This year, our journey through the Lenten fast to Pascha begins at Forgiveness Sunday’s Vespers on Sunday, March 14. The Church, in her wisdom, begins preparing us for this most-holy time in the weeks that precede the fast. This post will provide you with the fasting guidelines for the pre-Lenten period of preparation, Great Lent, and Holy Week, according to the general practice of St. George Serbian Orthodox parish in San Diego, CA.
The guidelines in this post are general. Fasting is a spiritual discipline that should be practiced with the oversight and direction of your spiritual father. If you have any specific questions about how the fasting discipline applies to you, please consult Fr. Bratislav Bratso Krsic.
Weeks of preparation 2021 (February 21 – March 14)
Four Sundays of preparation precede Great Lent. The Church eases us into the fasting discipline during these weeks of preparation as follows:
- February 21 is the Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee and the week that follows (February 22 – 28) is fast-free. There is no Wednesday or Friday fast this week.
- February 28 is the Sunday of the Prodigal Son and the week that follows (March 1 – 7) is a normal week. Wednesday and Friday of this week are fasting days.
- March 7 is Meatfare Sunday (the Sunday of the Last Judgment) and on this day we say “farewell” to meat. During the week that follows (March 8 – 14) we fast from meat only. All dairy, cheese, eggs, wine, and oil are permitted during this week.
- March 14 is Cheesefare Sunday (the Sunday of Forgiveness) and on this day we say “farewell” to cheese, dairy, eggs, etc. This begins the fast properly.
Great Lent and Holy Week 2021 (March 15 – May 1)
The Lenten fasting discipline commences after Forgiveness Vespers (evening service) on March 14 and concludes with the breaking of the fast at Pascha on May 2. In general, the fasting rules during Great Lent and Holy Week are as follows:
Weekdays (Monday – Friday) are observed as Fast Days. On these days we abstain from meat, and dairy. Seafood (without bones) and oil are allowed. (Note: In practice our parishioners who came from Serbia are used to eating fish with backbones. Though this is not the common practice in the Orthodox church, it has become a common practice that we in California, where seafood without bones is readily available, should slowly abolish. Eating fish with a backbone in Serbia, during the Great Lent started most likely due to the lack of readily available and the high cost of other seafood, e.g., scallops, shells, etc.).
Weekends (Saturday and Sunday) are observed as Wine and Oil Days. On these days the fast is relaxed to permit alcoholic beverages and olive and other vegetable oils.
In addition, two special feastdays that fall during this period – Annunciation (April 7) and Palm Sunday (April 25, this year) – are kept as Fish, Wine, and Oil Days. On these days the fast is relaxed to permit fish with backbones, in addition to alcoholic beverages and oil.
There are certain days of the Holy Week cycle that have special fasting rules.
- Great and Holy Thursday (April 29, this year) is observed as a Wine and Oil Day due to the commemoration of the institution of the Eucharist.
- Great and Holy Saturday (May 1, this year) is observed as a Strict Fast Day – the only Saturday of the year kept as a strict fast; however, wine (but not oil) is permitted.
- Meals for the fast should follow the dietary restrictions and be cooked simply. Portions should be smaller than usual.
- It is a pious practice to observe Great and Holy Friday as an absolute fast. If one does not have the strength to do this, it is good to abstain from food until after venerating the epitaphios (plastanica, winding sheet) during Vespers on this day.
- If you have a medical condition that requires you to relax the fasting guidelines, then do so.
- Before you attempt to strictly follow the fasting guidelines, consult with Fr. Bratso. It is very easy to lose sight of the fact that fasting is merely a means to an end (that is, our salvation) and not an end in itself.
- Generally speaking, children and elderly people are allowed to relax the fast under the guidance of their spiritual father.