Being that Orthodox Lent is approaching (and Catholic Lent season has already started), I find myself contemplating the subject of Easter fasting.
Last year (2015) marked the third time that I completed the Easter fasting for Lent. For Christians, Lent refers to the period of 40 days prior to Easter, during which you restrict yourself from various pleasures—be they dietary and/or lifestyle—with the intent of purifying yourself and turning to God as we recall the ordeal Jesus went through for us. I find that it can serve as both an intense and rewarding learning experience, provided you approach it with the right set of mind (and isn’t that true of everything in life! 😉 )
Doing the actual fasting usually means not having any meat or dairy for that time period, which basically leaves you vegan. With that said, if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years it’s that the various church specifics of Christian fasting can vary. For instance, the Catholic fasting may differ from the Orthodox fasting… and even the Orthodox churches themselves (Greek, Russian, etc.) may each do things their own way! For example, some allow fish 1-2 times during the Lent period; others say it’s ideal to do a total fast (aka no eating at all) on Good Friday, and maybe have some fruits and wine on Saturday… and so on, and so forth. So if things seem confusing—and inconsistent—on that front, it’s because they are!
In terms of Bible specifics, there’s no place that strictly says we should fast for Easter. However it seems that our 40-day tradition is likely based on Jesus’s 40 days of temptation in the desert. So to me, if that’s what I’d base my fasting on, it would make sense that it would be 40 days… right! However, for some reason(s?), the Orthodox church has their fasting period lasting 7 weeks… which equals 49 days. Why?! I’d love to know why that is, because in addition to being confusing, it’s almost like it has undertones of trying to ‘outdo God,’ which sadly rings oh-so typical of our prideful human ways.
With that said, the Bible often mentions fasting as a way to do penance, but what with the other sayings of Jesus that have come down to us, I’d think it would’ve been made more obvious that we’re expected to fast for Easter. While reflecting on the gruesome ordeal leading to Jesus’ crucifixion is likely enough to get many of us in a somber, repentant mood, it still doesn’t make it a requirement, nor is fasting automatic proof that you’re ‘better,’ ‘more devoted’, etc. than someone who doesn’t (and again, true of many things in life in general).
Granted, a passage in Luke (if not other places) could be interpreted that way:
And Jesus said to them, “You cannot make the attendants of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them, can you? 35″But the days will come; and when the bridegroom is taken away from them, then they will fast in those days.” – Luke 5:35
However, this passage seems specific to the time when Jesus was physically on earth, and at which point the disciples (and all other followers) would mourn His physical death—which was also prior to His resurrection. But I cannot view this passage as relating to us in the exact same way today, for the resurrection made His work complete, and crowned His victory.
Moreover, to say that this passage should be taken literally today might be like saying that Jesus is sometimes with us, and sometimes not, which (aside from me personally disagreeing with it) would contradict the passage of the *resurrected* Jesus saying, “I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20). It’s important to note that this was said after His resurrection, which seals the promise. In short, it’s perhaps best (at least for our human understanding) to make a promise about something after you’ve actually conquered it, as opposed to before.
On a similar note, what has remained in the Bible is the Last Supper and Jesus’s reminder to us to break bread in remembrance of Him (Luke 22:19, among others).
Naturally, that’s not to say that fasting doesn’t serve its purpose; it’s just a reminder that the Bible doesn’t specifically reference fasting for Easter.
As for my fasting itself, it has generally been similar across the board: mostly vegan for the duration (occasionally having fish on a few days that it’s allowed). The first time I was in Jerusalem and despite my aunt generously doing the great, creative cooking, I still found it hard—probably because it was the first time, and as a chocolate lover, giving it up was hard!
Although it does get easier with time, after a second and third time of doing the fasting myself, I’ve come to the conclusion that fasting is never really as easy as I wish it was… and an exercise in personal will to say the least.
My fasting is dairy and meat-free, and (generally) free of sweets, even those that are allowed—like halweh and dairy-free cookies—because I have a sweet tooth, and indulging in that during this time of reflection would defeat the purpose. As a chocolate lover (addict?!), I—shockingly!—came to realize that I often have some every day, so that’s definitely something I automatically give up… and though not easy, it can be done!
