American Metropolia: Among Westerners, an Ancient Fast Returns

The American Metropolia’s Western Rite communities were quietly given an unexpected surprise in their calendar this year: 13 more fast days.

The 2012 Western calendar lists an optional two-week fasting period preceding “Michaelmas”, or the feast of St Michael the Archangel, which on the Western reckoning falls on September 28 (Old Style), calling for fast until evening and abstinence from meat and dairy during the two weeks preceding the feast. The Eastern Orthodox commemorate St Michael on two days: the miracle at Colossae (Sep 6/19) and the general feast (Nov 8/21).

In Patristic writings before the 8th century in the West, a September fast is referred to and assumed to be the norm. However, by the time of the great schism in 1054, the fast of St Michael had largely fallen into disuse in the West; the Roman Catholic church retained the three ember day fasts of Wednesday, Friday and Saturday until the Second Vatican council (1962-1965). The ROCOR-MP Western Rite Vicariate and Antiochian Western Rite Vicariate continue to retain the Roman Catholic usage.

For some in the Metropolia, the change is perfectly natural: as the Dormition fast in the pre-schism West was largely restricted to the single day of the vigil, such a change would indicate that both Eastern and Western Orthodox now have an equivalent number of fast days.

At least one cleric has suggested both restoring the Michaelmas fast and appending the standard Dormition fast common to the Orthodox East to the Western calendar, the latter idea increasing in popularity for the sake of standard practice with other Orthodox.
For the moment, however, the idea of restoring both fasts are in the minority.

Not everyone is so convinced that the change is a good thing. At least one clergyman of the Metropolia– who has chosen to remain anonymous– is somewhat suspicious. He writes: “We’ve got all the fasts already. By 1054, the fast was unused. Why bring it back? In some areas of Europe the autumnal fast lasted until Nativity. Is that our next step? It’s good to remember St Michael, but bringing back an old fast that people had already abandoned before the schism– what’s next?”

Hieromonk Enoch, a writer on NFTU and a priest of Western use in the Metropolia, offered a different opinion on the NFTU forum: “First off, fasting and abstinence isn’t ‘super’ hard.

The Orthodox western fast rules are very simple; not meat and dairy, but, fish and oil are always allowed, but only after none, or often Vespers (if the Presanctified liturgy is celebrated, for obvious reasons). That is, no food or drink should be taken throughout fasting periods (Lent, Apostles Fasts, Advent Fast, etc), until after either 3pm, or 6 pm; and then only non-meat and non-dairy products.

The only day that people are supposed to eat vegetables and uncooked dry foods is Good Friday and Holy Saturday; and you are supposed to eat such on Holy Friday only after Vespers that night, and, well, you aren’t supposed to eat anything at all on Holy Saturday because the Holy Saturday Liturgy is supposed to be celebrated in the evening (as, it is not the Liturgy of Pascha, but the Holy Saturday Liturgy); nothing at all should be taken until after that Liturgy is over, so, after Vespers that night.

Second, there are fasts on the Eastern books, that not everyone observes (maybe they should?); for example, there is supposed to be a two week fast leading up to the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. I should hope, even though many aren’t observing this fast,  people aren’t walking around bad mouthing the concept and books which indicate this. Therefore, if some individuals don’t wish to observe the Michalemas fast, even though it was on the old books, then, it should be looked on, worst case scenario, no more than non-observance of the fast of the Holy Cross.

Thirdly, there was a Dormition Fast, and it was a 4 week fast. The fact that it gradually faded in observance, doesn’t mean it was abolished; people in Italy, Rome, etc, elsewhere, just simply got lazy. Because the Easterners retained at least a two week fast should say something. Or the fact that the Advent Fast was supposed to start the day after the Feast of St. Martin (thus, making it a 43 day fast), and ending on Christmas day, but, that it later was reduced, in some western places (thanks to Nicholas I in the 850s) to Four Weeks (28 days), yet, it was still rigorously observed as around 40 days in Spain, France, Northern Italy, Germany, etc, should say that the majority preferred the timing; after all, Martinmas was a big celebration because it was followed by the 6 Sundays in Advent, or at least the 40 days of Fasting. And this was so even after the Schism as Peter Damian and others, of all people, continue to note in their works.

Fourthly, people today could use more fasting. The rule should not be a minimum as to what we could absolutely get away with. If we fail at fasting, that doesn’t mean its the fault of the fast; on the contrary it means its the fault of the flesh. The more we are reminded of our own faults, failures, by the fatigue of fasting, the faster we will forwards ourselves.”