For Eastern Christians, Fasting is a common occurrence. The Roman Catholic is expected to abstain from meat every Friday (with a couple exceptions), and to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. A fast for the Roman Catholic is 1 meal and two snacks that together would not equal a full meal. They are encouraged to do extra penances during Lent (and some do it during advent) but it isn’t required. The attitude I’ve experienced from Romans regarding fasting is that they do the requirements. There seems to be a hostile attitude to those who go above or below the norm. To go above is to be sanctimonious to some, to go below is to be in violation of Canon Law, thus putting them into mortal sin.
Now, let’s look at the Eastern Orthodox. They are required to fast every Wednesday and Friday as provided by Chapter 32 and 33 of the Typikon. In addition, there are 4 fast seasons. A fast varies depending on the nature of the day it occurs on. The Strict Fast prohibits meat, dairy, wine, oil, fish, and requires one to not eat until the 9th hour (that is to say 3 P.M.). Then there are days when oil and wine are permitted. Then there are days when fish, oil, and wine are permitted. Then, there is a week known as cheesefare week when everything, except meat, is permitted. But as for the legal requirements, it differs from Church to Church. The typikon is viewed as a guideline on how to fast and fasting rules are developed for each individual by their spiritual father. The Greeks say fasting is required but there is no sin if you don’t fast, however, you may not partake of communion the following Sunday. The Russians say, you must fast if you want to go to communion, and if you don’t fast, you have also committed a sin and must go to confession.
Eastern Catholics, however, have a different view. We still maintain the same guidelines provided in the Typikon. However, they are not mandatory, but rather strongly encouraged. What is mandatory (using the Ruthenian Rite for an example) is fasting from meat every Friday of the year with the exception of the four fast-free weeks. On the first day of Lent and on Good Friday, Cheese and Meat is abstained from. Also, Wednesday and Fridays during the fast are days of abstinence from meat. So we have the minimums and the guidelines, and most people usually hit somewhere in-between.
In my opinion, having the ability to fast according to one’s ability is one of the greatest strengths of our church. It changes fasting from a legal observance to an observance of love. Love for God. There are many reasons why we fast, which I explained in a prior post, and if we fast earnestly and for the right reasons, we will have ourselves a tool to pull us into heaven. A sword is sharpened by grinding it against stone; metal is purified by heating it to extreme temperatures and scraping the impurities off the top (repeatedly). Fasting is how we sharpen our ability to combat sin, and through fasting, we purify our souls.