In the midst of the rollercoaster ride, I’ve come to notice some things; the first being that we truly are creatures of habit. I’ll fuss at the thought of all the things I can’t have for that time period, even though I can obviously go back to it after it ends. But just the thought that it feels so far away can be enough to trigger selfish resistance.
The first week, perhaps unsurprisingly, is the worst. I so much want to go back to my routine—the chocolate, the late night snack, the random cookie(s)—that I almost think I won’t be able to make it through. I feel myself hungrier for trying to compensate for the lack of sweet things, and may eat more than I normally do.
But then soon enough, somewhere in the middle of the second week, it slows down. I actually start to be somewhat indifferent about food; like I’m not as fussy about what to eat. I get to the point where I just want to eat something to fill my hunger, which has significantly decreased since the start of the fast. This may be the point where I eat less, and actually feel a kind of ‘full’ I find ironic seeing as I’m really not eating much… or maybe I am, but I’m drastically limited in what I can eat. (Which begs the question: are the endless options that we have access to sometimes obstacles rather than advantages?!)
As such, given the limitations, I’m definitely ‘forced’ to pay attention to what I eat, which in many ways is healthier for me. I would say that’s the time period I may pick up new foods I wouldn’t usually think about—such as goodies like flax milk and some (surprisingly) tasty tofu sausages—and remember how amazing and eclectic of a snack popcorn can be (and how subconsciously I still connect it with being something you eat strictly when you go to the movies—how wrong of me!)
^That could certainly be a side effect!
The third, fourth, and fifth weeks feel smoother, in that I’m used to the routine. However it also prompts me to make sure that food is mass prepared that way I can have some for the days ahead. I’m not sure if that’s how I usually am or if it’s heightened during this period, but it’s interesting how I can go for hours without eating… but then when the hunger kicks in, I need food RIGHT AWAY! Like NOW! So that’s clearly where having ready-made food comes in handy to appease the ravenous beast J Interestingly enough though, I think even less of food than I normally would, and I come to feel that I’m not as limited in choices compared to what I’d thought at the start. Lo; a breakthrough! 😀
The fifth and sixth weeks entail more ups and downs… But I’m also feeling proud at having gone halfway through. It might be a time where I keep myself extra busy to make time go faster.
And finally, the seventh week is a lot like the first, where you’re just ready for it to be OVER ALREADY! Oh, and you might never EVER want to see hummus again:
And then, at last, it’s OVER! And yet… the irony… because it’s like I’ve freed myself from all these cravings and I’m almost like ‘meh’ about food now! Yes; it’s a tough and yet important reminder of how much of it is in your head. And that’s a lesson well worth it!
So what’s the takeaway?
Perhaps one of the best things about fasting is that it gets me thinking about appreciating what I have, while also developing some healthier eating habits to keep applying in my diet henceforth. I know it can feel silly to crave something like chocolate when put next to thoughts of what Jesus did for us, as well as what others around the world are going through. This then immediately brings to mind the passage of Jesus stating, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4)
Also, as the weather changes and spring emerges, it’s another opportunity for inner reflection on the kind of person you are and who you want to be, allowing you to discard what no longer suits you, and emerge ‘renewed’ onto your path. As such, this time of contemplation—which is highly valuable to incorporate in our daily lives in general—is definitely humbling, as well as an exercise in spiritual and physical strengthening.
Therefore, while fasting may not be something I chose to do every year, I find it a worthy experience with much to gain from.
In the end, I think what matters most is how we approach something and how we chose to use it and reflect it in our lives, regardless of the potentially confusing and/or contradicting institutionalized traditions. For myself, I’ve decided that fasting is a time of reflection and during which I deny myself certain things I may enjoy frequently, or even on a daily basis… without being too judgmental or meaning that in an extremely negative way. If anything, it’s to remind me of the great things in life that can easily be taken for granted and, while some of my childhood memories lean on the darker side, it helps strengthen my resolve while leaving me in awe at the constant wonders around us.
And what more do I need than that! ❤ +