Archive for February 29th, 2012

Some Lenten Perspective

Maybe you are feeling pretty good about yourself; maybe as the second week of Great Lent (first for the Orthodox) winds down you have succeeded in whatever sacrifice you have undertaken, made real progress.

Lest you succumb to pride, let me share this with you, the traditional rules of fasting from the Orthodox Church in America website (I have highlighted the more humbling passages):

On weekdays in the first week, fasting is particularly severe. According to strict observance, in the course of the five initial days of Lent, only two meals are eaten, one on Wednesday and the other on Friday, in both cases after the Liturgy of the Presanctified. On the other three days, those who have the strength are encouraged to keep an absolute fast; those for whom this proves impracticable may eat on Tuesday and Thursday (but not, if possible, on Monday), in the evening after Vespers, when they may take bread and water, or perhaps tea or fruit-juice, but not a cooked meal. It should be added at once that in practice today these rules are commonly relaxed. At the meals on Wednesday and Friday xerophagy is prescribed. Literally this means ‘dry eating’. Strictly interpreted, it signifies that we may eat only vegetables cooked with water and salt, and also such things as fruit, nuts, bread and honey. In practice, octopus and shell-fish are also allowed on days of xerophagy; likewise vegetable margarine and corn or other vegetable oil, not made from olives. But the following categories of food are definitely excluded:On weekdays (Monday to Friday inclusive) in the second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth weeks, one meal a day is permitted…

Holy Week. On the first three days there is one meal each day, with xerophagy; but some try to keep a complete fast on these days, or else they eat only uncooked food, as on the opening days of the first week. On Holy Thursday one meal is eaten, with wine and oil (i.e., olive oil). On Great Friday those who have the strength follow the practice of the early Church and keep a total fast. Those unable to do this may eat bread, with a little water, tea or fruit-juice, but not until sunset, or at any rate not until after the veneration of the [Plashchanitsa] at Vespers. On Holy Saturday  there is in principle no meal, since according to the ancient practice after the end of the Liturgy of St. Basil the faithful remained in church for the reading of the Acts of the Apostles, and for their sustenance were given a little bread and dried fruit, with a cup of wine. If, as usually happens now, they return home for a meal, they may use wine but not oil; for on this one Saturday, alone among Saturdays of the year, olive oil is not permitted.

This is followed by a reminder that fasting is not legalistic, and advice to use common sense. Indeed, I have a friend, a fellow letter carrier, who attempted a strict fast during Lent one year. They found him on the route, passed out. Still, it is hard for me to conceive of this sort of rigorous fasting, and it helps keep my efforts in perspective.

But perhaps this is not your problem; perhaps you have already succumbed to that sausage pizza or second cup of coffee, or whatever it is you had promised to sacrifice. In that case, remember that it is better to spend Lent eating steak and cake in humility than to take pride in your feats of self denial.

Icon by Matthew Garrett

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