Monday, February 11, 2013

Byzantine Catholic Fasting isn't Orthodox enough- or- Should I stir in the almond oil?

Today is the first day of the Great Fast for Byzantine Catholics and Orthodox using the Gregorian calendar. 
The Mandatory Fast for Ruthenian Byzantine Catholics during the Great Fast (Lent) (Your jurisdiction might be different, consult your priest or bishop): 
---Strict Fast (no meat, dairy) on Pure Monday (today, Monday before Roman-rite Ash Wednesday) and on Great and Holy Friday
---Simple Fast (no meat) on all Wednesdays and Fridays of the Great Fast and Holy Saturday before Easter Sunday
For Those Wishing to Follow the Ancient Fasting Regimen
---No Meat from Sunday of Meatfare (2 Sundays before Lent begins) till Easter Sunday
---No Dairy or Eggs from Sunday of Cheesefare (Sunday before Lent begins) until Easter Sunday
--- No fish, oil, wine with exceptions- click on the OCA website for exceptions
Of course, there are medical and age exceptions. Consult a faithful priest
In my last post 'Lent is all about food,' someone questioned why the Byzantine Catholic fast is so un-Orthodox- because even if our authority comes ultimately from Rome making us Catholic, the Byzantine spirituality is Eastern which makes us Orthodox. If you read above, the requirements for our Lent are not so strict. Why is it not more in line with traditional fasting? I have some ideas. 

1. The various Byzantine Catholic jurisdictions want to have more control over the fast. When the fast is a traditional 'black' fast, there are still many people who will need dispensations from parts of it for various reasons. Perhaps the bishops want to keep the fast more consistent with the believers and reduce the parish priests' 'power' to give dispensations. 

Can a priest give dispensation to eat meat on a day of fasting or abstinence? Not just any priest, but your own parish priest has the jurisdiction to dispense you. Dispensations should not be refused the faithful, except in grave necessity. The point of a dispensation is the self-denial of the will that a Christian must practice by approaching their spiritual father.

2. When the traditional fasting is performed, there might be nothing more that a typical lay person can do to commemorate the season. With the fasting restrictions along with dietary concerns and young people in the family, it would be quite difficult for the typical housewife to supplement her fast with a personal sacrifice not in the official fasting guidelines. The relatively easy fasting guidelines make it possible to add something personal to the fast.

Should we limit our self-denial to obligatory fast days? Although the Church has greatly relaxed the obligation to fast and abstain, Christians should do so of their own free will, when and if they are able. More important than food, we need to control our other desires through other types of self-denial. Abstaining from sin is the goal of physical self-denial. In addition, read Fr Kurt Burnett's take on some Lenten questions.

3. The fasting guidelines of the various Byzantine Catholic churches are, as usual, between the requirements of the Roman-rite and the Orthodox churches. Maybe we are called to be the thorn in the side of both...

4. My husband thinks I am really silly about this one....I think the relaxed official requirements help with possible problems of scrupulosity. It is probably just me, but if I were obligated to refrain from oil during the Great Fast, I would wonder- 'should I stir in all that oil in my almond butter or drain it? What's the difference between some olive oil on my vegan salad and the almond oil?' So, while I would be obedient to my church in terms of guidelines, I am glad that I am free to eat any vegetable product I want. And as for scrupulosity, we all need holy spiritual fathers and mothers to help us through that. 
Click on the 'Lent' and 'fasting' labels below for more posts on this subject
Go to In Union With Rome for lots of links


  1. Sooooo, where do you fall? In between Mandatory and Ancient? :)

    1. between! (of course) no meat for us in Lent except maybe Sunday and vegan on Wednesday and Friday- this works for us- a sacrifice but it is fine for our health

    2. I figured it was between, since I've heard you refer to eggs and fish, but wasn't sure. I was trying to get Chris to go meatless, or maybe meatless one extra day, but with all of his dietary restrictions, he feels as if he has given up a lot already. I think a lot of our fasting/restricting is easier these days, given how we can get seafood flown in overnight and still very fresh, or finances can allow nice fish or veggie burgers... Using the "we" as society, not me or you, personally. With so much abundance in America, and in most of our homes, I almost feel fake, having shrimp on a Weds or Fri. Is that true sacrifice? Not really, if you think about it, or would have had that shrimp any other night in non-Lenten time.

