The Armenian Church has two kinds of fasting. Abstinence from animal products (bahk) and total abstinence (dzom).
With Armenians, abstinence, as a canonical religious mandate, calls for avoiding the consumption of foods containing meat, animal fats, milk products, eggs and alcoholic drinks. Instead, it is prescribed to eat vegetables and grains (and foods based on them), prepared with vegetable oils or olive oil. Honey is also permitted.
Both types of fasting need to be accompanied by prayer, an evident truth that becomes revealed on reading the appropriate and designated passages from the Gospel.
Daily fasts take place on Wednesdays and Fridays. There is a dispensation from fasting during the forty days after Easter (until Ascension) and during the octave (eight day) celebration of Theophany from January 6-13.
The practice of reckoning these two days of the week as fast days is a most ancient tradition of the universal Church which was enshrined in the earliest Christian document outside of the New Testament, entitled the “Didache” or “Teaching of the Twelve Apostles” written between 70-90 A.D. The letter states “Let not your fasts fall on the same days as the hypocrites who fast Monday and Thursday. Rather, you should fast on Wednesday and Friday.” These two days are significant because Wednesday was the day Judas Iscariot connived with the Jewish religious authorities to betray our Lord, and Friday, of course, was the day our Lord was Crucified for our sins.
Great Lent begins on the 7th Monday before the Feast of the Glorious Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ (Easter). Lent begins on a Monday and lasts exactly 40 days.
For the Armenian Church, Great Lent ends on the Friday before Palm Sunday. That is the 40th day. The next day is Lazarus Saturday (the 41st day).
Lent does not include Holy Week, which begins on the Monday after Palm Sunday. A new period of fasting is observed during Holy Week and thus the fasting period continues uninterrupted until Holy Saturday.
Forty days of Lent does not necessarily mean forty days of fasting since Saturday and Sunday were not traditionally considered fasting days in the Armenian Church.
Saturdays during Lent are devoted to the commemoration of saints and especially martyrs, who are the Church’s testimony (proof) of Christ’s Resurrection. You will note that during Lent, in the Armenian Church, saints are only commemorated on Saturdays. During the rest of the year, saints are only commemorated on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays and never on a day of fasting, which is Wednesday or Friday (see Daily Fast above). The Armenian Church considers the commemorating of martyrs to be incompatible with the spirituality of fasting.
Sunday is always the Day of the Lord, when fasting was considered not only unwarranted, but prohibited (Council of Nicea 325 AD). We do not fast when the bridegroom is present [Matthew 9:15]. Over the centuries, however, the overwhelming penitential spirit of Lent influenced the popular piety of the Armenian people. It became the custom to extend the Lenten fast also to Saturdays and Sundays, contrary to the ancient tradition.
Canon #7 of the local Armenian Synod of Duin (719 AD) suggested “and as for observing and breaking the fast on Saturdays and Sundays during the forty-days fast, this shall be left to each one’s will, as long as each gives thanks to God without scruple and adversity, and without speaking ill of the companion who desires to eat in moderation. Both are acceptable to God and are in the tradition of Christ’s Church.”
There is not one, absolute, universal set of fasting regulations, valid for all parts of Armenia throughout the centuries. Fasting was generally rather severe in Armenia, particularly in ancient times. One of the Armenian words for Lent, Aghoohats (Salt and Bread) was not an exaggeration. In at least some Armenian monasteries, the Lenten diet, Monday through Friday, was salt, bread and water. We know that lay people followed this regimen as well. No meat or animal products (including fish) were eaten during Lent. Definitely not from Monday to Friday. There is more uncertainty regarding wine (and all alcoholic beverages), oils (even olive oil), olives, honey and some other foods. Those following the strictest rules abstained from these foods as well, while others in some places and times, did not.
Ultimately, you have to create a fasting regimen, which you can reasonably follow, and which corresponds best to the purpose of fasting. We fast in order to realise our hunger for the Lord. When we fast we declare in deed that we can not live by bread alone. Fasting is a physical adjunct to prayer and a consecration of our lives to God. When we fast we willingly make a departure from our eating routine, a small sacrifice that produces a degree of inconvenience, of hunger. Those hunger pangs become for us physical reminders to fill the void, not with food, but with the Word of God through prayer, devotion, and acts of charity.
You should moderate your fasting or abstention on Saturdays and especially on Sundays during Lent. Your diet should reflect both the Lenten spirit of self-consecration to God and also the joy of Christ’s Resurrection and the Kingdom of God, which we celebrate in a special way every Sunday. Lent is no exception.
The idea that Lent is a time of morbid sadness is a serious misunderstanding and a distortion of the true meaning of penance.
What is important is not the details of what you give up (see Canon #7 cited above) but your attitude toward God. Your fasting regimen should lead you closer to God. It should draw you deeper into that newness of life granted to us by Christ’s Resurrection, into which we have been baptised.
Never lose sight of the fact, however, that even though each individual must choose his or her own fasting regimen, fasting is a spiritual exercise of the Church. The Church fasts during Lent as a corporate exercise in conversion and renewal, even though the details of how each of her members carries this out may differ.
Week Long Fasts
There are eleven fasts that are observed for five (5) days from Monday though to Friday, except for the Fast of Nativity, which is a six (6) day fast.
|Name of Fast||Date|
|Fast of the Nativity and Theophany||The week before Theophany: January 6|
|Fast of the Catechumens||Three (3) weeks before Great Lent|
|Fast of Elijah||The day following the Feast of Pentecost|
|Fast of Holy Week||The week before Easter (Holy Week or Avak Shapat)|
|Fast of our Holy Father St Gregory the Illuminator||The week before the commemoration of the Discovery the Relics of St Gregory the Illuminator|
|Fast of the Transfiguration||The week before Transfiguration|
|Fast of the Assumption of the Holy Mother of God||The week before the Assumption|
|Fast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross||The week before the Exaltation|
|Fast of the Holy Cross of Varak||The week before the Holy Cross of Varak|
|Fast of Advent||The first week of Hisnag (Advent)|
|Fast of St James (Soorp Hagop) Bishop of Nisibis||The third week of Hisnag (Advent)|