Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Fasting & Abstaining during Lent: Eastern or Western Style?

In the Roman-rite in the United States, the fasting and abstaining guidelines for believers are the following:

For members of the Latin Catholic Church, the norms on fasting are obligatory from age 18 until age 59. When fasting, a person is permitted to eat one full meal. Two smaller meals may also be taken, but not to equal a full meal. The norms concerning abstinence from meat are binding upon members of the Latin Catholic Church from age 14 onwards.
If possible, the fast on Good Friday is continued until the Easter Vigil (on Holy Saturday night) as the "paschal fast" to honor the suffering and death of the Lord Jesus, and to prepare ourselves to share more fully and to celebrate more readily his Resurrection." USCCB website

Fasting in the East, Byzantine or Orthodox, will differ according to the sui juris churches, but here is what is usually suggested:
"Week before Lent ("Cheesefare Week"): Meat and other animal products are prohibited, but eggs and dairy products are permitted, even on Wednesday and Friday.

First Week of Lent: Only two full meals are eaten during the first five days, on Wednesday and Friday after the Presanctified Liturgy. Nothing is eaten from Monday morning until Wednesday evening, the longest time without food in the Church year. (Few laymen keep these rules in their fullness). For the Wednesday and Friday meals, as for all weekdays in Lent, meat and animal products, fish, dairy products, wine and oil are avoided. On Saturday of the first week, the usual rule for Lenten Saturdays begins (see below).

Weekdays in the Second through Sixth Weeks: The strict fasting rule is kept every day: avoidance of meat, meat products, fish, eggs, dairy, wine and oil.

Saturdays and Sundays in the Second through Sixth Weeks: Wine and oil are permitted; otherwise the strict fasting rule is kept.

Holy Week: The Thursday evening meal is ideally the last meal taken until Pascha. At this meal, wine and oil are permitted. The Fast of Great and Holy Friday is the strictest fast day of the year: even those who have not kept a strict Lenten fast are strongly urged not to eat on this day. After St. Basil's Liturgy on Holy Saturday, a little wine and fruit may be taken for sustenance. The fast is sometimes broken on Saturday night after Resurrection Matins, or, at the latest, after the Divine Liturgy on Pascha.

Wine and oil are permitted on several feast days if they fall on a weekday during Lent. Consult your parish calendar. On Annunciation and Palm Sunday, fish is also permitted." Abba Moses website....graphic below found at St Sophia's website- explore their great fasting/abstaining reflections
Smugness abounds, even when both East and West try not to be. The East looks at the West and scoffs- they call that a fast? The West looks at the East and smirks- really, they are either eating ribeyes in secret, they force their children to be schema-monks, or they are going to make themselves sick with all that soy.
I find myself in the middle. For fasting times, we are meatless except Sundays and vegan on Wednesdays and Fridays. It is easier to be Roman-rite where fasting is concerned. Excepting health reasons, the fast is clear. It is not that difficult, but everybody (with some exceptions) does it. Even McDonald's has fish sandwiches on sale on Fridays!
If you take a look at the Orthodox/Byzantine fasting guidelines (they don't call them requirements....everyone does what they can....which drives me crazy because people pretend to be all flexible but then they are scandalized when you eat fish in a Sunday in Great Lent), we cannot eat a fish sandwich even on Sundays! There is cheese, mayonnaise, no vegan items- and to top it all off- fish is not allowed except for Annunciation and Palm Sunday!
Theologians- explain this to me. We Easterners do not 'bury the alleluia' during Great Lent and we continue to stand during the consecration because 'every Sunday is a little Easter Sunday.' So why is fish not permitted on a 'little Easter Sunday?' I am growing in my fasting prowess, but I am not convinced that it is even proper to fast and abstain on any Sunday. Convince me.

24 comments:

  1. Psst! I've got a raffle going over at my blog for the right to pick my Lenten discipline!

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  2. Oh man and I popped over to your blog because I'm Latin-rite and wanted to do an Easter fast this Lent. If you don't know who would? Any links, Sister PW?
    -Jane

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    1. I like this site- http://www.stsophiaukrainian.cc/resources/fastingandabstainingfaq/

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  3. In the Eastern/Mediterranean understanding (so I've been told) eating fish is no different than eating any other meat, because fish is the staple of their diet. Fish is meat, so, when we give up meat, we give up fish.

    Our fast from fish/meat continues uninterruptedly (almost) for the whole great fast (partly) in order to commemorate the forty day fast of Jesus. Jesus did not cease fasting once a week and so neither do we. We do commemorate the resurrection by lessening the fast on those days (permitting wine and oil).

    Meatfare and Cheesefare Weeks are somewhat meaningless if we go right back to eating meat and cheese once a week. One idea of these weeks was to use up all the meat and dairy products in the home - which would be pointless if we were going to continue eating them.

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  4. Another thought: We traditionally fast every Sunday of the year, actually, until we receive the Eucharist. So, if some fasting is proper every Sunday, why would it be improper to increase the fasting on Sunday during the Great Fast?

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  5. I shared the blog with my RC friends, who all asked what the deal is with abstaining from olive oil. I have never participated in that part of things, so I have no answer.

    Thoughts?

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    1. I've heard different things- one that in the Middle east that it is (or was) considered a decadent food item

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  6. So my idea of returning to a strict Paleo plan for my Lent would not work if I were Eastern Rite. BTW, I look at your fast and am in awe. And I totally agree, the Roman fast is not difficult at all.

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    1. No. Legumes aren't eaten in Paleo/Primal diets. Strict Paleo/Primal is pretty much meat and non-starchy veg with some nuts and chocolate on rare occasions. Fat consumption really is the key to making them work. That becomes nearly impossible under a strict application of the Typikon.

