More than 90 percent of Greeks are members of 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 containing red blood (cephalopods are allowed, since they do not have red blood), from dairy products, and at times from olive oil, and wine as well.
Strict observers of all fasting periods and fast days will follow these guidelines for over 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 they are eaten during the Great Lent and other fasts.
Major Fasting Periods
There are four major fasts during the year:
- The Great Lent, which begins on a Monday, seven weeks before Easter. This Monday, called Kathari Theftera (Καθαρή Δευτέρα, pronounced kah-thah-REE thehf-TEH-rah), translates to Clean Monday. Fasting restrictions are eased on weekends (not abandoned), and Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday (the weekend before Easter), no restrictions apply.
- Fast of the Apostles, which lasts from one to six weeks, begins on a Monday, eight days after Pentecost, and ends on June 28th, the day before the feast day of Saints Peter and Paul.
- Fast of the Dormition of the Theotokos (Mary, Mother of God), from August 1st to 14th.
- Christmas Fast, from November 15th to December 24th.
Individual Fast Days
- January 5th - eve of the Theophany (Epiphany),
- August 29th - the Beheading of St. John the Baptist,
- September 14th - the feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross, and
- Wednesdays and Fridays.
Days When Fasting is Not Permitted
- between Christmas and Theophany,
- the 10th week before Easter,
- the week after Easter, and
- the week after Pentecost.
2009 Greek Orthodox Calendar
|Triodion Begins||February 8|
|Saturday of Souls||February 21|
|Sunday of the Last Judgment (Meatfare Sunday)||February 22|
|Sunday of Forgiveness (Cheesefare Sunday)||March 1|
|Clean Monday (Lent Begins)||March 2|
|Sunday of Orthodoxy||March 8|
|Lazarus Saturday||April 11|
|Palm Sunday||April 12|
|Great and Holy Friday||April 17|
|Orthodox Easter Sunday (Pascha)||April 19|
|Holy Ascension||May 28|
|Saturday of Souls||June 6|
|All Saints Day||June 14|
|Dormition of the Theotokos*||August 15|
|Nativity of the Theotokos*||September 8|
|Exaltation of the Holy Cross||September 14|
|Presentation of the Theotokos* to the Temple||November 21|
|Nativity of Christ (Christmas)||December 25|
* Theotokos: Mary, Mother of God
** Theophany: Epiphany