Great Lent is the most rigorous by far, and encompasses the forty days leading up to the Lord's Passion Week. During this we abstain from meat, dairy, fish, alcohol and olive oil, and strive to eat less. We also fast during Holy Week leading up to Easter (Pascha), with a strict fast on Friday (nothing to eat or drink until after Vespers). Great Lent is preceded by a week-long partial fast, where we abstain from meat only. So the entire Lenten fasting cycle leading up to Pascha is some 53 days.
The Nativity Fast is the forty days leading up to Christmas, and is a little less rigorous than Great Lent.
In August we fast for the first two weeks, which lead up to the Feast of the Dormition (Falling Asleep) of the Mother of God, the Most Holy Virgin Mary, on August 15. On August 6 we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration, and on August 9 we commemorate St Herman of Alaska, and may have fish and wine on both those feast days.
Then there is the Apostles Fast, which varies in length depending on the date of Easter/Pascha. It begins on the Sunday of All Saints, and ends on June 29, with the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul. This year, due to the lateness of the date of Pascha (for the "New Calendar") we didn't have an Apostles Fast.
In addition, there are a number of Strict Fast Days during the Church year. These are for Feasts of the Cross, and St John the Baptist. On these days, we try not to eat or drink until after Vespers.
Fasting rules are not meant to kill us. They are a discipline, and we are encouraged to enter into the spirit of the fasts through consulting with our priest or spiritual father or mother. Children don't fast until they reach a certain age. Depending on one's health, one may need to ameliorate the fast or choose different things to sacrifice. One can fast also from entertainment, music, movies, sweets, etc. One should especially watch one's speech, fasting from gossip, criticism, cursing and foul language.
We try not to be legalistic about our fasting. One temptation in our age, where dairy products and oil are used in so many foods, and where one finds chicken or beef broth in "vegetable" soup, is to become a "label reader," and get more worried about the letter of the law rather than the spirit. Of course, if one can fast rigorously, go for it! But at the same time, one might need be prepared to relax his fasting a bit if he has company, or visits his non-Orthodox family or friends.
Love is more important than fasting. In the Sayings of the Desert Fathers, there are numerous stories of how renowned hermits would welcome visitors, and generously not only feed them, but eat with them, even if they were breaking their normal fasting regimen. This is Christian consideration and care for one's neighbor, who is seen to be Christ Himself, Who teaches us, "As you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to Me."
The mysterious and wonderful thing about the fasts of the Orthodox Christian calendar, is that they are arranged to help us stay in "good shape," spiritually speaking. By observing these fasting seasons, and the regular Wednesday-Friday fast days, we practice obedience and discipline, and stay "toned up," to use an athletic term. Also, fasting is never meant to be an end in itself, nor is it the only discipline in our spiritual life. We strive to increase our prayers and almsgiving during fasting seasons, and we work on ourselves, confessing our sins, seeking to grow into the stature of Christ.
But for those who do try to seriously keep the fasts, who not only abstain from the proscribed foods but eat less, report feeling lighter, more alert, and somehow liberated from lesser habits like snacking and fast foods, which, while not sinful in themselves, can come to dominate us.
Of course, as any Orthodox will tell you, we love to Feast also. If you've ever experienced the Agape Meal after the Pascha Liturgy, and feasted on fleshmeats, cheeses, good wine, and all the special recipes different cultures and families have handed down sometimes for centuries, you know what I mean.
Yet the goal is not to gorge ourselves to the point of losing the spiritual sobriety and grace we hopefully gained during the Fast. Still, the Church does give us balance. The Fasts are followed by Fast Free periods. The weeks following Pascha and Pentecost are Fast Free, and the longest stretch without fasting is between Christmas and Theophany (January 6), almost two full weeks! Thus there is a healthy dynamic, times of trial and rigor, followed by a relaxing of the rule.
So, this gives us some background and perspective as we consider this article by David Wood of Acts 17 Apologetics and the Answering Muslims blog.
Why Do Muslims Eat More During Ramadan?
by David Wood - Answering Muslims Blog
About a decade ago, when I was an undergraduate taking an Islam course, my professor (who was a Muslim) told me that Muslims consume far more food during Ramadan than during other months. To outsiders, this is profoundly odd, since one of the goals of fasting is to deliberately deprive oneself of basic physical needs (typically in order to focus on spiritual matters). Gorging oneself before dawn and after sunset hardly seems like a spiritual pursuit.
Consider some data on Ramadan food consumption in Tunisia:
Tunisian consumption in food products skyrockets during the holy month, Ahmed Methlouthi director of the communication unit at the National Consumer Institute (INC) told TAP news agency.
This increase involves:
- Milk, rising to 2 liters of monthly consumption during the month of Ramadan against 0. 9 liters per person throughout the year
- Yoghurt pots went up to 12.9 per person, against 5.4 pots monthly during the rest of the year.
- Eggs are consumed at 26 per person, against 12.8 eggs per month in normal times
- Roll (baguette) 1.4 kg against 0.6 kg per month in normal times
- Oil, 1.2 liter, against 1.14 liters per month in normal times
- Meat: 1.1 kg of mutton, against 0.75 kg outside Ramadan, 0.5 kg of beef per month against 0.22 kg and 1.8 kg of poultry against 1.28 kg per month.
Regarding supply points of Tunisian consumer, 57.8% of Tunisians prefer to buy from hypermarkets and supermarkets, while 42.2% remain faithful to the traditional distribution channels (local grocery), the source said. (Source)
Why do Muslims eat more when they're fasting than when they're not fasting? Why put a mask of piety on gluttony?
The answer, I think, lies at the very heart of Islam. Islam does not make people more holy or spiritual. Rather, it gives them a religious framework for carrying their desires to perverse extremes.
If a non-Muslim man hits a few clubs and somehow manages to have sex with ten women in one day, Islam will condemn him as a fornicator. But if this same man converts to Islam, marries four women, and takes six sex-slaves as his captives after a battle, he can be perfectly righteous before Allah, even if he has sex with ten women in one day.
Likewise, if a man hires a prostitute and sleeps with her, he has sinned, according to Islam. But if the same man sets up a "temporary marriage" (a practice called "Muta"), he can hire the same prostitute, for the same amount of time, have sex with her in the exact same way, and bear no shame whatsoever in the Muslim community.
If a psychopath goes on a killing spree, brutally murdering men, women, and children, he is surely going to hell, according to Islam—unless, of course, he is killing men, women, and children in a terrorist attack for the sake of Allah, in which case his violent massacre will earn him a one-way ticket to Paradise.
Even according to Muslim sources, the tribes of Mecca were violent, lascivious, and gluttonous. Muhammad didn't change their behavior by forcing them to convert to Islam. He simply made their violence, lasciviousness, and gluttony pleasing to Allah. Should we be surprised that Ramadan is a month-long feast that Muslims call "fasting"?