February 14, 2022

The Historical Reason There Is No Fasting Allowed the First Week of the Triodion

In the Orthodox Church, there is no fasting allowed in the first week of the Triodion, that is, during the week following the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee, and this includes Wednesday and Friday. There is a historical reason why this week of no fasting came to exist.

Aṙaǰaworac' is a period of strict fasting practiced in the Armenian Apostolic Church, which according to legend was established by Saint Gregory the Illuminator. It is a fast that only exists in the Armenian Church. It happens three weeks before Great Lent, or ten weeks before Easter, coinciding with the first week of the Triodion in the Orthodox Church. In ancient times it was allowed to eat only salt and bread, though today it is not as strict. On those days it is not allowed to hold a Liturgy. It lasts from Monday to Friday.

According to various interpretations, this week of fasting was called "Aṙaǰaworac'" as a herald of Great Lent or as an Armenian Lent, and as a sign of the illumination of Armenia. According to another explanation, God gave the command to eat only on the fifth day after the creation of man (Gen. 1:29-30), and thus the first man did not eat for the first five days, to purify the five senses. In ancient Armenian practice it was customary to fast for five days before baptism. During the five day fast, the five senses are purified.

It is believed that Gregory the Illuminator had King Trdat III and others fast for five days before baptism. During those five days, the people, together with their king, not only deprived themselves of food, but, with due diligence, deeply repented of their former pagan, immoral life, and of all kinds of sins. Thus it became the first established fast of the Armenian Church.

On the last of the five days, Friday, it is the day of the commemoration of the Prophet Jonah. This is because of the message of repentance he preached to the people of Nineveh, and their subsequent repentance with strict fasting from food and water is an image of the conversion of Armenia to Christianity.

Since this is a Monophysite custom that became known to Orthodox Christians living within the Roman Empire, and because such a strict fast before Great Lent was considered by the Orthodox to be a profane and unnecessary custom that should not be adopted, the first week of the Triodion, which coincides with Aṙaǰaworac', was established as a week where no fasting was to take place, in order to separate the customs of the Orthodox from the customs of the heretics.