The Orthodox Pages






























Question 32.

Dear Brother,
In your Ecclesiastical Calendar for December, please correct the days of fasting. The eating of fish ends on the 17th of the month. You have continued this until the Eve of Christmas which is a day that not even oil is allowed.
Good Holidays

Answer to Question 32

Dear Orestis,
I apologise that you were scandalized by my calendar, but you are also to blame for your being scandalized because you didn’t read the note found on the first page of the calendar and which explains the various local traditions.
You say that fish is not to be eaten after the 17th of the month and that is absolutely correct for Greece. We in Cyprus have the 12th of the month as the last day that fish is allowed. These are local customs which cannot be imposed to be observed by all Orthodox. Customs and traditions differ from one country to another and there is no question as to if one custom is more correct than another. They are all correct. We that live in the world have always eaten fish even on weekdays except on Wednesdays and Fridays, but in recent years we have been influenced by the Athonite monastic tradition where they eat fish only at the Weekends. What then is correct? The answer is that the correct thing to do is to follow the custom observed by your local Church, in other words the Church where you are.
My website is offered not only to the Greek or Cypriot and in fact is read by many Orthodox around the world. That is why I had to overlook the local traditions for the broader observance of the fast, thus leaving the individual to follow the tradition of his local Church. This is also why the note exists on the website – to explain about the various local customs. The note is as follows:
4) The Christmas fast begins on 15th November and ends on Christmas eve. In general, during this fast, Olive oil, wine and fish are permitted except on Wednesdays and Fridays, but there are local customs that rule on what date we begin and end eating fish. In Cyprus for example, eating fish begins on 21st November, the feast of The Entry of the Mother of God and ends on 12th December, the Feast of St. Spyridon. In Greece the last day for fish is the 17th December. Other customs allow fish only on the Weekends up to the 12th or 17th while others allow fish from the onset of the fast until the last day except on Wednesdays and Fridays.

One last word: you mentioned that the Eve of Christmas is a day on which even oil is not allowed. This is something that is NOT imposed by any tradition, but rather is the direction of some priests who impose a no oil fast on their flock before they are allowed to have holy Communion. This is like saying to their flock not to come for Holy Communion on any day of the fast but only on Christmas day. Why then do we offer the Divine Liturgy everyday for the 40days of the fast? The Christian is obliged to partake of the precious Mysteries every time he attends the Divine Liturgy and if possible everyday.
But maybe they have been influenced by the Eve of Theophany (5th January) where all the Orthodox Churches observe a strict no oil fast.
When we fast we must always remember that fasting is a spiritual and bodily exercise and 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. And if fasting is sometimes imposed as a form of preparation for Holy Communion, this does not make us worthy to partake and neither if our fasting was oil free. But I am opening another chapter which is not for this present hour.
With Love in Christ
Fr. Christopher

Dear Father Christopher,
Thank you for your direct, enlightening and well informed answer. You are right on all matters. It was just that I grew up with these customs and I rushed to correct you (and with a terrible tone, now that I have reread…)
Have a great Christmas Holiday and may God keep you well!