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Ash Wednesday is this week; this means beginning the Lenten disciplines. In this world where there is a huge gap between those of us who HAVE and the many, many who HAVE-NOT, fasting is a necessary discipline. First, it teaches us to do without, because in every life there are seasons of having less than we need, whether it is food or love; second, it puts us in solidarity with the poor, who daily suffer a lack of necessities; third, by cutting back what we spend on food, we have more money to share with those whose income does not meet their need. Keep the fast: Vegan and vegetarian meals, substituting beans and legumes for protein, with rice and whole grains and simply prepared vegetables. If fruit is expensive, skip it. Make time to cook and bake for yourself, which means giving up other pursuits like television, computer games and shopping. Go to church and pray regularly, so that your fast is not just self-congratulatory acts. The money you are not spending on groceries and self-indulgences then goes to a charity, or directly to the poor.
I am not open to hearing any excuses or exceptions. If you must make them, do not lessen the resolve and dedication of others, so keep them to yourself.
Anyone who even brings up Shrove Tuesday pancake suppers will be given a penance. My experience with Shrove Tuesday pancake suppers is that more people come to them than will attend church throughout Lent. No fast, no feast.
It has been an odd Lent and Paschal season for us. We did not go to church – too ill – we did not keep the fast – too ill – we did nothing outside home during Holy Week – too ill. It seemed to take all my strength to just keep the household moving forward, or at least staying in one place; bills paid, housework done, laundry washed, dried, folded, ironed. Meals were, more or less, cooked. We survived, in our isolated valley way.
Rather than mourning the loss of the cycle of the lenten season, I was just grateful that we had a home, some savings to pay the doctor and the pharmacist, a little cushion to get us the extra petrol and groceries we needed. I had plans – they fell through. I had goals – they weren’t met. And yet I am grateful, and peaceful, and happy.
I posted the painting above, The Resurrection, by Piero della Francesco, because it is a puzzling image. It is dawn; the Roman guards are asleep outside the tomb in which Jesus of Nazareth was buried – why should they stay awake? They are guarding a dead man. He won’t cause any disturbance, will he? And the disciples who were purportedly plotting to steal the body – they are just idle fisherman from Galilee, long gone home, hiding until the heat is off. This isn’t a triumphant warrior Jesus; this isn’t a winged Messiah, vaulting into the air from his victory over death and hell. There is no flash in his eye, no lordly gestures. There are no angels. He has simply arisen. He holds his banner as if he is using it as a staff to aid his posture, stretching out the cramped muscles that have lain so long on cold stone. He is marked with the horrors of the crucifixion, and yet he is calm, and focussed.
He has passed through not only the valley of the shadow of death, but the pit of death itself. He has surpassed the Passion; He has conquered all of sin. He gazes out at us with an inscrutable gaze. There is nothing more for Him to see but Life.
In a moment He will step up fully on the broken tomb, He will blaze forth in glory that cannot be contained under earth. The heathen soldiers will run in fear, running to a charge of desertion but perhaps just deserting; Rome is not gentle or forgiving.
I expect that He blessed them as they fled, sparing them the cold justice of Pilate. I hope that they made their way home to Gaul, and Iberia and the banks of the Tiber.
I did not grieve and weep over the broken body this year. I had no Pieta in my heart. I am confident of His conquest of death.
He is risen.
Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us;
therefore let us keep the feast, Not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil,
but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Alleluia. Christ being raised from the dead will never die again;
death no longer has dominion over him. The death that he died, he died to sin, once for all;
but the life he lives, he lives to God. So also consider yourselves dead to sin,
and alive to God in Jesus Christ our Lord. Alleluia. Christ has been raised from the dead,
the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by a man came death,
by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die,
so also in Christ shall all be made alive. Alleluia.
While I think it is beneficial to go on “fasts” from television and the internet or other activities, I am really emphasizing this year that all who can should try a traditional Lenten fast of the more rigorous type. We are spoiled people when it comes to food – we eat plenty, we consume a lot of resources in doing that, and as a culture we are much too focussed on our cravings and worldly passions than we are on responsibility to good health and sound economics.
