What is the Point of the Dormition Fast? How Should it be Spent?

Archpriest Gennady Fast | 14 August 2014
The Dormition Fast is preparation for the Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God. The Theotokos was immaculate, pure, and led a very temperate way of life. Tradition even tells us that she led a life-long fast. Thus, the meaning of this fast is to participate in the pure and immaculate abstinence of the Mother of God in preparation for the Feast of her Dormition.

According to the Typicon, this fast is considered strict. From Monday to Friday only xerophagy [literally, “dry-eating,” i.e., food prepared without oil] is allowed, and on weekends oil may be added to food (in our case, vegetable oil). Fish is permitted only on the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. In terms of strictness, this fast is not inferior to Great Lent, the only difference being that the Dormition Fast is short: two weeks in all. Moreover, it is not spring, when all that is available is melted snow, but August, in which we rejoice in an abundance of vegetables and fruits. 

During the Dormition Fast there are three feast days in honor of the Savior: in Russia they are called “Saviors.” On these days the blessing of the fruits of the earth take place. The “first Savior” is the feast in honor of Christ’s Cross, which takes place at the beginning of the fast, on August 14. On this feast there is a blessing of honey. The “second Savior” is the Feast of the Lord’s Transfiguration (August 19), which includes the blessing of grapes (since Russia is not grape country, these fruits are replaced by our fruits and vegetables, such as apples). The “third Savior” is the feast of the translation of the Icon Made-Without-Hands from Edessa to Constantinople (August 29), which is celebrated on the day following the Dormition of the Most-Holy Theotokos. On this day bread of the new harvest is blessed.

The services that take place in churches during the Dormition, Apostles’, and Nativity Fasts, unfortunately, do not differ much from one another. Unfortunately, this external similarity leads to a spiritual devaluation of the fasts, with many people thinking of them only in terms of a limitation of food. Great Lent is, in this sense, a pleasant exception. Even children think of it not just as a time when one cannot eat certain things, but in terms of the new services that go on in church every week. 

Strictly speaking, there are in fact some particularities in terms of the divine services, only they are not performed in the average parish, or even in monasteries. These particularities are common to all three fasts. For example, on certain days the Divine Liturgy is not served and one should read the prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian, “O Lord and Master of my life…” with full prostrations. However, in our minds this prayer is firmly connected with Great Lent, so it seems somehow unusual to perform it during other fasts.

In order that the external similarity of the divine services of these fasts be not devalued, the priest must disclose the uniqueness of each fast during his sermon. During the Apostles’ Fast, he can tell of the Apostolic preaching; during the Nativity Fast, he can create an atmosphere of expectation for the coming into the world of Christ, such as reigned during Old Testament times. And during the Dormition Fast, he can appeal to the purity, immaculateness chastity, and continence exemplified by the Virgin Mary.

Trnslated from the Russian (to see the original in Russian scroll down to the last part)

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