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Question 63.

When fasting, why are we not supposed to have olive oil seeing as it's not meat; fish or dairy? 


Answer to Question 63.


Firstly we must understand that there is no food that is a sin. God has created all things and all things from God are Good. We do not fast from certain foods because they are sinful or bad for us. Fasting is a spiritual discipline which when applied properly can help us in our spiritual struggles.  Fasting in the Orthodox Church has two aspects: physical and spiritual. The first one implies abstinence from rich food, such as dairy products, eggs and all kinds of meat.  Spiritual fasting consists in abstinence from evil thoughts, desires, and deeds.

The main purpose of fasting is to gain mastery over oneself and to conquer the passions of the flesh. It is to liberate oneself from dependence on the things of this world in order to concentrate on the things of the Kingdom of God. Fasting is a spiritual exercise of self-discipline and self-control. It is not at all an act of religiousness because we what to appear to others as religious. It is not a “little suffering” which is somehow pleasing to God. It is not a punishment, which is to be sorrowfully endured in payment for sins. On the contrary, fasting for a Christian should be a joyful experience, because fasting is a self-discipline, which we voluntarily impose upon ourselves in order to become better persons and better Christians.  Fasting is essential for us to regain control over our bodies.

We live in a society where Gluttony has become a way of life. We all eat too much, and fasting is the only way to end this unnatural obsession with food. Fasting puts food into its proper perspective. We must eat in order to live, but we shouldn’t simply live to eat.” The saints teach that for us to purify our hearts we must begin with the control of our bodily desires through fasting. But fasting involves a lot more than just giving up certain foods. St. John Chrysostom says that fasting implies not only abstinence from food, but from sins also. “The fast,” he insists, “should be kept not by the mouth alone, but also by the eye, the ear, the feet, the hands and all the members of the body: the eye must abstain from impure sights, the ear from malicious gossip, the hands from acts of injustice.” It is useless to fast from food, protests St. Basil, and yet to indulge in cruel criticism and slander: “You do not eat meat, but you devour your brother.

True fasting means to put away all evil, to control the tongue, to forbear from anger, to abstain from lust, slander, falsehood and perjury. Only if we renounce these things is our fasting true and acceptable to God. 

Your question is quite common; we are often asked why can we eat olives but not olive oil? The answer is simple. The meaning of fasting is not to fulfil our desires for deliciously tasting meals, but rather to eat simple meals and just enough to nourish the body. Olive oil is a rich source of sustenance and can be used to make delicious fry ups like chips instead of boiled potatoes. We should therefore only have olive oil on Weekends or on the days that allow for oil to be used. In practice though this is only observed by monks and nuns and a few people who keep strictly to the rules of fasting. Most people living in the world continue to have olive oil especially those who have to work hard for a living and need the sustenance olive oil can give them.  Keep in mind that not all fasts are the same. The fasts of Great Lent and the August fast are strict fasts and olive oil is not allowed during weekdays, but the Christmas fast and the fast of the Apostles which began yesterday are lenient fasts and not only allow for olive oil, but also for fish except on Wednesdays and Fridays.