Today is Ash Wednesday, and many of us are beginning a Lenten fast.  Every year I always field many questions about “how” and “what” of the fasting, so I put together this little guide.

A Quick Guide to Lenten Fasting

It is never too late to start a Lenten fast.  Although it is designed to be 40 days, it can even be shortened to include just Holy Week, or start as soon as you can once you make the decision to.  You will be glad you did.  A little fasting is better than no fasting.

1.  Fasting in its severest form is complete abstention from food with only minimal water.  However, for Lent the usual practice is to abstain from one type of food (candy, soda, flour, beer, etc…) and maintain a regular diet.

2.  Fasting from entertainment and electronic devices is also a possibility.  However, be careful.  Think through your commitment.  Don’t, for example, fast from watching television if you are a huge NCAA basketball fan (March Madness is always during Lent).

3.  Days Off:  During Lent, Sundays are “days off” from the fast.  Take a break from depriving yourself on these six days, it will help you maintain the 40 days of prayer and fasting.  You may also take special days (Valentines, birthdays, St. Patrick’s Day etc…)

4.  The goal of any fasting is to get closer to Jesus.  In its simplest terms, when you crave what you’re fasting from, take a moment to spiritually focus upon Christ and pray, “I love (or crave, need) you Jesus more than I love __________.”

5.  A person can be a wonderful and committed Christian without ever observing a Lenten fast.  However, Jesus assumed his followers would indeed fast (Matthew 6:6-18) so the legitimate question is, if you do not fast now with other Christians around the world, then when do you plan to?

6.  Unless you are following the Orthodox tradition (as in Greek Orthodox), no “Alleluias” or variations of it shall be uttered or sang in worship. The Lenten fast  is broken on Easter Sunday morning which is why most Easter hymns have abundant Alleluias.

7.  Lent is an excellent time for extra study and prayer.  Spend extra time during this season investigating a doctrine, a Bible book, or a thought as well as your prayer life.

8.  Fasting is about grace, not works.  It is a mistake to see this as “something I must do” to be a Christ-follower.  A person who does it to demonstrate or show maturity missed the point.  Don’t get caught up on the rules—that will make you a Pharisee.

9.  Do not fast from foods as a weight loss diet.  This is not about waist lines or cholesterol indexes.  If you intend a strict fast or have medical issues (like diabetes), please consult a physician.

10.  Try to keep your fast a secret but also have someone or some group of people who will hold you accountable.

More blogs about this time of year:

Ash Wednesday

Fat Tuesday

Lent (theme)

Good Friday


  1. This is very interesting and also a reminder of the differences between East and West. For instance, we do not choose for ourselves personal activities (such as watching television) to abstain from, and our dietary restrictions are more comprehensive. More interesting to me, though, is that the Orthodox continue to chant Alleluia during Lent. In fact, the Byzantine melodies for this are quite beautiful. They are a bit sad but subtly hopeful. They’re also very melismatic, which is common in Orthodox hymnody and, I think, especially reflective of journeying in Great Lent.

    You might like this Lenten prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian:

    O Lord and Master of my life!

    Take from me the spirit of sloth,
    faint-heartedness, lust of power, and idle talk.

    But give rather the spirit of chastity,
    humility, patience, and love to Thy servant.

    Yea, Lord and King! Grant me to see my own errors
    and not to judge my brother,
    for Thou art blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.

    • that is a wonderful prayer virgil–thanks for sharing it with us.
      as to the differences in lent, keep in mind the RCC might not smile upon my guidelines. not being RCC, i feel free to alter and adapt the rules. i suppose i should put a disclaimer in this old post here that it is targeted more to help curious protestants engage in what i hope we will all come to see is a part of our common heritage, even if we approach it differently.

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