Wheat, Wine, and Oil:
We are in the last days of the Great Fast, and I have to share that there are two temptations I have with this podcast: Never to talk about fasting or to talk about it in almost every episode.
I assure you. I do try to maintain a balance and avoid repeating myself, but at the risk of doing so I encourage you to refer to earlier episodes for practical suggestions I’ve made for Lent concerning fasting if you need a little bit of help in these last few days. I’ve also addressed preparing for and breaking the fast at Pascha and putting together a Pascha basket.
Today, I will add a couple of things. The first I offer in order to avoid shellfish burnout. Limit yourself to shellfish one night a week, say for example Tuesdays. I have friends who’ve been sick of shrimp and shellfish since the end of the second or third week of Lent. As we enter week six, I can honestly say I’m not sick of shrimp just yet.
Secondly, I encourage you now to take a few minutes to plan and prepare for Holy Week. It may seem inconvenient, but you’ll greatly benefit later from a small amount of effort now. And you’ll thank yourself during that week when there are more intensive services and you seem to have less time to devote to cooking and preparing your menus.
While it is undeniably an integral part, there is so much more to our faith than fasting and certainly more to food than the confines of a vegan diet. I’ve never known anyone personally who has converted to Orthodoxy because of the practice of fasting, but I do know people for whom fasting holds a certain almost obsessive fascination.
I even have friends who remain in other churches but aspire to keep our Church’s fast during Lent. I applaud their efforts. Would any of us willingly keep a vegan diet if the Church didn’t expect us to? Don’t worry. You’re safe. I’m not asking for a show of hands.
You may or may not be aware that there are, as with many other things, degrees of vegetarianism. Now this is certainly not the complete, exhaustive, end-all list, but for purposes here this is my list compiled from a couple of different sources.
First on my list is that of a flexitarian. A flexitarian is someone who keeps a mainly vegetarian diet but occasionally eats meat. This term seems to be growing in popularity. Next is a pescetarian. This is perhaps a seldom heard term used to describe someone who abstains from meat but incorporates fish into their vegetarian diet.
Next is a lacto-ovo vegetarian. These folks abstain from meat but continue to include dairy products and eggs in their diet. Next is a macrobiotic. This type of vegetarian relies heavily on whole grains and vegetables from an Asian diet, such as seaweed. Last on the list is a vegan. Now if we are familiar with the Church’s teachings we know that vegans abstain from meat and all dairy products. But there is also a subcategory here. There are vegans who don’t cook their foods, and they are known as raw vegans.
I once read a restaurant review of a woman who is a chef in Hawaii, and she described herself as a raw vegan. In her restaurant kitchen, she didn’t even have a stove. The Church encourages us to follow perhaps one of the more restrictive levels of vegetarianism, that of vegans. But also, as with other practices, the Church encourages us to go beyond what is acceptable to us or perhaps what is comfortable. Think long services and confession as a couple of examples.
There are degrees of our lives as Orthodox Christians that build on each other in terms of commitment and responsibility. We enter the faith, first as inquirers. Then, we progress to catechumens. Next, after Baptism and Chrismation, we become newly illumined. And then we move on to become communicants. There are even those in our communities who go on to become monastics.
If you look at the order of degrees in terms of diet, we are giving up more and restricting ourselves more as we progress. A flexitarian has a much broader diet, in terms of food choice, than a vegan. Our choices narrow greatly.
In terms of our lives as Christians, the order is inverted. We are hopefully progressing more deeply in our commitment to our faith at each level and taking on more. Hopefully as communicants, we have grown deeper and more focused than we have as inquirers.
When we reach this point, there are certain expectations for us, especially as we prepare for the Great Feast of Pascha. In addition to what we eat, we are expected to limit the amount of our food. We are expected to limit our attention to food. We are expected to serve others by increased almsgiving and to mature and challenge ourselves through reading and attendance at services. We are expected to pray more and prepare ourselves for the feast of Christ’s Resurrection through confession.
A couple of weeks ago, I went to my trusty Food Lover’s Companion to look up something. I’ve spoken of this book a couple of times before. It’s a great reference book I use when I need to check myself on something.
That day the book fell open to the introduction page, and there on the page was a quote by George Bernard Shaw. Now as long as I’ve had this book, I’ve never looked at this page and I’ve never seen this quote before. Let me share it with you. He said, “There is no love sincerer than the love of food.” Wow!
Later that day as I was doing some spiritual reading, I came across a passage from Matins. It says, “The grace of abstinence has shown forth, banishing the darkness of demons. The power of the Fast disciplines our minds. Lent brings the cure to our crippling worldliness.”
Wow! I think at least for myself I need to read that again. The grace of abstinence has shown forth, banishing the darkness of demons. The power of the Fast disciplines our minds. Lent brings the cure to our crippling worldliness.”
I can’t immediately think of anything else that so succinctly serves as an antithesis to Shaw’s quote. Well in some circles, nothing says worldliness quite like gormandizing in food. So that is the quest for us, and that is the challenge for us in these last few weeks of Lent. Let us keep the power of the fast and fight the worldliness that can corrupt our souls and our lives. As we look forward to the Great Feast of Pascha, let us help each other and encourage each other.