Refraining from eating some or all kinds of food. Abstinence differs from orthodox fasting in that abstinence is not subject to the rules governing fasting. The practice, originally a form of penitence, dates from the Old Testament (Lv. 11), where elaborate prohibitionary rules were prescribed. These were later abrogated in the New Testament, but the early Coptic fathers voluntarily renewed the practice of abstinence with more vehemence as an individual demonstration of religious zeal.
Saint ANTONY and his monks are said to have abstained from all manner of food except bread, salt, and water. Saint PACHOMIUS, though preserving this tradition, was more lenient, allowing the addition of a cabbage leaf to the cenobite’s sustenance.
Among Coptic ascetics, total abstinence until the rise of the first evening star was customary, especially during fast days. This practice was even intensified among certain heretical sects such as the Manichaeans and the Gnostics. Friday abstinence commemorates the Passion of Jesus, and Wednesday abstinence commemorates Job’s suffering. Such practices were generally upheld by the fathers of the church, and some, such as Tertullian, extended the abstinence days to Saturday. Coptic Protestants, however, rejected abstinence and fasting altogether.
- Scudamore, W. E. “Fasting.” In Dictionary of Christian Antiquity, Vol. 1, pp. 661-65. London, 1876.