More than 90 percent of Greeks belong to the Greek Orthodox Church, and faith plays an important role in Greek life. The Greek Orthodox faith observes several fasts during the year, which means abstinence from foods derived from animals and fish containing red blood (cephalopods such as octopus and squid are allowed since they do not have red blood), from dairy products, eggs, and at times from olive oil and wine as well.
Strict observers of all fasting periods and fast days will follow these guidelines for more than 180 days a year. Total fasting (no food at all) is reserved for a period of time before taking Holy Communion. Foods allowed during fast periods are called nistisima (νηστίσιμα, pronounced nee-STEE-see-mah) and are eaten during the Great Lent and other fasts. Followers are encouraged to eat simply and modestly during any fasting period.
Major Fasting Periods
In the Greek Orthodox Church, there are four major fasts during the year. The Great Lent begins on a Monday, seven weeks before Easter and is the longest and strictest fasting period in the Orthodox calendar. Called Kathari Theftera (Καθαρή Δευτέρα, pronounced kah-thah-REE thehf-TEH-rah), this Monday translates to Clean Monday, and it puts an end to the three weeks of Carnival celebrations that took place before it. Fasting restrictions are eased on the weekends during the period of Great Lent, although not completely abandoned, but for Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday (the weekend before Easter), no food restrictions apply.
The Fast of the Apostles, which lasts from one to six weeks, begins on a Monday, eight days after Pentecost, and ends on June 28, the day before the feast day of Saints Peter and Paul. It is one of the oldest fasts in the church calendar. The Fast of the Dormition of the Theotokos (Mary, Mother of God), takes place from August 1 to 14 and ends with a similarly named feast on August 15.
The Christmas Fast lasts from November 15 to December 24 and is broken into two parts, with a less strict observance that allows oil and wine on Tuesdays and Thursday from November 15 to December 19.
Individual Fast Days
- January 5: Eve of the Theophany (Epiphany)
- August 29: Beheading of St. John the Baptist
- September 14: Feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross
- Wednesdays and Fridays
Days With No Fasting Permitted
- Between Christmas and Theophany
- 10th week before Easter
- Week after Easter
- Week after Pentecost
2018 Greek Orthodox Calendar of Fasts
|Triodion Begins||January 28|
|Saturday of Souls 1||February 10|
|Meatfare Sunday||February 11|
|Saturday of Souls 2||February 17|
|Cheesefare Sunday||February 18|
|Clean Monday||February 19|
|Saturday of Souls 3||February 24|
|Sunday of Orthodoxy||February 25|
|Lazarus Saturday||March 31|
|Palm Sunday||April 1|
|Orthodox Easter Sunday (Pascha)||April 8|
|Saturday of Souls 4||May 26|
|Apostles Fast Begins||June 4|
|Dormition of the Theotokos*||August 15|
|Nativity of the Theotokos||September 8|
|Exaltation of the Holy Cross||September 14|
|All Saints Day||November 1|
|Presentation of the Theotokos to the Temple||November 21|
|Nativity of Christ (Christmas)||December 25|
* Theotokos: Mary, Mother of God
** Theophany: Epiphany