Life in the Fasting Lane

Fasting-JokeThe big fasting season in Ethiopia begins on Monday, 12th February. To the Ethiopian Orthodox Hudadi is the longest fast they undergo and involves a vigorous schedule of prayers and penitence. It is a test of spiritual strength and resolve. If it is properly observed it is believed to nullify any sins committed during the rest of the year.

The fast is applicable to all persons older than 13 years of age. Therefore, many of our “Y’tesfa” girls will be fasting on Wednesday when I prepare their snack, so I will prepare bananas and popcorn which are always gratefully received by the time they are served during our meeting.

The fast involves abstinence from meat, dairy products and eggs. Most weeks we join a group of other teachers who go to the Kolfe Hotel across the road from Bingham to eat cultural food (there is a staff meeting after school, so this avoids cooking). Instead of chopped meat we will be ordering fried fish which may be served whole, complete with tail, innards and eyes. We will pull the white fish off the bones with our fingers. Or we may get a fish stew, this needs to be hot enough, otherwise there may be consequences for our intestinal health.

For the Ethiopian Orthodox only one meal (vegan) a day is eaten, taken in the evening or after 3.00pm. Before that no food, drink nor even water may be consumed. My Teaching Assistant is Orthodox and adheres to this, so at coffee and lunchtime she remains in the classroom rather than sit with her friends who are all consuming snacks and injera.

Starting on Good Friday through to Easter Sunday (i.e. late Saturday night), total abstinence is observed, and no eating or drinking is permitted.

"21 Days Prayer and Fasting" just oustide the Bingham gateIn Orthodox churches daily services are conducted from morning until 2.45pm. Even the huge protestant Pentecostal “Kali Hiwot” church next door to our school is competing with this. It is conducting a 21 day fast, with a corresponding increase in worship. In Orthodox churches priests regularly attend night services starting from midnight up to 7am. We are very aware of this, as the chanting which is part of their worship, is amplified and penetrates any wakeful moment during the early hours. Now where did we put those ear plugs!

Notes from Phil:

  • A devout Ethiopian Orthodox Christian will observe at least 250 fasting days a year.
  • The fast is 55 days long, which equals 40 days of Lent, plus seven days of Holy Week, plus eight days that’s something to do with a Byzantine Emperor called Heraclius rescuing the “true cross” of Christ from the Persians in 614 AD.
  • My lab technician, Mahelet, is of Orthodox persuasion so will now be fasting until Ethiopian Easter (8th April this year). She will not be eating any lunch with us for the next seven weeks.
  • Another fast the Orthodox observe is the three-day “Fast of Nineveh”. This is three weeks before Lent. Coincidentally this happened while I was teaching a four-week series at our church Adult Bible Fellowship on Jonah. Coincidental because the Fast of Nineveh remembers Jonah’s time in the belly of a huge fish and the Ninevites subsequent fasting and repentance.
  • Confused by when Ash Wednesday and Lent begins and how long it should be? Check out Wikipedia – you’ll end up more confused.


So many rules and regulations to remember. And what a difficult fast, particularly the drink thing! Definitely not easy.

If all that is observed as a means of dedicating themselves more to prayer then we can learn something from their dedication and perseverance. If rules are just followed for traditions sake, it sounds quite unhealthy. Especially the no water bit. For people who don't experience the plenty we do normally. Thought provoking. Thank you.xx

It is interesting that the assumption made is not if we fast but when we fast in the New Testament. I don’t think I’ve ever had a sermon on it. Clearly when we fast we should not make a fuss about it, it should be between us and God, so I agree with Bethany that making it rule based and so complicated doesn’t seem the best way, but I understand some of the potentially positive motivations for fasting. It is so counter cultural in our society where instant gratification is the norm. Anything else appears odd.

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