Just thought I'd join in. I'm by no means an expert on fasting and have somewhat limited experience, but here are some quotes from our priest (from our newsletter) that may or may not be helpful.
"... the Church gives no instructions on what to eat or not to eat, it only gives instructions on how
to celebrate – how much of the fast to break. Now we enter a very complex topic. To give you an example:
the 18 th Canon of the Council of Gangra (345 or 365 AD) states: “If anyone fasts on the Lord's day or on
the Sabbath, let them be cast out (anathema)”. Seems clear doesn't it? Except it's as clear as mud – the 55th
Canon of the Quinisext Ecumenical Council (692 AD (Gangra was a local Council) ) states that anyone
who fasts on a Sunday or Saturday (except for one only – Holy Saturday) is to be deposed if clergy,
anathematized if lay.” Seems to agree.... Then the 56th Canon of the same Council says: “There are some
who eat eggs and cheese on the sabbaths and Lord's days in Lent. It is determined that the whole world
shall abstain from these – if not, let the offender be deposed if clergy, anathematized if lay.” SO, if you
fast on Sunday or Saturday, you are anathematized, but if you eat eggs or cheese or meat, you are also
anathematized. That leaves fish. It also gives us some principles that I will discuss below. (Deposition is the
removal from the clergy, sometimes called laicization, anathematization is the excommunication of an
individual from the Church.)
First, anyone who says 'The canons say' and gives you absolutes, is rarely right. The canons say many
things, much of them contradictory, and unless you have studied them at length, quoting them can only get
you into trouble.
Second, different people fasted differently. There has NEVER been a single rule of fasting for all.
●Children, the elderly and the ill should not do a strict fast for the entire 40 days and Holy Week.
●Vegetarians should not continue eating as they always had believing themselves to be following the
●Everyone should attempt to follow a strict fast several times in their lives.
●No one must fast on pain of damnation.
●Early Christians abstained from eating during the day – just as Moslems do now during Ramadan.
●The strict or”monastic” Fast was developed by and for monks – who did not have children to raise
or daily occupational work to be done. In the Byzantine tradition it came to be the only type of fast
in the last 150 years but the Slavic traditions still differentiate between lay fasting and monastic
The end result is – you need to consider your health, your spiritual dedication, and the circumstances of
your work. It makes perfect sense to abstain from meat (only) during the day and abstain from more in the
evening when you are home and have more control over your food. Just as there is a rhythm through the
week you can create a rhythm through the day.
Or, perhaps, you cannot abstain from meat, then find something else. Or you're a vegetarian, abstaining
from meat is not a fast for you. In each case you can find a food – ice cream, meat flavored tofu, etc. that
you regularly eat, but that you can use as a method of abstaining during the fast. Perhaps you can restrict
yourself to one sort of meat or replace tofu with nuts or beans, or, or, or – the list is endless, restricted
only by your creativity.
Sometimes when controlling and restricting food is not an option, there are other things that can be done.
One of my favorites is to turn off the TV – I used to unplug it for the entire period until after Pascha –
thus reducing the “noise” in my life. Turn off the radio when you drive, or turn it off when you're home.
Put away the romance novels or the science fiction or the murder mysteries, and read something from the
fathers, or even that course of study for your job that you've been putting off.
The most basic purpose of the fast is to bring us closer to God. Do whatever it takes to accomplish it."
Sorry for the length, but I hope it might be helpful to some. This is basically what I've tried to keep in mind in my own (admittedly limited) fasting.