Regarding the relaxation and reducing the number of days of fasting
- There have been recent discussions on lenten practices in our sister forum for the Malankara Church "Syrian Orthodox Forum - Malankara" (SOCM-Forum), particularly around relaxations permitted by the Church in the last century. In general, we avoid publishing cross-posted responses to discussion threads in other forums; however, we make an exception here since we believe that it will be of interest to SOR-Forum members.
Barekhmor / Shlomo
Fasting is a spiritual practice which is given much importance in
Semitic religions. The early Church instituted periods of fasting
and abstinence from certain foods following the examples of our Lord
as well as those of the Prophets such as Moses and Elijah. While the
periods of fasting and lenten observances are described in early
texts such as Didascalia Apostolorum, practices have varied over
For instance, the Rogation of the Ninevites was introduced only in
the 7th cent. first in the Church of the East and then adopted among
the Syriac Orthodox Madenhoyo (Easterners) and later in the entire
Syriac Orthodox Church. Through the influence of Syrians, the
practice was adopted in other churches such as the Coptic and
Armenian Orthodox Churches.
We find that the duration of lenten observances have varied.
Bar `Ebroyo in his Ethikon states that: "Some people observe the
fast of Nativity forty days from the full moon of Teshri (approx
November) the second, others twenty-five days from the beginning of
Kanun (approx. December) the first, and still others two weeks from
the tenth of Kanun the first." (Teule, H.G.B. (trans.). Ethicon.
Louvain: 1993, p. 80)
In the Nomocanon, Bar `Ebroyo gives more detailed information about
the identity of people who fast 40, 25 or 14 days. The ascetics fast
40 days, lay people in the East (MadenHoye) from Kanun the first
(=% days) and lay people in the west: two weeks from the 10th of
Kanun the first. (Teule,1993, p. 80, fn 44).
Regarding the fast of the Apostles, Bar `Ebroyo says in the
Ethikon: "The people in the West observe the fast of Apostles from
the Monday after the feast of Pentecost till the twenty-ninth of
Hziran (approx June), which is the feast of Peter and Paul; the
people in the East till the completion of fifty days. About this
fast the Holy Jacob (of Edessa in "A Letter to John the Stylite, ed.
A. Voobus in Synodicon I, p. 238/219 trans.) said that it is not
compulsory; otherwise anyone not keeping this fast would be
blameworthy. But perhaps because our Lord said to his Apostles: the
sons of the bride-chamber cannot fast as long as the bridegroom is
with them. But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be
taken from them and then they shall fast (Mt 9:15), therefore, when
our Lord ascended and the Spirit came, the Apostles fasted and this
was accepted as a custom, but not prescribed."
These are just some examples of varied practices within the Syriac
Orthodox Church recorded in the 13th cent. Similarly, the foods
prescribed during lent have also varied. For instance, in certain
areas, in addition to animal products, oil was avoided during lent.
On the other hand, we find in a letter of Mor Philoxenos to the Abu
Ya'fur the Lakhmid Phylarch references to Christian Turks being
permitted to eat milk and meat--but only dried meat--during lent.
(Paul Harb (trans.), Lettre de Philoxene de Mabbug au phylarque Abu
Ya'fur... OLM Meltho (1967):183-222).
HH Patriarch Aphrem I's relaxation of lenten observances (No 620;
Dec 2, 1952) upon appeal from the bishops in Malankara has to be
seen in this context. While the Patriarch's encyclical was promptly
rebuked by then Malankara Orthodox Catholicos Geevarghese II (No
210; Dec 8, 1952), Konatt Abraham Malpan (Malankara Malpan of the
Malankara Orthodox Church) published an article in Malayala
Manorama, praising the wisdom and timeliness of HH Patriarch Aphrem
I's decision. In this article the learned Malpan emphatically
acknowledges the authority of the Holy Fathers of the Church to set
rules for periods of fasting. He welcomes relaxations to keep with
the times and changing circumstances. You can read this news
clipping from the Manorama at
http://www.stgeorgecheppaud.org/MSCR/KAM.htm provided by Mr T.M.
Chacko (Member Id # 0903 of SOCM-FORUM). An English translation will
be made available as soon as possible).
Those who are keen to criticize others regarding their fasting
practices would do well to remember how our Lord regarded the
Pharisees and their attitudes to the observance of the Sabbath. Just
as "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath (St.
Mark 2:27)", fasting was instituted for man, and not man for
fasting. As we pray in the evening prayers of the great
lent, "Observing lent by abstaining from food alone and without
abstaining from foul thoughts is in vain."
In Our Lord's Love