“Sanctify a fast; gather the people”

– Joel 2:15

The Origins of the Lenten Fast

In the earliest days of Christianity, only two days of fasting were designated prior to Easter (Friday and Saturday).  Later the entire week of the Lord’s coming to Jerusalem, His arrest, trial, and passion was set aside for fasting.  By the fourth century the period of fasting had been extended an additional forty days in imitation of Jesus’ forty-day fast in the wilderness before His temptation (Matthew 4:1-2).

Jesus Christ fasted and He taught His followers to fast.  Fasting is part of the spiritual life.  A human being must fast.  The effort focuses the mind, strengthens the spirit, controls the emotions and tames the many unruly and disordered passions that often seem to govern our lives.  Fasting is necessary.  But not as an end in itself.  It is necessary, like prayer, as a means and a tool.  Our goal is purity of heart, service of God, love for neighbor, the reception of the Holy Spirit.  Fasting that does not lead to these things is empty, vain and meaningless.

What follows are the guidelines of the Church for fasting during the season of Great Lent:

Foods Permitted Throughout Lent:

1) Shellfish (such as lobster, shrimp, crab, oysters, scallops, clams, mussels, etc.

2) Vegetables and vegetable products (including grains)

Categories of Foods:

Category I:

Meat and meat products (includes beef, pork, chicken, etc., as well as items which have beef gelatin, such as some commercial brands of gelatin), lard, etc.

Category II:

Dairy products (includes butter, eggs, milk, cheese, etc. as well as items containing dairy: whey, milk extracts, etc.)

Category III:

Fish (includes sardines, tuna, trout, bass, shark, pike, etc. but not shellfish such as lobster, shrimp, crab, oysters, scallops, clams, mussels, etc.)

Category IV:

Olive oil (according to some, this should extend to all oil) and wine, which includes all alcoholic beverages such as whiskey, beer, etc.)

The Guidelines of the Church Specify the Following for Fasting During Great Lent:

Weekdays During Lent

Abstinence of Categories I, II, III, IV

No abstinence of shellfish, fruits, vegetables, vegetable products.  During this period, we should regulate both the amount of feed we consume as well as the frequency of eating.  No food should be eaten between meals and smaller than normal quantities should be eaten at meal time.

Saturdays and Sundays During Lent

Abstinence of Categories I, II, III

On Saturdays and Sundays during the Great Fast, the quantity and frequency of meals are not restricted.  No abstinence of category IV or of shellfish, fruits, vegetables and vegetable products (except Great and Holy Saturday on which a strict fast is kept.)

Feast of the Annunciation (March 25th) and Palm Sunday

Abstinence of Categories I, II

No abstinence of Categories III, IV or of shellfish, fruit, vegetables, vegetable products. On the Great Feasts of the Church, the quantity and frequency of meals are not restricted.