Fasting. Fasting is probably the single most-dreaded aspect of the catechumenate and then living as an Orthodox Christian thereafter, but it needn’t be, is usually due to a misunderstanding of the purpose and practice of fasting, and can be alleviated with a little sound information which I hope to provide here. Fasting itself is the abstention from certain foods during specific times of the year; it can also include an abstention from marital relations, and/or the addition of extra prayers to your existing rule, and additional spiritual reading or study. The strictest is the Lenten fast, in which nothing with a spine (so no, Roman converts - no fish) is eaten, no dairy of any kind (eggs fall weirdly into this category), and no wine or olive oil (except on specific days - usually weekends). Beer is allowed in the Slavic tradition as we consider it to be “liquid bread” for our particular intents and purposes. And of course bread, fruits, vegetables, shellfish (on many but not all days) are allowed throughout the Great Lent. A total fast is also sometimes prescribed, which is exactly what it sounds like - no food or drink (except water for taking pills and such, and for the love of your priest, please brush your teeth before approaching for confession!); we do this sort of fast a few times in the year, and should be doing this every Saturday night prior to receiving Holy Communion.
We follow the fast strictly on a weekly basis (with a few exceptions) on Wednesdays to commemorate Christ’s betrayal by Judas, and on Fridays to commemorate His crucifixion. Monasteries will generally add Mondays to the mix, both because monks are hardcore awesome, but also in commemoration of the angels whom they emulate. There are also fast-free weeks a few times a year such as Bright Week (following Pascha) and Trinity Week (following Pentecost) - celebrate with a nice Friday cheeseburger! The best way to keep track of all this stuff in this day and age is to download the calendar app for your phone - it will tell you what to eat and when, as well as give you the saints of the day, Scripture readings, and hymns!
As with (nearly) all things in the Church, there are exceptions to most if not all of this. For instance, pregnant and nursing women are exempt from the fast. Children under 7 (still considered “infants” in the Church parlance) are not expected to follow the fast strictly, but it’s a good idea to begin introducing it to them - they will learn from your piety and sacrifices, even if they get to sneak a string cheese or nugget here and there. Similarly, the very old and the very ill are often exempted from much of the fast. If you ever have any questions about possible medical exemptions, please come and see me - I will almost always announce them prior to the fast also. The biggest point here is not that you didn’t eat X this week, it’s that you focused on your prayer life instead of your appetite; as a borderline diabetic, I can’t follow a lot of it as strictly as I’d like to - I’ve tried in the past and it’s severely injured my physical health. We do the best we can, knowing that we will fail, but striving always to serve God and partake in His Church!