by Fr. Alexis Duncan
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, eggs, fish and olive 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 have olive oil 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 The Holy 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?
The Holy Lent in Syriac
Orthodox Church of Antioch
During the period of the The Holy Lent and other periods of fasting throughout the year, an individual makes a special attempt or connection to reach our God, and evaluate his calling as a Christian, to listen to the voice of the Gospels and heed its commandments.
When we have gone through the labor of fasting, we forfeit not the crown of fasting, we should understand how, and after what manner, it is necessary to conduct this business; since that Pharisee also fasted, but afterwards went down empty, and destitute of the fruit of fasting.