Did the Mennonites ever have the practice of fasting, as for example the Roman Catholics? It is not very probable that they did; nothing is found about fasting in the writings of their leaders such as Menno Simons and Dirk Philips, though they occasionally insisted on sober eating and drinking, as did also Galenus Abrahamsz, the well-known preacher of Amsterdam, at the close of the 17th century.
But there was a three-day fast in the Anabaptist congregation of Amsterdam in 1534, ordered by "the prophets and preachers of the church." This curious fact is found in the Confession of Jannetgen Thijsdochter on 23 January 1535. In 1754 among the Groninger Old Flemish, after eight preachers had finished their preaching tour of all the congregations a day of general fasting and prayer was proclaimed by the elders before a new elder was chosen.
That fasting was practiced by the Mennonites in colonial Pennsylvania is shown by references in a notebook of Hans Tschantz, one of the earliest (serving ca. 1717-45) bishops of the Lancaster County Mennonite settlement in what is now the Strasburg and Willow Street congregations. He refers to two fast days, one in the spring and one in the fall. It is probable that these fasts were observed in connection with the communion services. The observance of such fasts, usually the breakfast on Saturday before communion, was continued into the 20th century in the Lancaster Mennonite Conference, and only fully died out in the 1950s. It was longest observed by the bishops.
A similar observance of fasts before communion is still fully maintained by many Old Order Amish communities. Although the exact day for the observance has varied, it has always been limited to a breakfast fast. Most commonly the fast has come on the Sunday before communion Sunday, when the preparatory service or "inquiry" meeting is held. The morning of Good Friday is also observed as a fast. Some churches of Amish background have fasted the Friday or Saturday morning before the communion Sunday.
Peter M. Friesen reports that the Gnadenfeld-Alexanderwohl (Molotschna) joint confession of faith, first drafted in 1787 by Jacob Wedell of Przechowka near Schwetz, contained a statement regarding a "right evangelical fasting according to the teaching of the Holy Scriptures."
Grosheide, Greta. Verhooren en Vonissen der Wederdoopers, betrokken bij de aanslagen op Amsterdam in 1534 en 1535. Amsterdam, 1920: 180.
Friesen, P. M. Die Alt-Evangelische Mennonitische Brüderschaft in Russland (1789-1910) im Rahmen der mennonitischen Gesamtgeschichte. Halbstadt, 1911: 82.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, p. 317. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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MLA style: van der Zijpp, Nanne. "Fasting." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1955. Web. 23 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/F3783.html.
APA style: van der Zijpp, Nanne. (1955). Fasting. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 23 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/F3783.html.