Lent and Fasting


“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.

9 thoughts on “Lent and Fasting

  1. I must say Magdalena, that I have never truly fasted during Lent. Now that I am older and have drawn closer to my Heavenly Father, I feel this pull to do just that.

    It is not for a way to just show that I can do it…but like you said, it is a discipline to focus more on Him and not on our flesh.


  2. I admit to being a little confused. You *fast* but still eat? I fast but abstain from food ~ though I have no idea how long lent lasts. Advent is certainly doable. Those I know who practise fasting regularly also abstain from food. Can you explain in a little more detail for my clarity. I don’t mean to be rude or stupid but I am insatiably curious.

    PS: I sort of know you from Ember’s blog.

    • Medical fasting is when you go without any food. Spiritual fasting is when you go with reduced amounts of food and limited food choices for a period of time. Sometimes it is total abstinence for a day (Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, for instance) but the long periods of fasting have been kept since early days in the church. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter, roughly six weeks. Eastern Orthodox churches keep a longer period that gradually reduces the kinds of food they eat.

    • Fasting for lengthy periods of time generally means abstaining from your normal eating patterns. For example, some do a bread an water fast, so they are eating, but only bread and water for a period of days this is usually combined with prayer. Our Muslim brothers and sisters have Ramadan(sp), they fast (eat nothing) during the daylight hours, but eat after dark. As a Catholic, we abstain from meat on Fridays during lent, and on Ash Wednesday. Our family tradition on Ash Wednesday is to only eat one meal, and it is always potato soup which we eat at supper time.
      One year I fasted from TV for Lent, it was difficult at first, but I soon found plenty of other things to fill my time with, and it took a long time to go back to watching TV on a regular basis. I chose the no TV fast again during lent a few years later, and didn’t watch TV for a number of years. I do watch TV now, just not very much.
      Anyway, the goal through lent should be to abstain from rich foods, keep it simple and less is best, and more importantly spend more time in prayer, it is a time of self discipline.

      • I found out that when Russian monks would go on bread and water fasts, it was good Russian black bread – completely nutritious in itself.

  3. Because I do very poorly on a diet of a lot of carbs, by a lot I mean also potatoes, root vegetables not just sugar, bread and pasta. I eat some vegetables such as broccoli, cauli flower and some and other than that I eat meat and a lot of fat. If I don’t eat like this I have stomage ache, bad skin, more severe allergies and I slowly gain weight. Therefore standard Christian fasting will not do, I am not going to risk my health. I have therefore decided to eat out the fridge and cupboards as much as I can and try fasting from food completely during the day on Fridays instead of the traditional fast.

    I loved TV-fasting two years ago but I have a man in my life now that will not accept that so I will make due with trying to read while he watches most of the time.

    • You have to know your own body. The traditional fas tisn’t for everyone, but willingness to find some discipline – and to learn to live without one’s every desire – is always Godly.

  4. to me fasting is more than just abstaining,mfrom food be it Poultry or fish. For an Indian, fasting every Friday is a way of life. as early as 15yrs of age , my parents taught us to attend mass on friday amd thereafter we survived on water that aslo only sipping,and returned home frm school to break the fast at sunset after sayin the rosary. Yes this practise, inculcated very young stayed with many of us ,for some reluctantly, but neverthless. it worked for some and not for others.
    so fasting means abstaining from badhabits, addictions,malpractises of various kinds,unkindness, deceving, uncaring towds the .lonely, deperessed,srtudents gone astray,sick and dying withn and outsied our families, etc,. so because man is trapped in his own trappings of misery , lent is the time wherein he tries to repent and avoid repeating the same sorrowful mistakes. So only if he drowns himself in profound prayer meditation and try to rise above all ones miseries,, he will have taken a small step, but it is the first step
    It is not easy but its is not difficult, cos temptaions r not caused by the devil or any person. It is all in the mind, im the creator of all good and bad,happenings, so a fluctuation or oscilltations of starting a fast and leaving it midway too is a possibbility. Bit every effort shud be made. It helps u not only to become aware, and mindful, but , it strengthens and energies oneself, to god jesus or the entire Universe. Stillnes enters yur entire being, a blissfulness settles and embodies the human body and spirit. But continuity of prayer and practise. So this can happen when the body is denied of physcilal food, i experience that eating just one vegetable meal,enhances ones fastilng. quicker and faster. One talks less and automatically the mind is drawn inwards.

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