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FASTING & ABSTINENCE (DZOM & BAHK)

The Armenian words Dzom and Bahk (Fast and Abstinence) appear often in the Book of the Gospel, and they are often used to mean the same thing.  More strictly, Dzom means to abstain from any and all food intake, while Bahk means to abstain only from certain foods. The broader meaning of both terms refers to an individual’s staying away from extravagant living and sensual pleasures, for a certain period of time, and becoming reinforced spiritually through prayers and approaching God and truth.

Both fast and abstinence need to be accompanied by prayer, an evident truth that becomes revealed on reading the appropriate and designated passages from the Gospel.

It must also be pointed out that the ideas of fast or abstinence is not peculiar to Christianity.

Religions, from the earliest centuries, arising out of independent principles of faith, have inspired rules of behavior on their adherents.  Such rules have arisen generally from social, spiritual, intellectual, moral, health and other concepts.

With Armenians, abstinence, as a canonical religious mandate, calls for avoiding the consumption of foods containing meat, animal fats, milk products, eggs, of alcoholic drinks, and also of participating in merriment.  Instead, it is prescribed to eat vegetables, grains, and foods based on them, prepared with vegetable oils or olive oil.  Honey is also permitted.

Fasting or observing abstinence, by its very nature, not only calls for the faithful to be modest, but also to be mindful of the need to live a worshipful and moral life.  Also, doing so is looked upon as a means of reinforcing the faith, and as occasions for meditation and preparation.  Thus, instead of material and carnal pleasures, in exchange for undergoing certain depriva­tions, the emphasis will be put through prayers on life, beauty and spiritual values.

Generally, then, abstinence or fasting is the means for man to be re­newed and reinforced in the sense of the cleansing of the soul and of religious morality, apart from the fact that it also enables the development of piety and the strengthening of faith.

Even though fasting and abstinence are characteristic practices in all important churches, there is no uniformity in either the occasions or times for them, or in the rules or principles that govern the practice.  For example, the Roman Catholic Church permits milk products.  The Russian Orthodox Church permits fish.  The Armenian Church, stricter, forbids both of them.  On the other hand, the Evangelical churches have left the matter entirely to the choice of the individual faithful.

DAYS OF ABSTINENCE: TYPES AND DURATION

Different churches, besides having different rules on what may be eaten during fast or abstinence, also have different times.

The Armenian Church has approximately 160 days of abstinence; consisting of durations of one day, one week, and forty days.

One-day abstinence: All the Wednesdays and Fridays of the year are days of abstinence, except for the week following Theophany, and for the seven weeks following Easter, when the Wednesdays and Fridays occurring then are so called “eating days.”

It is of significance that the Armenian Church has designated week-long abstinences for the start of each of the four seasons of the year, as a means of promoting good health.

The times for the week-long abstinences are the following.

  • The week before Theophany
  • The week of Catechumens (established by St. Gregory the Enlightener) which precedes the feast of St. Sergius
  • The week before Easter, known as Avak Shapat (Holy Week)
  • The week before Transfiguration (Vartavar)
  • The week of the Discovery of the Relic of St. Gregory
  • The week before the Assumption of the Mother of God (Asdvadzadzin)
  • The week before the Exaltation of the Cross
  • The week of Advent (50 days before Theophany)
  • The week of the start of spring (vernal equinox), which will always occur during Lent
  • The week of the start of summer, also known as the Abstinence of the Feast of Elijah, which follows Pentecost
  • The week of the start of autumn (autumnal equinox), which occurs before the feast of the Cross of Varak, and precedes the feast of St. George
  • The week of the start of winter (winter solstice), also known as the Abstinence of St. James (Hagop) of Nisibis

Courtesy of “Feasts of the Armenian Church and National Traditions” by Garo Bedrosian, 1993