If you are already eating whole foods, cutting back on grocery expenditures and growing your own food, then you may not need to fast. But if you are wondering how you will ever afford food as prices rise, how you will get meals for your family, how you will improve your health as good nutrition seems to become more inaccessible, then now is the time to commit to a food fast, a period of reducing one’s intake, of eating lower on the food chain, of learning how to cook sustainably.
Yes, give up television, and do it permanently. Give up computer and facebook games – they are a waste of productive time. Find activities that will improve your health and allow you more time with family, with community and with God.
But take this opportunity to learn a new way of life.
“What are giving up for Lent?”
I’ve heard it every year for – oh, a long time – and sometimes people will (a little smugly) tell me that they aren’t giving up anything, they are adding a discipline. Which is not the point of a fast. Add a discipline if you want – but keep the fast anyway.
Lent and Advent are the traditional fasting seasons in the Church. (Some add more days of fasting.) And fasting means – giving up something. Giving up a lot. Just staying away from Chips-Ahoy cookies isn’t a fast.
This is a fast: No meat, dairy, eggs, alcohol or fats for the whole fasting season. Two meals a day, nothing more. Yes, from Ash Wednesday to after the Easter (Pascha) service. There are little exceptions; fats and wine are allowed on Seventh and First Day (Saturday and Sunday). Yes, this means no Guiness on St. Patrick’s Day, nor Irish stew, nor corned beef and cabbage. You can have the potatoes, onion and carrot, and the cabbage, though.
When we could we have kept this strict fast. It usually means losing about ten to twenty pounds. We don’t keep it if we are ill or have a lot of physical work to do, in which case we modify it somewhat, keeping some fats and eggs or some dairy. One has to be sensible about the fast, but not make excuses for avoiding or breaking it. This year we are keeping in eggs and olive oil because of my recent illnesses.
We eat beans, brown rice, all vegetables, bread and other grains - which for us is oatmeal. Russians eat buckwheat or kasha. Quinoa, amaranth, and wild rice are also good choices. We use a bit of seasoning, especially nutritious herbs, but the idea is that it is just food, not something to please our taste buds.
It is a way to deny the sensuality of this world for a season, to remind us that God is with us and provides all for our good. We want more than just that good – we want pleasures that may not be good for us, as so many of us find with food. I hear younger women – and some my age – say how hard it is to give up the supermarket indulgences as they look for nutritious and economical food choices for their families. If anyone is beginning to feel the sticker shock at the grocery checkout, now is a season to get used to some changes, to shop better, to eat better, to live closer to the earth.
I shop once before Lent, and buy all the beans, rice, dried foods, winter vegetables and supplements we may need. This year I have black beans, pinto beans, garbanzos, lentils and split peas, with rice and bulgur wheat. We have three kinds of flour. I bought potatoes, onions, carrots, turnips, apples and cabbage, with ginger and garlic for seasoning. I have some bottled tomato sauce. Since I will be using eggs we can have homemade noodles. We will use up the cheese in the next week.
Is this hard? Yes, it is, but it is not supposed to be easy. It is a discipline. We will pray for strength in this Lenten journey. I will try to be more diligent in my prayer and study. We will anticipate the great Vigil of Pascha and the remembrance that Jesus Christ not only died for us, He rose from death to defeat death for us.
The season of Lent as preparation for Easter began in the third century, with St. Iranaeus; it was probably established as a fast of a day or more in local churches. The word “Lent” that we use is from the Anglo-Saxon word for spring. The churches kept Lent as a time of increased prayer and scripture reading. it was the last phase of catechism for those wishing to be baptized at Easter.
Lent is now the forty days before Easter, or Pascha. In the eastern churches Lent ends with the Vigil of Pascha, which starts at midnight on the Saturday preceding Easter, the end of Holy Week. While Lent is a time of fasting, Holy Week is a time of concentrated preparation for Easter, with special prayer services and scripture readings.
