The Fast in the Pre-Synodal Discussions – 1

28 December 2015

Among the issues which, on a theological, historical, liturgical and canonical level the Organs of the Preparatory Pan-Orthodox Synod have been called upon to discuss is that of fasting. Ecumenical Patriarch Meletios IV (Metaxakis) raised this matter at the Pan-Orthodox Synod which was convened in May, 1923, in Constantinople. It was his proposal that the only fasts that should be observed were the ancient ones, that is Great Lent, before Easter, and the days of Wednesday and Friday, as ordained by the 68th Apostolic canon. In the first catalogue of items drawn up for the Synod convened by the Ecumenical Patriarch, Photios II at the Holy Monastery of Vatopaidi in May, 1930, there was no mention of fasting. The question was, however, raised in Rhodes, at the first Pan-Orthodox Conference, in 1961, where the agenda was expanded and the decisions confirmed regarding the preparations and convening of the Synod. The precise wording of the issue, which is contained in the Third Unit, under the general title Administration and Good Church Order is as follows: ‘A readjustment of the Church ordinances concerning fasting, in accordance with the demands of the modern era[1].

The theological research into and processing of this issue was undertaken by the first Inter-Orthodox Preparatory Commission, which convened in Geneva in 1971. After the Introductory Study, by the Church of Serbia, and the observations and comments by the other Churches, the Inter-Orthodox Preparatory Commission[2] made the following suggestions:

  1. All the ordinances on fasting in force today shall be observed fully by monastics and by as many of the clergy and devout laity who wish and are able to do so.
  2. For other Christians, who have difficulty in observing the strict ordinances on fasting in force today, because of special circumstances applying to each of them, whether these be because of climate, way of life, difficulties of diet or in finding suitable food for the fast and so on, and, moreover, so that the holy institution of fasting should not be abandoned by the people of God, we propose the following:
  3. The Orthodox Church may allow a partial dispensation for cooked food to facilitate Christians, and this dispensation should be understood as a gradual easing, depending on the circumstances, as tolerance or a milder form of fasting.
  4. It is proposed that Wednesday and Friday fasts be observed throughout the year, but with a dispensation for oil and fish, except during times of fasting. This ordinance regarding Wednesday and Friday does not apply if the Elevation of the Precious Cross or the Beheading of the Forerunner fall on these days; likewise, the eve of Epiphany, and Wednesdays and Fridays in Great Lent.
  5. The ordinances concerning the dispensation from fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays remain in force, as regards the weeks when there is no fasting at all. There is thus no fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays in the period from Thomas Sunday until the Ascension.
  6. The length of the Fast of Great Lent should remain as it is, according to the ordinances of the Paschalio and the Typiko. The existing ordinances regarding quantity and kind of nourishment shall be retained in the first week and in Passion Week. On the other days, from the 2nd week of the Fast up to and including Palm Sunday, there should be a dispensation for oil and fish, except on Wednesdays and Fridays (see 4).
  7. Regarding the Christmas Fast, the Inter-Orthodox Preparatory Commission has two proposals to make: a) either it should be shortened by half (three weeks) and begin the day after the feast of Saint Barbara, with fish and oil being allowed except for the last five days or b) it should remain as 40 days, with oil and wine permitted on all days, except the first three and the last three, when a strict fast should be observed.
  8. The Apostle’s Fast should be restricted to 8 days before the feast, if there are more than that number of days between the Sunday of All Saints and the Feast of the Apostles. During this fast, fish and oil are to be allowed.
  9. The fast of 15 August shall be retained, as regards the length, but there shall be a dispensation for oil and fish on all days, except Wednesdays and Fridays.
  10. Should the feasts of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul and the Dormition of the Mother of God fall on a Wednesday or Friday, there is a dispensation from fasting, since there has been a period of fasting leading up to the feast.
  11. If the Inter-Orthodox Preparatory Commission accepts these proposals, the people shall be informed accordingly regarding the alterations.
[To Be Continued]

[1] See Ioannis Karmiris, Τά Δογματικά καί Συμβολικά Μνημεία τῆς Ὀρθοδόξου Καθολικῆς Ἐκκλησίας, pubd. Graz, Austria2 1968, p. 983 (1081). Georgios A Galitis, Θέματα τῆς Μεγάλης Συνόδου, Athens 1977, p. 42. Metropolitan Serafeim (Kykkotis) of Zimbabwe, «Πανορθόδοξος Σύνοδος καί ἡ ἐν Ρόδῳ Πανορθόδοξος Διάσκεψις», 1961, in ΑΜΕΝ. Πηγή Ἐκκλησιαστικῶν Εἰδήσεων, Thursday 11 June, 2015.

[2] Πρός τήν Μεγάλην Σύνοδον 1. Εἰσηγήσεις τῆς Διορθοδόξου Προπαρασκευαστικῆς Ἐπιτροπῆς ἐπί τῶν ἕξ θεμάτων τοῦ πρώτου σταδίου, Orthodox Centre of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Chambesy, Geneva 1971, pp. 41-2.