The Fast of Catechumens is peculiar only to the Armenian Church. It begins three weeks before Great Lent. In ancient times people could eat only bread and salt during the fast of Catechumens. In those days the Divine Liturgy was not celebrated either.
The meaning of the Fast of Catechumens is the purification of the five human senses from pagan impurity. In the ancient Church there was a custom to fast during the five days before baptism. St. Gregory the Illuminator ordered King Tiridates and others to fast for five days before baptism, in order to be free of evil. That is the reason also for the fasting of Catechumens to be called “fast of salvation” from the evil.
According to the tradition, the fasting of Catechumens was initiated by St. Gregory the illuminator in memory of the above mentioned practice.
There are two explanations regarding the name of this feast.
It is called the fast of Catechumens:
1. As the precursor of the Great Lent
2. As the first Armenian fast.
On the Friday which is the the fifth day of the Fasting of Catechumens, the remembrance day of the Prophet Jonah is celebrated. However it is celebrated not as the feast of the Prophet Jonah, but as the memory of an example of great repentance and abstinence, which Jonah urged.
Wrongly at times, the fasting of Catechumens was called the fast of St. Sarkis as the Armenian Church celebrates the feast of St. Sarkis on the Saturday following the fast. As a result, during the Middle Ages, the Byzantine and the Georgian Churches ascribed this to sorcery.
According to the testimonies of Armenian medieval writers, Greek and Latin Churches also had the fasting of Catechumens in ancient times.
Catechumens: a person who is receiving instruction in preparation for Christian baptism or confirmation