Fasting and Communion

edited December 1969 in Coptic Orthodox Church
I was recently I asked a question and couldn't find a complete answer. I understand the benefits of fasting, etc...

However, someone asked me, 'Why do we have to be fasting in order to take communion?' Fasting here refers to the fast of Nativity or Great Lent or any fast occurring on a day we take communion. So, 'Why are we obligated to fast to take communion when fasting is a decision for you to focus on your relationship with God?' Is it because it sounds hypocritical that you would say I want to take communion and be with God through communion, but would not be willing to fast to focus on your relationship with God? If so, what if the person 'believes' they don't have the strength to fast the whole length of time, but still wouldn't want to be forbidden from the blessing of communion as they truly believe in its mystery?



  • This is a typical question/opposition raised by the protestants along with other numerous objections to our Orthodox faith and tradition.
    I suggest you read a book by H.H. Pope Shenouda III called "Comparative Theology" where H.H. discusses many conflicting issues between the Coptic Orthodox Church and the protestants including fasting. 
    Here's the link:

    Hope that helps.
  • Hey Pistavros,

    Thx for the link. I read the section on Fasting after laughing at the way BABTISM was written. Anyways, the content of that book gave a general view of why we fast and how it is supported in the bible. Obviously, I agree completely with the benefits of fasting as I mentioned in the original post. However, I still couldn't find a satisfying answer as to why we are OBLIGATED to do the communal fast to have communion. Forgive me, I'm a bit picky. Thx again,

  • I thinks it's like the same reason why EVERYONE has to go to church on Sundays.

    It's a communal thing.

  • I don't have the exact/complete reference on me at the time, but I remember hearing a sermon by Anba Rofail about this, and if I remember correctly, he mentioned the reason why we fast before communion is because it's a way of preparing to receive the Lord's Body and Blood in us.  And Christ should be the first to enter your body on that given day when you're taking the Holy Communion.
  • I have learned that Communion is forbidden to those not fasting because we are one body in Christ. Mikhail touched upon it with the comment about it being communal. The body can not be divided, if the church has a fast all of its members must also fast (unless they have permission from their father of confession not to fast for whatever reason). After all, that does make a lot of sense not only does church=people but if we think about it in the context of a literal body it clarifies things more. Can your right leg say "I am going to go clubbing tonight" and your left leg say "no I will go to church today" and separate from each other? Of course not, so same logic goes as one body in Christ- we all have different functions in His Body but all work together for the glory of His holy name. Focusing on the word communion itself as Pistavros mentioned, we are coming in communion(I mean communion in the context of unity) with Him and the rest of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Please correct me for my benefit and that of others.

    Please pray for my faith.
  • Makes sense, thanks!
  • It seems to me that we fast before communion because in one sense during the evening services of Saturday we have already entered into the Sunday liturgy. This is why we refrain from sexual activity on a Saturday evening as well. Those in the monasteries who eat only at the 9th hour on Saturday will not eat again until after the liturgy on Sunday.

    We can also remember that over the weekend of Pascha there is a sense that all the services of Good Friday and Holy Saturday form a whole (of course this is true of the whole week to an extent) such that those who are able to fast all day Saturday will do so, since they are in the middle of a service as it were, that lasts for the whole day.

    Someone might say, I don't think I need to fast before communion, but the Church tells us that we do. Who are we to trust? Ourselves and our passion filled inclinations, or the teaching of the Church over 2,000 years? It would be like an Olympic athlete telling his coach, I don't think I need to train in this week coming up to the big race. The coach will have a different idea, based on his years of coaching experience. What the athlete feels like doesn't really matter.

    When we fast the weight of our flesh is lightened and we are able to better enter into the spiritual realities of the Liturgy. When we eat before the liturgy we are weighed down and find it harder to be lifted up. 'Lift up your hearts'. This is harder when they are heavy with food.

    Before the liturgy, even from Saturday evening, we should be, as far as possible, occupied with spiritual things. Trying to preserve a prayerful attitude, not allowing our minds to be filled with rubbish. And our fasting is part of this preparation. Think how much effort people are describing on tasbeha in regard to exams, how much revision is being done. Only a fool would say, I don't think I need to bother revising. How much more should be prepared to enter into the heavenly tabernacle and stand before the throne of glory when the King of Kings and Lord of Lords descends by the power of the Holy Spirit to become present among us and for our salvation. No effort is too much. No blessing so great.

    Father Peter
  • I don't think anyone disagrees on fasting the 9 hours right before the communion.
    If I'm correct jshouk was asking about the reason why the fasting seasons of the church are linked to communion. For instance, if I didn't fast the first week of Lent, should I not take communion on sunday?? If so, why?
    I get this question quite often too, and the answer that I was thaught is that we fast as a whole body, it's a communal thing like what was mentioned in this thread. But it makes we wonder, does this go for wednesday/friday fasts as well? There's a lot of orthodox communities who don't have the exact same fasting days as we do, yet we all share the same Body and Blood, so this seems to contradict the communal argument.
    I'm not really arguing for the same of arguing, I really think fasting is something important as a preparation for communion. But i'm looking for a substantial argument to give it to those who ask.
    Is there any canon out there from the apostolic writings or the councils that talk about having to fast before communion (again, not the 9 hours but fasts like Lent, wednesdays etc)?
  • Thanks for explaining the issue.

