ from shellfish in that they do have (albeit a small one) a brain. Sardines, tuna, trout, bass, pike, salmon, etc are "fish", while oysters, shrimp, scallops, clams, mussels, squid, lobsters, etc are classified as "shellfish" and are permitted even during times of strict fasting.

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Fasting rules provided in Chapter 33 of the Typicon

It is fitting to know, that during the fast of the Holy Apostles, and of the Nativity of Christ, on Tuesday and Thursday, we do not eat fish, but oil and wine only. On Monday, on Wednesday and Friday, we taste neither oil nor wine, but we fast until the ninth hour, and on these days we eat dry food.* On Saturdays and Sundays we eat fish.

If a saint having the [Great] Doxology occurs on a Tuesday or on a Thursday, we eat fish.
If on a Monday, likewise.

If on a Wednesday or a Friday, we permit oil and wine only; we eat once a day.

If a saint having a vigil [occurs] on a Wednesday or a Friday, we permit oil and wine and fish.

If the memorial of the saint whose temple it is occurs on a Wednesday or a Friday, we do likewise.

A instruction provided in the Typicon under 14 November

"It is fitting to know that on the morrow we begin the fast for the Nativity of Christ, the holy forty days. During these forty days, we ought to keep three days in each week, fasting from oil and wine: Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Only if a great saint occurs, do we permit [a relaxation] on his memorial, and we do [this] for the love of the saint [and] for the sake of his feast, which [during] this month [of November] are the 16th, 25th and 30th [days], [and in] December [are] the 4th, 5th, 6th, 9th, 17th and 20th days. For, on these days, if on a Tuesday and on a Thursday, we eat fish. On a Monday, on a Wednesday and on a Friday, we permit only oil and wine; we do not eat fish, except [on the feast of] the temple. If one of these [is the feast of] the monastery's temple, we permit fish and wine. On the Entry of the Theotokos [into the Temple], on whatever day it occurs, [even] if on a Wednesday or a Friday, we permit fish also. Some typica command [us] to fast from the 9th day of December, and not to permit fish, except on Saturdays and Sundays and [on the feast of] the temple of a saint. From the 20th day, even until the 25th, if a Saturday and a Sunday occur, we do not permit fish."

A summary of the above prescriptions is as follows:

1. Fish is permitted on all Saturdays and Sundays, except 20 and 21 December.

2. Fish is permitted on the following weekdays: 21 Nov/4 Dec (Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple), 25 Nov/8 Dec (Apodosis of the Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple), 4/17 Dec (Great-martyr Barbara), 9/22 Dec (Conception of the Theotokos).

3. Wine and oil are permitted on all Tuesdays and Thursdays.

4. Wine and oil are also permitted on the following weekdays: 24 Nov/7 Dec (Great-martyr Catherine), 5/18 Dec (Venerable Sabbas the Sanctified), 12/25 Dec (St. Spyridon), 17/30 Dec (Prophet Daniel).

5. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, except as indicated in paragraphs 2 and 4 above, fish, wine and oil are not permitted.

*The term, "dry food," refers to "xerophagy," which means unboiled food that is either raw, dried, salted or pickled, as well as plain bread.

**Permission for oil and wine on the feast of the Great-martyr Catherine (4/17 Nov) is not mentioned in the Typicon, but is mentioned in the Menologion that is appended to the Great Horologion.

***If a vigil is served for Venerable Sabbas the Sanctified (5/18 Dec), then fish is permitted.

It should be noted that local practices may require the modification of the above provisions. For example, if a local commemoration, such as St. Innocent of Irkutsk (26 Nov/9 Dec) or the Kursk Icon (27 Nov/10 Dec), occurs on a weekday and a vigil is served, then fish is permitted on that day.

In some places, the prescription to obstain from fish on weekdays that occur after 9/22 December is not observed. If such is the case, then, when a local commemoration, such as St. Herman of Alaska (12/25 Dec), occurs and a vigil is served, fish is permitted on that day.

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