LENT: Here’s the deal …

Though today, February 27, 2012, begins the Great Fast for Orthodox Christians, here follows a post regarding Lent which incorporates Meatfare and Cheesefare (just past).

The following helpful hints are lifted and edited from a 2008 email from Matushka Elizabeth Perdomo (with gratitude).

After Sunday, February 19th (Meatfare Sunday / Sunday of the Last Judgement) – no meats are eaten until Pascha; that includes beef, pork, chicken and any vertebrate animals, including fish. (Though Fish may be consumed during “Cheese Week” leading up to Clean Monday, February 27th.)

For the week of February 20th, thru Sunday, February 26th (Cheesefare Sunday / The Sunday of Forgiveness) – Dairy products and eggs may still be eaten any day of the week! Butter, eggs, milk, cheese, yogurt, etc. are all good! There are some recipe suggestions for Cheesefare Week in the St. George’s Pantry link below.

From Monday, February 27th until AFTER the midnight services for Holy Pascha, no meat or dairy or egg products are eaten. A strictly VEGAN diet is adopted by Orthodox Christians throughout the world. That means grains, beans, vegetables, fruits, etc.

There are some exceptions to the rule during the Great Fast. For example, on the Feast of the Forty Martyrs of Sabaste, Friday – March 9th – wine and oil are allowed. On the Feast of the Annunciation, March 25th, fish, wine and oil are allowed; the following day, March 26th, wine and oil are allowed. During the Fifth Week of Lent, it is a local custom for allowance of wine and oil on Wednesday/Thursday of the Great Canon and/or the final Akathist Friday. Fish, wine and oil are also allowed on April 8th, the Celebration of the Entrance into Jerusalem or Palm Sunday.

Non-vertebrate sea food is allowed any day during the fast, except for during the “Strict Fast” days. That includes shrimp, scallops, clams, oysters, lobster, etc. So, if you need a special occasion dish or night out, or need a bit extra protein, try to go for seafood dishes!

The liturgical calendars from Church pretty well specify the fast days and the degree of fasting we strive to enter into. If you have questions, check your calendars!

Also, the Greek Archdiocese Online Calendar is helpful. Local practice may vary; when in doubt, ask your priest.

Also: Nursing mothers, Pregnant Women, Young Children and those in Ill Health or who must take certain medications should adapt the fasting rule according to their particular needs. Dairy products are particularly recommended for young children, nursing mothers and pregnant women. Please do talk to [your priest / spiritual father] and receive a blessing and some guidance if you have any questions or special circumstances which would prevent you from following the fast. Having that “Blessing” can better bring you into the fullness of the season, even when one must adapt the fasting guidelines.

People often worry about children and fasting. Children learn by our examples and through our efforts. Dairy can always be added for young children, but other than that, they can easily learn to eat what we eat: Fasting Foods. The key is to make and serve well balanced meals, which can be done even with vegan food choices. It’s a learning process – so, let’s all learn! If one eats lunches or breakfasts at school, it can be more challenging. Still, children can try to make choices which more closely follow the fasting guidelines if they are taught to do so and to want to do so. But, the point is to try to do the best one can. Maybe peanut butter sandwiches, or even cheese pizza, or a tuna sub must be substituted now and then. But, it is better to try than not to even try at all. After all, why do we Fast? To grow closer to Christ! So, what’s not to try for?

Also, when one is traveling, sometimes it is often not possible to keep the fast completely. However, even so, try to follow the fast as closely as possible. If one can not eat a vegan meal, try shrimp or other non-vertebrate seafood. Or, if none is available, try fish. Or eggs… Or dairy… Don’t just go straight to steak just because you’re not at home!

There are always situations which come up during the Great Fast. The FASTING is not the point of the fast; the REACHING and FOCUSING on Christ IS the Point. Fasting is our Tool; our Friend; our Aid in setting aside this time and really refocusing our lives. So, if something comes up, don’t beat yourself up. Refocus, get back into the fast, and continue putting one step in front of the other.

Fasting can not and is not meant to stand alone either. It must be accompanied by its other two components: Prayer and Almsgiving. Remember to make time in your busy lives and attend as many of the special lenten services as possible during this precious season. Remember to give to the poor and needy – and not just your dollars, but your actions as well!

Matushka then points to the programs at her own parish, St George.

Recipes … and more.

Matushka’s friend Denise, who lives in Savannah, GA, also has a cooking blog which shares recipes throughout the fasting and other seasons. She is Italian American, so many of her excellent recipes reflect that background … HERE.

Image of a lenticular cloud taken from HERE.

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