How and Why we Fast?

The most important aspect of fasting is a spiritual one. We grow spiritually and get closer to God through fasting and prayer. We read in the Gospels, “However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17:21, Mark 9:29).

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

by Servants’ Manual

Why does the Orthodox Church have bishops, presbyters and deacons?

Because it’s Biblical!

The First Letter of Paul to Timothy, chapter 3
1Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being a bishop, he desires a noble task. 2Now the bishop must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. 5(If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) 6He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 7He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap. 8Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. 9They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. 10They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.    12A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well. 13Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.

The First Letter of Peter, chapter 2
24Jesus himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. 25For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.

Why do Orthodox Christians go to confession with their priest for healing and the forgiveness of sins?

Because it’s Biblical!

The First Letter of John, chapter 1
8If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10If we claim we have not sinned, we make God out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.

The Gospel of John, chapter 20
19On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.   21Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Why do Orthodox Christians anoint people with oil for healing and the forgiveness of sins?

Because it’s Biblical!

The Gospel of Mark, chapter 6
Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. 7Calling the Twelve to him, he sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits. 12They went out and preached that people should repent. 13They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.

The Letter of James, chapter 5
13Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. 14Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders (presbyters) of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. 16Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

Why do Orthodox Christians use incense in their worship?

Because it’s Biblical!

Incense and the Altar of Incense in the Old Testament

The Book of Exodus, chapter 30
1 “Make an altar of acacia wood for burning incense. 2 It is to be square, a cubit long and a cubit wide, and two cubits high—its horns of one piece with it. 3 Overlay the top and all the sides and the horns with pure gold, and make a gold molding around it. 4 Make two gold rings for the altar below the molding—two on opposite sides—to hold the poles used to carry it. 5 Make the poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. 6 Put the altar in front of the curtain that is before the ark of the Testimony—before the atonement cover that is over the Testimony—where I will meet with you.
7 “Aaron must burn fragrant incense on the altar every morning when he tends the lamps. 8 He must burn incense again when he lights the lamps at twilight so incense will burn regularly before the LORD for the generations to come.
34 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Take fragrant spices—gum resin, onycha and galbanum—and pure frankincense, all in equal amounts, 35 and make a fragrant blend of incense, the work of a perfumer. It is to be salted and pure and sacred. 36 Grind some of it to powder and place it in front of the Testimony in the Tent of Meeting, where I will meet with you. It shall be most holy to you. 37 Do not make any incense with this formula for yourselves; consider it holy to the LORD.

Incense in heavenly worship around the Throne of the Lamb in eternity

The Book of Revelation, chapters 5 & 8
6Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders (presbyters). 7He came and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. 8And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders (presbyters) fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.
3Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne. 4The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel’s hand.

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