Archpriest Maxim Pervozvansky, clergyman of the Moscow church of the Forty Sebastian Martyrs in Spasskaya Sloboda, answers these and other questions about fasting. This article was written before Lent, but the tips are appropriate for the Dormition Fast as well.
⇒ The first thing a person who has just decided to fast needs to understand is the following: you are not late, it is never too late to start fasting. Yes, the church-going people keep the fast from beginning to end, prepare for it in advance, but since it happened that this fast was the first for you, do not blame yourself in any case. The fact that you have decided to do this is already commendable.
⇒ Secondly, you should understand what fasting is, separate the main thing from the secondary. Understand that limitations in something are not the main goal of fasting. Yes, we refuse the most obvious: food, fuss and entertainment – everything that can distract us. But all deprivation does not make sense without prayer and repentance.
It is important to observe the listed restrictions, because they really work: they help to focus not on primary needs, but on spiritual ones – to bring God and the Church to the first place, and to put off worldly concerns for later.
⇒ Third: try to remove everything superfluous from your life, stint yourself in watching TV shows, computer games, social networks. These addictions to which we are exposed daily entertain, rather than fill spiritually.
Fill the time saved from watching TV with reading of spiritual literature: read or re-read the Gospel. Turn to the Old Testament: the books of Genesis, the prophet Isaiah and the Parable of Solomon are read at the services. Closer to Holy Week read the book of Job.
⇒ Fourth: take time for regular prayer. It takes spiritual effort, but start small: if you’re not used to praying, try it. If you said prayers briefly or in your own words, try to turn to church rule. In addition, read the prayer of Ephraim the Syrian or the penitential troparia twice a day.
Try also to add to your schedule a visit to the temple not only on weekends. During the fasting, the services are special, they have their own atmosphere: chants change to the lenten, sad ones, oil lamps are lit in front of the icons, the space of the church is lit only by candles, and parishioners give numerous bows. I myself know how difficult it is out of inexperience to get used to and withstand services, not to break loose and not to run to a large to-do list. But I strongly recommend coming to the temple at least for a short while: this will help to imbue the Lenten spirit and get in the right mindset to prayer. It is especially important to visit a temple at least once (or better more than once) at the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, which is served on Wednesdays and Fridays.
In addition to all of the above, go through the main thing: through confession. Without confession, all restrictions are meaningless. During fasting, we should acutely feel that we are devoid of paradise and try to acquire this paradise. But without repentance, this is impossible.
⇒ Fifth: do not turn your decision to fast into a challenge for your neighbors. Organize your life so that changes in everyday life would affect only you, and your family would not feel deprived of something. If you are used to doing something with your spouse: watch movies in the evenings, for example, do not leave him alone.
The same applies to the issue of marital intimacy: termination of relations at the time of fasting is possible only by mutual agreement. If one of the spouses does not want to keep the fast in this regard, the second one does not have power over his own fast.
Fast so as not to irritate your loved ones. If you come home, lock yourself in your room and pray for hours, not paying attention to your wife and children, run into the church every free minute and tell your beads with a glassy stare, your family will really worry whether you have gone insane.
Clearly indicate that you have decided to fast, but do not focus on this, do not confuse family members with your fast. Sitting at dinner, while everyone enjoys a meat dish – do not blame them, do not boast over them, do not show off your fast. But at the same time do not expect support, do not spare yourself! Remember that nobody makes you fast: this is your choice.
⇒ Sixth: learn how to properly organize your life. If you decided to fast and at the same time you are responsible for the feeding of your family, prepare food for yourself separately, and feed your family members with the usual dishes. But if it’s not you who is cooking, remember that no one is obliged to cook lean dinners, this is only your concern.
Another question is if you are a teenager and mom is cooking for you. You can offend her with your fast by refusing to eat something specially prepared for you. Try to explain your intentions and hope for understanding. If mom is against it – listen to her.
The main thing – do not over-focus on food. In situations where you do not have the freedom to eat lean food (for example, in a school cafeteria or if you work on a rotational basis), do not analyze in detail whether sour cream is added to the salad or not, eat soup with meat broth, but turn away from the chop – just not for show.
⇒ Seventh: be careful with your health: fasting should not adversely affect it. If you are not allowed to fast for medical reasons, follow your doctor’s advice. To stick to fasting, do it differently: give up your favorite dish or just cook not so sophisticated and tasty – cook the chicken without salting it.
⇒ Eighth: postpone travel and vacation. On vacation, you will want to relax and have fun, but during fasting, on the contrary, you need to get together and work hard spiritually. Of course, this does not apply to pensioners who have been given a vacation package, or those who have a business trip. Moreover, there is such a rule: the fast does not apply to travelers in all severity. But if you are offered fish or chicken on the plane, choose fish.
⇒ Ninth: if possible, skip festivities and corporate parties: take a day off, part of the vacation. If you can’t refuse an invitation, go, but don’t go to extremes: don’t run wild, but don’t sit gloomy separately from the team. If you do not want to drink, do not declare it: modestly put a glass to your lips for appearances and put it back. Almost everywhere there is already a lean menu, but if not, just don’t help yourself to lunch meat. The main thing is the following: do not attract attention to yourself, so as not to provoke questions and condemnation.
⇒ Tenth: do not go too far. Your zeal to abandon everything and immediately is commendable, but it can lead to sad consequences: you should be prepared for the fast. Clearly think about the extent of your fast. Ask for advice from church friends if necessary, and turn to the priest. If you constantly think about what to eat, it’s wrong: you need fasting so that you don’t think about food, but think about your life and try to change it for the better – through prayer, repentance and caring for your neighbor.
Translated by Alyona Malafeeva