[Update: Here’s the follow up post on The Why of Fasting]
I’ve been struggling to find a cool and enticing way to describe Coptic fasting, and I’m failing pretty miserably. Here are some of the details with my favorite Coptic Memes (a Facebook page) on the topic.
First, the lingo: fasting food is called siami (see-ya-mee) and non-fasting food is called fitari (feh-tah-ree). Copts like to fast, and we do it a lot!
Fasting in the Coptic tradition involves two aspects: restricting the kinds of food we eat and restricting when we eat it.
The Kinds of Food We Eat
When we Copts say we are “fasting,” we mean that we’re on a vegan-style diet. We don’t eat meat or dairy products for days or weeks at a time. Some fasts allow fish (seeing as we live on the Mediterranean and some of the disciples were fishermen). In Egypt, we would be living on fava beans and falafel (foul and ta3meya); here in the States I’m often living on french fries and veggie burgers.
That often means that come feast time (eid)… we are ready for a good slab of beefy goodness (lahma). Or if you’re me, a big slab of aged salty cheese.
When We Eat
Usually when we are fasting, we restrict not only the kinds of food that we eat but when we can eat it. This is pretty flexible depending on your personal spiritual discipline. Most people fast “inqita3y” (without any food) for at least 12 hours (from 12 a.m. to 12 p.m.). Many people continue to fast inqita3y until 3 p.m. Others push it to 5 p.m. This means no morning cup of coffee, no breakfast, and for some no lunch or snacks till dinner. This also means no water (health exceptions aside).
- nearly every Wednesday and Friday (vegan-no fish)
- for Advent, the period before Christmas, for 40 days (fish OK except on Wed/Fri)
- for the fast of Jonah (also called Ninevah’s fast) for 3 days in February (no fish)
- for Lent, the period before Easter, for 55 days (no fish)
- for the fast of the Apostles from Pentecost to July 12 (fish OK except on Wed/Fri)
- for the fast of St. Mary from Aug. 7-21 (fish OK except on Wed/Fri)
(add to each of these days whatever percentage without food that one is able to do)
We also fast without food for at least nine hours before taking Communion in Divine Liturgy. So, there’s no pancake breakfast before you head off to church on Sundays.
One can add to any of these fasts, fasting from sexual relations, from TV/computer, and so on, but the foundation is (lack of) food with an increase in prayers.
[Note: You’ll see that I have updated the title of this post. In my desire to organize the how of fasting, I neglected to say a word about the why… Topic for a future post!]