Must a Christian fast before Easter? Traditionally, and by church law or canon, the answer is yes. Most Protestants do not keep the fast, however, reflecting the scriptural passage that the guests do not fast while the bridegroom is with them. Most of the “Jerusalem” or high churches would disagree, saying that Jesus meant only while He was physically on earth were the disciples exempt from fasting.
Certainly, fasting from foods was an expectation in the apostolic church at the proper seasons, or for reasons of prayer. The forty days of Lent were not established until the fourth century, and may have arisen from a misreading of the historian Eusebius, who was commenting on a forty hour fast. Nonetheless, the forty day fast became established, to remember the forty day fast of Jesus in the wilderness.
Christians are never expected to abstain from all nourishment for extended periods of time, and water is allowed in all periods of fasting or abstention.
In our century, fasting from food is less common; some churches interpret or allow fasting from activities if that is more practical. Families might abstain from watching television or going to movies. (In centuries past, the theatres were closed in Lent.) Others may use the time of Lent to give up a bad habit such as smoking or gambling. Any fast or abstention must be accomplished with prayer, scripture and the support of the church community. One should at least confide in one’s minister or priest as to the form of abstention one wishes to undertake.
Fasting is not atonement for our sins; it is discipline so that we may strnegthen our souls, bodies, minds and spirits against the onslaught of evil and temptation. it is for our benefit, not God’s.
Please let me know if you need support and prayers in your Lenten journey. I will keep confidentiality if you request.
Enjoy a blessed Lent! Christ is coming!
Because a controlled intake diet is being undertaken in the household, we are not strictly fasting this Lent. I’ll follow this diet for a while and try to drop some of the past year’s uptick in poundage, but I won’t continue it for long since I don’t have but a few kilos to shed.
The discipline will be to eat other things moderately, and not tempt those who are not allowed them.
I’ve blogged a lot on Lent, fasting, and the typikons for seasonal fasting. So you can go look if you are wondering.
I’m an old hand at the fast, so I’m going to just leave you with a few words of encouragement.
Don’t be proud of your fast. Answer if someone asks, but don’t judge. Also, don’t accept the judgement of others if they are critical. Stick to your discipline.
If you fall off the fast wagon, just get back on. Don’t make excuses or whine or give up.
If you need to give up – because you are sick, you have a change in circumstances, you have to move or change jobs or take care of someone else – well, that’s fine. You did what you could.
God doesn’t keep score. It doesn’t go on your permanent record.
Have a blessed Lent, and look forward to Pascha! Maranatha!
The long fast is over, and we don’t start again until February 28 (I think.) It was harder this year than before, since we live in a non-fasting household, and I got off track for a couple of weekends.
The worst part is that I didn’t keep the fast well. I ignored what I needed, just sort of eating around what I prepared for the others, and I certainly did not get enough protein and even skipped meals. (It doesn’t look it – I ate too many carbs.) I substituted sugar for real food – and crashed hard on the 23rd day. My husband promptly ordered me off the fast and would take no argument. I had made myself ill, and that was that.
Neglecting oneself is not good fasting. It is not proper gratitude and trust in God. I am not going to call it prideful in this case, but it was not mindful.
We are discussing the Lenten fast already. Nicholas does not want me to get into the same situation, and since he will be back in training, fasting will not be possible for him. If I join him in the gym again, it won’t be possible for me, and he really expects me to get back into the trainers and lift some weight. I know I need some time on the treadmill to build up stamina again. ( It’s a lot cheaper to train in a gym than for us to try to buy all the equipment we need and house it. We have been competition level athletes and that’s what you do at that level.)
So the Lenten fast will have to look different than the canonical guidelines. I am seriously suggesting that we give up all junk food, all refined foods, and eat a good mediterranean type diet. If that is the case, then we might as well start now!
For it isn’t the fasting itself that saves us, but the intention of our hearts as we turn to God and theosis, growing in His likeness.
We will find ways of mindfulness; ways to serve the Lord, self-sacrifices to make and new joys in His glorious Name.