In most of western Christianity, Lent - which means fasting from "some-thing" - is coming to an end. In some Christian groups, the individual chooses that "thing" more than having it proscribed by the Church. In the Roman Catholic church, there are a few more "rules" that most people seem to follow - I can't say what those rules are, I've never been Catholic, but it seems to be a little more than the pick-your-own variety.
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In the Orthodox church, we have only just started Great Lent and its fast yet, but the overlap of the western Lent and that practiced in the Eastern Orthodox church has brought up discussion about the differences between the two. One particular point that has been commented on is the point of fasting from meat.
A Bit of Information
In the Orthodox church, many people in other countries not only give up meat, but also olive oil, dairy, etc. In short: the bulk of the Christian Orthodox world follow a very strict vegan diet during the two major fasting seasons (Lent and the Nativity Fast, just prior to Christmas.) On top of that, I was told by an Ethiopian friend that many of the Orthodox in Ethiopia also don't eat but a small meal once a day during the fasting periods.
I am in awe of their ability to sustain.
So What's the Deal with Meat and Oils, Anyway?
When I heard this question asked by a Weslyan friend, I knew it was a good one to take to the "Spiritual Inquiries" section of our Parish Council meetings at church. And here is the answer:
Back when Christianity was first getting its start, fasting was recognized even then as a necessary part of our spiritual existence. The purpose of fasting is to give us time to devote more prayer and attention to spiritual strengthening and to help us become closer to God. At that time, the option of hitting the nearest grocery store for your olive oil, meats, and cheeses was out, of course, and those items are extremely time consuming to make by hand.
More time spent on pressing and cooking the olives to make the oil =
less time to spend in prayer and contemplation of God.
Meat was a similar problem - you had to slaughter the cow/sheep/chicken, skin it, clean it, cook it over a fire (made by hand), etc. Clearly dinner time gave a whole new meaning to our definition of the word "work." Fasting from these items made for far more time to focus on prayer and spiritual life.
As Orthodox Christians, many of us fast from additional things that our modern-day lives have added to the mix of "distractors", but we also continue the tradition of fasting from meats and dairy (and for some people olive oils as well) in our pursuit of a life that brings us ever closer to God. And that is nothing but a good thing!
For ideas on what is good (and good tasting) to eat during Lent, search out recipes on my blog in the search bar to the right (I highly recommend burst tomatoes and couscous!) or keep coming back for more.
What are your favorite no-meat recipes?