Coptic methods of fasting

edited December 1969 in Coptic Orthodox Church
I'm curious, how did the Coptic church determine how to fast? I would think fasting means abstaining from food, drink or anything that focuses on physical gratification. Something to stregnthen your spiritual bond with God.

Where did they come up with the 'vegan' way of fasting? (no cheese, meat, milk, etc...?)

I know Catholic people give up a favorite food for Lent and that is their way of fasting.

Any feedback would be great!

Plus--Ive seen people in Egypt who will have many substitutes for things they can not eat because it's not "see-yami." Doesnt this defeat the whole purpose of fasting? If people are overly concerned with what they can or can't eat, it's still a preoccupation with the physical self.


  • From H.H. Pope Shenouda's book on The Spirituality of Fasting availabe at:

    Kind of Food:
    Kind of Food: I have talked about hunger and the period of abstinence, what remains is the topic of what are the different types of food appropriate for fasting. It is useful to remember of what the Prophet Daniel said about his fast: "I ate no pleasant food" (Dan 10:3).

    Therefore, if you fast but still give your body what it craves for, then in truth you had not fasted. Thus, distance yourself from things that you crave so that you may overcome your body and subject it to your will. Do not seek special food or ask for it to be prepared in the manner that you like. If an item is placed before you which you have not ordered but which you like, do not eat much of it

    I would like to remind you of our saintly fathers who said, "If food you crave is placed before you, spoil it a little then eat it". By spoiling it, he may have meant, for instance, that you add something to it to alter its taste.

    At least, do not eat all that is offered to you of the kind of food you crave. As one of the fathers said: "Conclude your meal while you still crave it", meaning that your body wishes to go on eating that kind of food while you try to control yourself and stay away from it.

    Here we face many questions posed by some people: Can vegetables and margarine be consumed when fasting? Is soya cheese acceptable? Should we or should we not eat fish during a particular fast? What do you think of non-dairy chocolate? Etc.

    These questions can be resolved in one way by examining the ingredients or contents of these foods. On the other hand, these questions should also be viewed from a spiritual point of view: For example, vegetable fat, is merely polyunsaturated, but if you eat it because of your craving for fatty food, then the matter becomes different. Literally speaking, you would be fasting, but you would not be benefiting spiritually.

    We do not want to keep to the formalities of fasting alone. The same applies to Soya cheese. One may argue whether or not it contains if it contains ingredients of animal source. However, from a spiritual point of view, do you love cheese so much that you insist on gratifying your bodily desires during the fast by finding a substitute or an alternative? The same applies to non-dairy chocolate; do you crave that brand in particular? Why not substitute it with a cup of cocoa?

    As for fish, it is primarily animal food. Although it has been permitted for the weak who cannot endure the large number of fasts, it is not permitted in first class fasts.

    However, if your body craves fish while fasting, do not eat any.

    This does not only apply to fish, but to anything that you may crave in order to control your desires when fasting, even if it may be permitted.

    Is not marriage lawful? Yet, those who fast stay away from sexual intercourse while fasting in order to have self control. (1Cor 7:5). The Gentile King, Darius did the same. (Dan 6:18).

    Vegetarian Food:
    We have discussed the period of abstinence and the element of hunger in fasting. Now we would like to talk about vegetarian food as a God's divine way since the beginning since Adam and Eve and up to the descendants of Noah were vegetarian. God created a vegetarian man.

    Adam and Eve, while in Paradise, ate nothing but plants, beans and fruit. As God said to them, "I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food" (Gen 1:29).

    Man also remained vegetarian after his exile from Paradise. However, man was permitted, along with the beans and fruit, to eat from the herbs of the land, i.e. vegetables. Thus, when he sinned, God said to him: "And you shall eat the herb of the field. " (Gen 3:18).

    We have not heard that our Father, Adam, and our Mother, Eve, fell ill because of malnutrition. On the contrary, we hear that Adam, a vegetarian, lived 930 years. (Gen 5:5). So were also the lives of his sons and grandsons who were vegetarian. (Gen 5)

    Man did not eat meat except after Noah's Ark. This took place at a dismal time when "the wickedness of man was great in the earth" and so, "the Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him at His heart" (Gen 6:5-6) and He submerged the whole world with the flood.

    After the flood water subsided, God said to our Father Noah and his sons: "Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. I have given you all things, even as the green herbs. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood."(Gen 9:3- 4).

