So my last soda (Coca-Cola) was on January 26th. I have to admit it is getting easier to be without it. I have noticed though that since I am not taking in so much sugar and caffeine from drinking so much soda that I am hungry a lot more. As a result, I have already gained weight. I also haven’t put much effort into exercising, but I wasn’t doing that beforehand either. So I guess I am making a trade off at this point. I have been allowing myself one cup of regular coffee a day. I would love to be able to get rid of that too and maybe I will try to go for that along with my fasting for Lent.
This coming Lent will be my first as an official Orthodox Christian. I am going to do my best to follow the Orthodox fasting Tradition as followed by the Church. My wife and I have discussed this and agree that the idea is to follow in the spirit of the Tradition more so than the letter. What does this mean? We are going to do our best to follow the ideas of no meat, no dairy, no alcohol (we don’t really drink much so that shouldn’t be an issue), etc. If however there happens to be the need to use a small amount of dairy, or such for a recipe, we are not planning to be so strict as to completely change the plans for the meal to avoid this. I think, especially as those new to fasting, we are going to have a hard enough time with this to begin with. Also, there is always the issue of legalism. We don’t want to become so rigid that we are legalistic about fasting, or any part of our religious experience. We have always believed that it is better to follow as closely as possible with the idea of the Tradition so that if we start to get to the point where we do things simply because there is a Tradition of the Church, we need to step back and evaluate why we are doing those things. Are we doing them because we feel it is necessary and right in following Jesus’ teaching and worshiping God, or are we doing them just because that’s what all the others at church are doing?
Our priest told us during our classes to learn about the Orthodox Church that following the Traditions as much as we can is more important than following everything to a T just because it’s written. As we go along in our church life we will likely find ourselves following more and more of the traditions because we feel it is right, rather than simply because those traditions are there.
Below are some General Rules of the Lenten Fast as taken from the Website of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese:
GENERAL RULES OF THE LENTEN FAST
The Lenten Fast rules that we observe today were established within the monasteries of the Orthodox Church during the sixth through eleventh centuries. These rules are intended for all Orthodox Christians, not just monks and nuns.
The first week of Lent is especially strict. On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, a total fast is kept. In practice, very few people are able to do this. Some find it necessary to eat a little each day after sunset. Many Faithful do fast completely on Monday and then eat only uncooked food (bread, fruit, nuts) on Tuesday evening. On Wednesday, the fast is kept until after the Presanctified Liturgy.
From the second through the sixth weeks of Lent, the general rules for fasting are practiced. Meat, animal products (cheese, milk, butter, eggs, lard), fish (meaning fish with backbones), olive oil and wine (all alcoholic drinks) are not consumed during the weekdays of Great Lent. Octopus and shell-fish are allowed, as is vegetable oil. On weekends, olive oil and wine are permitted.
According to what was done in the monasteries, one meal a day is eaten on weekdays and two meals on weekends of Great Lent. No restriction is placed on the amount of food during the meal, though moderation is always encouraged in all areas of one’s life at all times.
Fish, oil and wine are allowed on the Feast of the Annunciation (March 25) and on Palm Sunday (one week before Easter). On other feast days, such as the First and Second Finding of the Head of Saint John the Baptist (February 24) , the Holy Forty Martyrs of Sebaste (March 9), the Forefeast of the Annunciation (March 24) and the Synaxis of the Archangel Gabriel (March 26), wine and oil are permitted.
The week before Easter, Holy Week, is a special time of fasting separate from Great Lent. Like the first week, a strict fast is kept. Some Orthodox Christians try to keep a total fast on Holy Monday, Holy Tuesday and Holy Wednesday. Most eat a simple Lenten meal at the end of each day before going to the evening Church services.
On Holy Thursday, wine is allowed in remembrance of the Last Supper. Holy Friday is kept as a strict fast day, as is Holy Saturday. Holy Saturday is the only Saturday in the entire year when oil is not permitted.
In short, these are the Lenten rules for fasting. Traditionally, the Church Fathers recommend that someone new to fasting begin by resolving to faithfully do as much as he or she is able during the Lenten period. Each year as one matures as a Christian, a fuller participation can be undertaken. However, it is not recommended that a person try to create their own rules for fasting, since this would not be obedient or wise. The Faithful are encouraged to consult with their priest or bishop regarding the Fast when possible.
Personal factors such as one’s health and living situation need to be considered as well. For example, an isolated Orthodox Christian required to eat meals at their place of employment, school or in prison may not be able to avoid certain foods. The Church understands this and extends leniency.
It is important to keep in mind that fasting is not a law for us—rather, a voluntary way of remembering to not sin and do evil, and to help keep our focus on prayer, repentance and doing acts of kindness, for we “are not under the law but under grace” (Romans 6:14).
EASTER, BRIGHT WEEK AND THE PASCHAL SEASON
The Lenten Fast is broken following the midnight Easter service. With the proclamation, “Christ is risen!” the time of feasting begins. The week after Easter is called Bright Week and there is no fasting. For the next 40 days, the Church celebrates the Paschal (Easter) season. Joy and thanksgiving are the fulfillment of our Lenten journey.
It is a bit over a month until Lent, so I have some time to prepare myself. Hopefully with God’s help I can do well at following the Lenten Fast. If you happen to read this post, please pray for my family and I as we try to follow in the footsteps of Christ and the Orthodox Christians who have gone before us.
Until next time…