    I don't think the answer is the specifics of fasting but more to do with obedience to a particular rule of fasting. So it is true that the Armenian Church fast differently to the Coptic Church. But each person is in relation to their own spiritual father and not to a set of rules. Indeed a spiritual father may allow all manner of adjustments to the general rules of the particular local Orthodox Church because what matters is the salvation of THIS soul, and not the keeping of an absolute and objective rule. We are not Jews.

    Generally speaking, a person who makes no effort to enter into the fasting discipline of the Church is not in a fit state to receive communion. But a person who makes an effort and fails may well be treated differently. Why does the Olympic athlete follow the training regime of his coach? It is not so much that he might enter into a sense of team spirit, but because if he does not follow the training regime laid out for him he will not be ready for the race.

    St Paul warns us that we can all lose the race. And it is one role of the Church to preserve those who make no effort in the spiritual life from the harm that will come to them if they receive communion unworthily. There are ancient canons which prescribe that those who do not keep the fasts should be separated from the Church. It is the role of the priest to determine why a person is not fasting, and whether or not they are culpable and guilty of laziness or ignorance, or in fact, perhaps as a convert, are actually increasing the seriousness of their fasting, even if not yet reaching the goal, and therefore worthy of commendation.

    There are many canons concerned with the fasts as they developed. Here is an early reference from the Teaching of the Apostles.

    He therefore charged us Himself to fast these six days [of Holy Week] on account of the impiety and transgression of the Jews, commanding us withal to bewail over them, and lament for their perdition. For even He Himself "wept over them, because they knew not the time of their visitation".

    But He commanded us to fast on the fourth and sixth days of the week; the former on account of His being betrayed, and the latter on account of His passion. But He appointed us to break our fast on the seventh day at the cock-crowing, but to fast on the Sabbath-day. Not that the Sabbath-day is a day of fasting, being the rest from the creation, but because we ought to fast on this one Sabbath only, while on this day the Creator was under the earth. For on their very feast-day they apprehended the Lord, that oracle might be fulfilled which says: “They placed their signs in the middle of their feast, and knew them not.”

    Ye ought therefore to bewail over them, because when the Lord came they did not believe on Him, but rejected His doctrine, judging themselves unworthy of salvation. You therefore are happy who once were not a people, but are now an holy nation, delivered from the deceit of idols, from ignorance, from impiety, who once had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy through your hearty obedience: for to you, the converted Gentiles, is opened the gate of life, who formerly were not beloved, but are now beloved; a people ordained for the possession of God, to show forth His virtues, concerning whom our Saviour said, “I was found of them that sought me not; I was made manifest to them that asked not after me. I said, Behold me, to a nation which did not call upon my name.”

    It seems to me that the Apostolic Teaching presents the Fasts to us in a penitential aspect. And therefore perhaps that to reject the seasons of fasting is to approach the Eucharist with pride and self-will. How can anyone say, 'I do not need to Fast'? What is more remarkable is that we are not instructed to fast every day because of our sins and weakness. Our Lord Himself says, 'When you fast', not 'If you fast'. And the early Church naturally practiced fasting from the very beginning. It was never optional. Christians fasted on Wednesday and Friday. This is what they did.

    It would be helpful to know who is suggesting that there is not a need to fast? Are these Copts, or Protestants, or who? Depending on who it is the source for authoritative answers may be different.

    In terms of the general question of perhaps not being as committed to the fast as we could be. This is always a question for our spiritual fathers alone. They must discern both our spiritual sickness and the appropriate medicine.

    Father Peter
  • Thank you Fr. Peter. I now have a better picture.

    [quote author=Father Peter link=topic=10196.msg124762#msg124762 date=1292525629]
    It would be helpful to know who is suggesting that there is not a need to fast? Are these Copts, or Protestants, or who? Depending on who it is the source for authoritative answers may be different.

    I was simply asking the question out of simple curiosity as I heard the question from a coptic friend, and as I gave it some thought, I never was able to find a satisfying answer for myself!

    What I, at first, could not convince myself, is why the church would obligate me to fast in order to take communion. From what everyone has posted, I guess the combination of several answers complete it. It is first hypocritical to reject the fast and think communion is enough. We ought to give it our all from the start just like an athlete-we will only complete our race if we train, it is better to fall training than not falling and not training.
    Second, since we are one body in Christ we must adhere to what the church does and obey. We cannot take our own decisions and decide it would be best for me not to fast (obviously, unless my foc says so). In fact, since it is a communal fast we should all encourage each other to fast in order for us all to partake of the great blessing.


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