    When God led His people into the wilderness, He fed them with manna. "And it was like white coriander seed, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey."(Ex 16:31). "The people went about and gathered it, ground it on millstones or beat it in the mortar, cooked it in pans, and made cakes of it; and its taste was like the taste of pastry prepared with oil." (Num 11:8).

    But when He allowed them to eat meat, He did it in anger. God consented to their request because of their craving for meat. God granted their wish but punished them for it. "But while the meat was still between their teeth, before it was chewed, the wrath of the Lord was aroused against the people, and the Lord struck the people with a very great plague. So he called the name of that place Kibroth Hattaavah, because there they buried the people who had yielded to craving." (Num 11:33-34).

    Daniel and his companions also ate vegetables. They ate vegetables (Dan 1:12) and were determined in their hearts not to defile themselves with the King's meat and wine. (Dan 1:8).

    We see the Prophet Daniel say while fasting: "I ate no pleasant food, no meat or wine came into my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, till three whole weeks were fulfilled." (Dan 10:3). Ezekiel also ate vegetarian food while fasting.

    He did this in obedience to a Godly order from God who said to him: "Also take for yourself wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet" and spelt." (Ezek 4:9).

    Vegetarian food is light, lean and soothing. It has nothing of the heaviness, grease or fat of meat or whatever effect it may have on one's body. We observe for example that savage animals are carnivorous while the tame ones are herbivorous. Vegetarian people tend to be calmer in nature than meat-eaters. Does it not make you wonder that most of the animals we eat, such as cattle, sheep and fowls, are herbivorous.

    These herbivorous animals are not weak due to eating such food.

    Moreover, we describe a strong man saying that he has the health of a camel or a horse both of which are vegetarian. Matadors, who practiced bullfighting, displayed their strength by confronting a powerful bull, a herbivorous animal. We can then conclude that eating plant food does not weaken the body.

    Vegetarians, including hermits and anchorites, lived a long life.

    Bernard Shaw, the famous writer, was vegetarian, lived for 94 years, and suffered no ailment throughout his life. How many others can we attribute their long life to being vegetarians? Saint Paul, the first of the anchorites, lived as a hermit for eighty years without seeing a man's face, and so he lived to be around hundred. The majority of anchorites also lived long lives. Not only were they vegetarians, but also lived a life of asceticism and ate little. Nevertheless, they enjoyed good health. Saint Antonius, the father of all monks, lived to be 105 years old. His life was one of continuous fasting and yet he enjoyed good health and used to walk tens of miles without becoming tired

    I do not want to concentrate too much on the scientific aspects of vegetarian food, but the spiritual ones as has been in the life of man since Adam.

    It is true that principal amino acids abound more in animal than in vegetable protein. However vegetable protein has sustained and kept healthy monks, vegetarians and those mentioned above.

    We should also not forget that the Church allows fish in some fasts, which of course, contains animal protein. Moreover, there are long non-fast periods.

    Therefore, do not be afraid of fasting, for it is of benefit to the body.
  • Also to add to this remember the story of Daniel, they were vegeterians yet they were stronger than the rest of them.

    And the king appointed for them a daily provision of the king's delicacies and of the wine which he drank, and three years of training for them, so that at the end of that time they might serve before the king. 6Now from among those of the sons of Judah were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. 7To them the chief of the eunuchs gave names: he gave Daniel the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abed-Nego.
    8But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king's delicacies, nor with the wine which he drank; therefore he requested of the chief of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself. 9Now God had brought Daniel into the favor and goodwill of the chief of the eunuchs. 10And the chief of the eunuchs said to Daniel, "I fear my lord the king, who has appointed your food and drink. For why should he see your faces looking worse than the young men who are your age? Then you would endanger my head before the king."
    11So Daniel said to the steward[1] whom the chief of the eunuchs had set over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, 12"Please test your servants for ten days, and let them give us vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13Then let our appearance be examined before you, and the appearance of the young men who eat the portion of the king's delicacies; and as you see fit, so deal with your servants." 14So he consented with them in this matter, and tested them ten days.
    15And at the end of ten days their features appeared better and fatter in flesh than all the young men who ate the portion of the king's delicacies. 16Thus the steward took away their portion of delicacies and the wine that they were to drink, and gave them vegetables.

    Daniel 1:5-16

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