A time of repentance and preparation for the Resurrection of Our Lord
This year, our journey through the Lenten fast to Pascha begins at Forgiveness Vespers on Sunday, March 6. The Church, in her wisdom, begins preparing us for this most-holy time in the weeks that precede the fast.
Following are the guidelines for the pre-Lenten period of preparation, Great Lent, and Holy Week, according to the general practice of the Antiochian Archdiocese and approved for publication by Fr. George for the benefit of our parishioners.
These guidelines are general. Fasting is a spiritual discipline that should be practiced with the oversight and direction of your spiritual father. You should consult your spiritual father if you have any specific questions about the fasting discipline as it applies to you.
For additional reading on the fasting discipline please visit the article posted on the Archdiocese website.
WEEKS of PREPARATION (February 13 - March 6)
Four Sundays of preparation precede Great Lent. The Church eases us into the fasting discipline during these weeks of preparation as follows:
February 14-20: Fast-free week - there is no Wednesday or Friday fast this week. February 13 is the Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee in which the Lord teaches that fasting with pride is rejected by God.
February 21-27: Normal fasting week - Wednesday and Friday are fasting days. February 20 is the Sunday of the Prodigal Son in which we hear our Lord teach us about repentance.
February 28-March 6: Fast from meat only this week - all dairy, cheese, eggs, wine, and oil are permitted during this week, even on Wednesday and Friday. February 27 is the Sunday of the Last Judgment (Meatfare Sunday) and on this day we say “farewell” to meat.
March 6: Forgiveness Sunday (Cheesefare Sunday) - on this day we say “farewell” to cheese, dairy, eggs, wine, oil, etc. This begins the fast proper.
GREAT LENT and HOLY WEEK (March 7 - April 23)
The Lenten fasting discipline commences after Forgiveness Vespers on March 6 and concludes with the breaking of the fast at Pascha on April 24. In general, the fasting rules during Great Lent and Holy Week are as follows:
WEEKDAYS: (Monday – Friday) Strict Fast Days - on these days we abstain from meat, dairy, fish (with backbones), wine (all alcoholic beverages), and olive oil.
WEEKENDS: (Saturday and Sunday) Wine and Oil Days - on these days the fast is relaxed to permit wine, and olive oil.
Annunciation (March 25) and Palm Sunday (April 17, this year) are Fish, Wine, and Oil Days. On these days the fast is relaxed to permit fish, in addition to wine and oil.
First and Second Finding of the Head of Saint John the Baptist (February 24), the Holy Forty Martyrs of Sebaste (March 9), the Forefeast of the Annunciation (March 24), and the Synaxis of the Archangel Gabriel (March 26) are Wine and Oil days.
HOLY WEEK special fasting days:
There are certain days of the Holy Week cycle that have special fasting rules.
Great and Holy Thursday (April 21, this year) is always observed as a Wine and Oil Day due to the commemoration of the institution of the Eucharist.
Great and Holy Saturday (April 23, this year) is always observed as a Strict Fast Day – the only Saturday of the year kept as a strict fast; however, wine (but not oil) is permitted.
Before you attempt to strictly follow the fasting guidelines, consult with Fr. George. It is very easy to lose sight of the fact that fasting is a means to an end - that is, our salvation - and not an end in itself.
Please remember that abstaining from food during this period of preparation does us no good if we do not also, as St. John Chrysostom teaches us, fast with
"… the eye and the ear and the feet and the hands and all the members of our bodies.
Let the hands fast, by being free of avarice.
Let the feet fast, by ceasing to run after sin.
Let the eyes fast, by disciplining them not to glare at that which is sinful.
Let the ear fast, by not listening to evil talk and gossip.
Let the mouth fast from foul words and unjust criticism.
For what good is it if we abstain from birds and fishes, but bite and devour our brothers?"