Malankara World

Great Lent

The Number and Days of Fasts - Part 1

by Rev. Fr. Dr. Chirathilattu Biji Markose

There are a number of fasts in the Syrian Orthodox Church [1] and often many questions are asked from the part of the believers as to the dos and don'ts in the fasts. There are many doubts regarding the beginning, duration, and ending of the fasts also. One example is the question, why forty days fast is observed in reality for forty-nine days. Bar Ebroyo was well aware of this situation. So, both in Ethicon and Nomocanon, [2] he narrates in minute details the number and days of the fasts observed in his Church. He quotes from the Canons of Apostles, the fourth century Synods of Gangra and Laodicea, the strict Syrian Orthodox canonist Jacob of Edessa (AD 640/5-708) et cetera also to describe the traditional rules of the Church and then gives his own interpretations and opinions by means of his directions (Hoodoye), [3] so that everything will be clarified.

According to Bar Ebroyo, fasts until noon cannot be considered as fasting but those until the evening is the true fasting. [4] All the believers have to fast on Wednesdays and Fridays. [5] Quoting the ninth century Patriarch John III, he says that those who eat meat on Wednesdays and Fridays should be prohibited from the Church. [6] In his directive following it, Bar Ebroyo prohibits egg, milk, and cheese also on these days and says that no believer should eat the prohibited food before the sunset. He thinks that it is best that one does not break the fast in the evening also. Instead, fast till the morning of the next day. The reason behind this directive is that it is confirmed in the texts that God has begun the creation not from the darkness but from the light. [7]

Quoting Jacob of Edessa, Bar Ebroyo says that the Holy Apostles have not entrusted us anything regarding observing Friday by abstaining from the job and from the handwork. But only fast, prayer service, and reading of the holy books are suggested on Fridays and Wednesdays. [8] Bar Ebroyo mentions that the Patriarch Cyriacus has exempted the believers from the fast on Wednesdays and Fridays during the fifty days between Easter and Pentecost, [9] but rejects it in the directive following it in the Nomocanon, and asserts that, in his time, except in the one week immediately following Easter, nobody broke it. [10]


[1] For the Church's official instructions on these fasts cf. IGNATIUS ZAKKA: Das Fasten, pp. 14-25; AYDIN: Das Mönchtum, pp. 142-146; KONATTU: Prarthanakramam, pp. 9-16 and 376-377.

[2] Ethicon (ed. TEULE), pp. 92-96; Nomocanon (ed. BEDJAN), pp. 52-61.

[3] Cf. Ethicon (ed. TEULE), p. 94, 95, 96 etc. provide us with examples for his ways of quoting these authorities, whereas Nomocanon (ed. BEDJAN), p. 53, 54, 55 etc. exemplify his use of directions.

[4] Nomocanon (ed. BEDJAN), p. 53.

[5] Ibid., p. 52, 54, and 55; Ethicon (ed. TEULE), p. 92 and 94.

Surprisingly, Bar Ebroyo does not explain why the fasting on Wednesday and Friday are ordained. Today in the Church, it is interpreted that the most ancient practice of fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays, which existed in the early Christendom, was taken over by the Syrian Orthodox Church. Cf. IGNATIUS ZAKKA: Das Fasten, p. 20.

Didache exhorted the Christians to fast on Wednesdays and Fridays without mentioning the reason for it. Later they got associated with the passion events of Jesus and Canons were made in the earlier church regarding their practice (e.g. Canon 3 of Ignatius of Antioch). The Apostolic Constitutions explain that the fasting on Wednesday is there, because on that day, the process of Jesus' passion began with the betrayal promise of Judas and the Friday fasting is ordained because it was the day of Jesus' crucifixion.
Cf. GROW: The Liturgical Portions of the Apostolic Constitutions, p. 50.
Cf. HALL and CREHAN: Fasten / Fasttage III; Biblisch, pp. 52-53;
VARGHESE: Canonical Fasts, pp. 89-92 for more on the practice of fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays in the ancient Church.

[6] Nomocanon (ed. BEDJAN), p. 55.

[7] Ibid., p. 55.

[8] Ibid., p. 60.

[9] Ethicon (ed. TEULE), p. 96; Nomocanon (ed. BEDJAN), p. 54. These days are known as "the days of Pentecost" in the Church and Bar Ebroyo also calls these days so.

[10] Nomocanon (ed. BEDJAN), pp. 54-55. Even though Bar Ebroyo rejects it, still today these fifty days are considered by the Church to be free of the restrictions of the fasting.

Source: Chirathilattu Biji Markose: "Prayers and Fasts according to Bar Ebroyo, A Study On the Prayers and Fasts of the Oriental Churches", Lit Publischers, Münster, 2004

See Also:

The Number and Days of Fasts - Part 2
Other than the fasts on Wednesdays and Fridays, there are five more Fasts in a year. The great lent begins on the Monday coming closer, before or after the full moon between second February and eighth March.

The Material Benefits of Fasting
In accordance with the fact that Bar Ebroyo himself was a doctor, he underlines through a quotation from the doctors of his time that fasting improves the health of the body.

The Efficacy of Fasting and the Different Categories of Fasting.
According to Bar Ebroyo, the fasting may be defined in terms of time, of the kind of food or in terms of both time and food, and they are the three different categories of fasting.

Great Lent in Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch
During the period of the Great 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.

Lent - An Explanation for Children
Fasting, prayer, confession, reconciliation, Holy Communion, charity and capping with love are the steps to reach and experience the resurrected Jesus in person.

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