      Deanna, what we do is go "ancestral" for the Lenten periods. What legumes, grains, and pulses we do eat are prepared 'traditionally", usually by overnight soaks. Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions is our guide here.

      We've got a bunch of health issues that render even going meatless for the whole of the Fast a really bad idea. So our domestic observance of the Fast blends the Latin norms, some elements of the Byzantine norms, and a healthy dose of common sense all submitted to the loving review of my spiritual director.

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  7. I'm Orthodox, and enjoy reading your blog. Despite our religious differences (which are somehow both small and yet vast) you and I have many things in common and I apreciate your perspective. I have commented positively before, and am sure I will do so again.

    That is a lead-up to a a little negativity on my part regarding your comment on Orthodox/Byzantine fasting guidelines: "they don't call them requirements....everyone does what they can....which drives me crazy because people pretend to be all flexible but then they are scandalized when you eat fish in a Sunday in Great Lent." This comment really offended me when I first read it. I have since read this post a few more times, and let several hours pass. My first, mean thought was "She's not Orthodox, where does she get off saying we're all judgy and scandalized about how others fast." After I read it again, of course, I realized that you're lumping Orthodox and Byzantine together in that comment, and I also realized that apparently you've been the victim of some very negative feedback about fasting. I'm so sorry you've had to endure that. However, it saddened me to see that what I consider to be a very great blessing about the way in which we approach fasting has been a source of upset to you. I also was still a little offended at what felt to me like a negative judgement about how we do things.

    However even though I'm taking exception to what you said, I want to let you know I love and support all my Christian sisters here, and hope that you have a holy and enlightening Lent, no matter how you observe it. As a Priest's wife all eyes are on you and no matter what you do you can't win. Don't let them get to you - I'm rooting for you!

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    1. Thanks Semele for your comment- I guess where I am at with fasting is this- I have some medical problems that don't really 'jive' with a full monastic-style fast- For example, my doctor recommends that I eat sardines every day to help the inflammation caused by my lupus. Most Eastern people will say- well- the full monastic fast is an ideal that we work towards...but also say that I am not really fasting if I am vegan on Wednesdays and Fridays and meatless the rest...sometimes the black/white of the Roman rites' rules (though easy) is attractive- because you do it or you don't. Also- I have some friends in mixed marriages- Orthodox and Roman rite and the vast difference in fasting causes a lot of stress....maybe juicing would be easier to keep track of....

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    2. I truly understand, My husband is diabetic, and it's almost impossible for him to follow the strict fast every day and keep his blood sugar stable and healthy. We end up fasting strictly only a few days a week in order to keep his sugars where they need to be. My priest growing up did a great job of communicating that fasting is never, never supposed to compromise your health, and some people need to "break the rules" in order to maintain their health.

      If someone says you're not really fasting, then shame on them. It's absolutely none of their business, and they're wrong to boot.

      A priest at church camp told me many years ago that life would be simpler and better if all of us focused primarily on what we each needed to do to ensure our own personal salvation. I often reflect on that at times like this. Does it advance my own salvation if I criticize my sister's fast? Nope. Better keep my mouth shut. :)

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  8. As a Latin-rite, unless you 'blow a trumpet' about it, who will really notice you're eating a fish as your main course or meatless meals on Fridays during Lent? Not to mention I've seen quite a few fast food places advertise fish sandwich specials during that time period.

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    1. It's always been impossible to keep it "secret" in the offices I've worked in for the last 15 years, first in corporate finance and now in IT. It isn't a question of "blowing a trumpet". You work in close proximity with either lapsed Catholics or non-Catholic coworkers and it comes up.

      Just the other day I was asked by a Jewish coworker what I was "giving up for Lent". They know I'm Catholic. They know Lent is coming up.

      And, while some places do fish during Lent, most BBQ joints don't nor do many Tex-Mex places. So, sometimes I'll demur on going to lunch with the group. Sometimes, like when my boss insists on taking the team out, I politely eat what I can and, if that includes meat and it happens to be Friday, I accept the offered food with gratitude and don't make an issue of it.

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  9. I don't think it's a matter of understanding why we fast on Sundays but accepting that is the Tradition.

    I don't think it's a matter of comparing the East to the West but rather comparing the Western traditions to the current practices in the West. The Western Church has lost so much by abandoning its traditional Fasting disciplines.

    I know many Orthodox are judgmental about the fasting practices in the RCC but it's hard not to get frustrated when you realize how little the average faithful Roman Catholic understands about fasting. Most don't even know that their own Church has a fasting tradition of its own. I see RCs online talking about giving up gluten for Lent or doing a Whole30 and I think that they don't understand fasting. It's not about challenging yourself by giving up bread. Or trying to eat better to improve your health.

    I realize this sounds judgmental and I'll confess that I do not keep the Fast as well as I should.

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  10. Is there a fasting guide for pregnant women? Either Roman or Byzantine. I would like to fast, but it's difficult while pregnant when I want to keep up my blood sugar and energy with other children in the house.

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    1. the comment from Pilgrim below has a great link that might help you- but in general- pregnant women should not fast in the traditional way- you might be inspired to fast from sugary things, etc- but restricting portions and protein sources probably is a bad idea!

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  11. Interesting & pertinent post...Fasting for Non-Monastics
    http://frsergei.wordpress.com/2013/12/27/fasting-for-non-monastics/
    (J. Giunta: Fr. Sergei addresses being pregnant & fasting in the post linked above.)

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  12. This doesn't jive with my experiences growing up Byzantine Catholic in Pennsylvania. Fasting was never discussed and fish was permitted throughout. It was pretty much Roman Catholic Lent started two days earlier, with no dairy on Good Friday or the first day of Lent, and no meat on Holy Saturday. Interesting to learn that other churches prescribe it to be much stricter.

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