      Catholic guilt never ends!!! :)

  2. Before we go to town on ourselves, we should remember that most of the Orthodox are often not THAT observant, and it is a rare person who observes the whole of Lent strictly. That said, the demands on the religious and the clergy are very high...

    My greatest fear about the fast is to become pharisaical about it. Char-grilled baby octopus, served with garlic and lemon juice meets the requirements of the fast, but really is it fasting? One of the dangers of fasting is that food ends up taking a much more important place than before, and can become a preoccupation: this can lead to a loss of focus about the season.

    I suspect one of the purposes of traditional fast was to take away the importance of food and food preparation, requiring us to eat more simply in order to focus on more important things. Thus, squabbling about which set of fasting rules is better/more traditional/harder/&c. is a little distracting.

    1. yes bear- even with my middle-of-the-road style fasting, I think about variety. In the old days, there certainly wouldn't be a hundred different vegetables to choose from!

    2. Agree with Bear. As we were making our meal plan for this week, we were overly cautious not to have something for dinner on Tuesday (today), with leftovers, if they couldn't wait until Thursday to be eaten. Because my birthday has always fallen during Lent, what I'd like to eat or where to go out to eat has to be thought about carefully, or the celebration needs to be postponed until a better day. Fortunately my birthday will never be Pure Monday or Good Friday! Maybe in modern times, with so much variety and convenience, the penitential duty is to be a good steward with our food? Not to be wasteful or over the top with it? Yes, this should be aimed for all of the time, but perhaps, even special attention during our Great Fast?

      So, we are having venison chili tonight. Leftovers will be fine until Thursday, and if there's anything left after that, I'll freeze it into small containers for lunches next week and beyond. I do think it would be easier to be super restrictful, say, only eat rice and beans during Lent. No thought, fairly simple preparation...

  3. I'm liking the commentary. This being my first Eastern lent, I'm doing what I can to keep the spirit of the fast, while attempting to relish in a resourcefulness of where to find alternative means of nourishment; and not too much on substitute foods, in place of the abstained. I'm hugging sweet potatoes, rice, avocados, bananas, et al very closely. I think it's a matter of attitude, personally. It's easy to come away with dread, though, when thinking about abstinence. But, as my friend reminds me: fasting guidelines are rudders, and not clamps; and one should consult a father confessor, or spiritual father.

  4. Not pertinent to your latest (and good) column, but pray for our Holy Father and the receptivity (of the Holy Spirit) of the College of Cardinals when they have their conclave/election. God bless Pope Benedict !!

    1. well- I think now we know what to pray for while we are fasting and abstaining!

  5. Thank you for this informative post. My husband and I were having a discussion this morning about the difference between Latin and Eastern rite Lent practice, and the whys of no oil, eggs, etc. My random question is, how is Lent counted as 40 days if Lent starts on a Monday?

  6. Thanks for this informative post. My husband and I had an interesting discussion about this earlier today, esp. the whys of no oil, no eggs, etc. My question is how is Byzantine Lent counted as 40 days when it starts on "Pure Monday"? Are there days you don't count during Lent, other than the Sundays?

  7. Have you read, Fr. Alexander Schmemann's For the Life of the World?...He starts out by saying you are what you eat. For man, the only food we can eat that will give us life is the Eucharist. So in a sense, Great Fast is all about food--the Living food. Over the years (especially having been pregnant and nursing through many fasts), I have developed a method for the fast: "If it's a luxury, try to fast from it in any way you can. If it's a vice, make a total fast and do not revisit it after the fast." Granted the above stated is that very few make a complete fast. But, it's a great thing to strive for. The the journey of the fast is a beautiful gift to us.

    1. I like your fasting method!

      I haven't read that book- I'll try to find it


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