There are many known traditions that relate to Christian fasting. If you are interested in learning more about these different customs and the significance of them, keep reading.
How long do Christians fast? It depends on the type of fast that a believer is participating in. Fasts can range from 1 day to a month or even longer depending on the person’s convictions.
In this article, I am going to be introducing the different types of fasting that have a historical background, what Christians are allowed to eat, and why the fast is significant to the Bible.
Catholic Fasting Tradition
There is a strong Biblical foundation for Catholic fasting. This denomination is very strict on what a Christian can and can’t consume for a designated amount of time.
There are also many different rules and regulations a Catholic has to participate in during their fasting. Even though fasting is voluntary, many believe that it is a tradition that needs to be participated in to honor the events in the Bible.
The Catholic Sacrament of Holy Communion is the main centralized tradition. The participants of this event have the opportunity to honor Holy Communion at every Mass. This ritual is served with wheat and wine. This corresponds to Christ and the congregation to receive the body of Christ (during His crucifixion in the book of Matthew).
Canon 919 of the Code of Canon Law states the regulations of a dedicated Catholic to avoid all food and beverages (except water) for an hour before performing the practice of Holy Communion.
“One who is to receive the Most Holy Eucharist is to abstain from any food or drink, with the exception of water and medicine, for at least the period of one hour before Holy Communion”–Code of Canon Law
What is interesting about this rule is that there are actually two different exceptions. First, if a priest celebrates more than one Mass on the same day, he is bound to only the hour he fasts before the first Mass. Lastly, the Catholics that are elderly (at least 60 years old) or ill, can receive Holy Communion even if a full hour fat had not fulfilled.
Catholics have been fasting for a long part of the Christian ascetic tradition. They participate in this practice from the documents known as The Didache (which is the Lord’s teachings through His twelve Apostles that was written in Koine Greek), and The Shepherd of Hermas (a Christian literary work of the first half of the second century that is filled with authoritative scripture). Both were established near the end of the first century AD.
Nowadays, Catholics all over the world use the Paenitemini, which is an apostolic constitution (that was published on February 17, 1966) written by Pope Paul VI. In this legalized literary work, Paul changes the strict and regulated Catholic fasting requirements. He recommended and revised fasting to become more appropriate to the local economy so all Catholics can voluntarily fast and abstain.
The main reason the Catholics fast is mainly from St. Paul explaining to fellow Christians to carry their bodies for Christ’s sacrifice. The reason that he said this in the Bible is to remind all Christians that if they reflect their fasting (dedication to God and not a body’s necessity), then the experience and miracles of Jesus Christ will be revealed to them.
“Continually we carry about in our bodies the dying of Jesus, so that in our bodies the life of Jesus may also be revealed”–2 Corinthians 4:10
Orthodox Fasting Traditions
The Christian Orthodox church is very strict with their fasting rules and regulations. From the Holy Week fasting to specific seasons. Here are the main fasting traditions of the Orthodox church.
Fasting & Fasting-Free Seasons of the Traditional Orthodox Church
From the Holy weeks filled with fasting to the fasting-free weeks, here are the dates and names of each weekday being honored for the Lord through repentance, fasting, and prayer.
- Nativity (St. Philip’s Fast) – Nov. 15 through Dec. 24
- Meatfast – Monday after the Sunday of Last Judgment through Cheesefare Sunday
- Great Lent & Holy Week – 1st Monday of Great Lent through Great and Holy Saturday
- Apostles’ (Peter & Paul) Fast – June 11 through June 28
- Dormition (Theotokos) Fast – Aug. 1 through Aug. 14
- Afterfeast of the Nativity of Christ to Theophany Eve – Dec. 25 through Jan. 4
- The week following the Sunday of the Publican & Pharisee – 2nd Week of the Lenten Triodion
- Bright Week – The week after Pascha until St Thomas Sunday
- Trinity Week – The week after Pentecost until the Saturday before All Saints Sunday
The Byzantine Fast
This fast (also known as the Philip’s Fast) is based on the following Feast of St. Philip the Apostle and is observed from November 25 to December 24, inclusively. The Orthodox Church honors the Byzantine Fast by repenting, praying, and almsgiving.
It is believed by filling themselves up with the Holy Spirit instead of food, that the Lord will communicate with them during this day about the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.
Holy Week Fasting
Unless a fast-free period has been declared, this type of Orthodox fast is hebdomadal (weekly) and is required every Wednesday and Friday. Meat, eggs and dairy products, fish, and olive oil are not permitted during Holy Week fasting for the Orthodox Christians.
Here are the rules and regulations for the Orthodox Church weekly:
- Holy Thursday- Only one meal is prepared and consumed with xerophagy.
- Great Friday- The following Christians that participate in fasting and are still capable to continue, are to do a total fast (the abstinence of food and drink for a time period).
- Holy Saturday- There is no meal preparation and instead are to go to the chapel and read aloud the Acts of Apostles with the remaining Christians who have lasted the weekly fast. After congregating, all are allowed to go home and feast. However, olive oil is not permitted.
Protestant Fasting Traditions
Fasting and praying are tremendous in the Christian life. The Protestant church does not have a fasting tradition that only their practices. Most traditions are synced with other Christians.
Something that makes Protestants different than Catholics is their love and belief in this practice. Though this is not a particular date or season. fasting while praying is believed to help improve the world or an issue that is going on in the world.
Christians avoid food to pray about a specific subject or question to receive wisdom and answers from the Lord, Himself.
There are traditional fasts that are more than one Christian denomination. Here are different fasts believers of the Lord participate in.
This specific type of Christian fasting tradition lasts 46 days (except for Sundays). Lent is the six-week time period leading up to Easter. These specific weeks have been honored for nearly 2,000 years as a way to commemorate Christ’s death and burial before celebrating Him raising from the dead.
Unlike most other Christian churches, the Catholic Church has specific regulations of what to fast. During Lent, Christians fast and honor Christ’s crucifixion and revival. The Catholic, Lutheran, and Protestant honor Lent. This also goes hand-in-hand with Ash Wednesday and Good Friday (which are also days for fasts).
The Nativity Fast
This is a Christian holiday is a period of abstinence and penance that is in the preparation and commemorating of the crucifixion of Jesus and His death at Calvary. Many Christian denominations participate in this fast such as Orthodox, Lutheran, Methodist, and protestant. The date for Good Friday varies every year, this is based on the Gregorian and Julian calendars.