While most American Christians are celebrating Easter, we Eastern Orthodox believers will just be getting into our Lenten rhythms. Please, brothers and sisters, be kind; as you feast on ham, we are struggling through a strict vegan diet. Orthodox Lenten fasting is hardcore.
Hardcore, and hard – but it’s a good kind of hard, and not only because you inevitably reach the end of the fast feeling physically better. The Orthodox fast makes you realize how much of a slave you are to bodily passions, and the effect that has on one’s spiritual and moral awareness.
It compels a mindfulness about eating that escapes many of us in the everyday. Lent always reminds me how impulsively (and therefore unhealthily) I eat, and how rarely I deny my appetite for food or anything else.
The Orthodox fast makes you realize how much of a slave to the bodily passions you are.
More importantly, it makes me conscious of my privilege. During Lent, I grinch because I can’t have a hamburger. Then I think about how most of the world survives on much less than I have. Lent always makes plain the distance between what one wants and what one needs -- and not only when it comes to food. This is why Orthodoxy also insists on Lenten almsgiving.
Many Christians forget that Lenten fasting is not about pious dieting. Without charity and change of heart, fasting is in vain. After all, say the Orthodox fathers, even the demons do without food.
Done in the right spirit, Lent is a powerful means to heal damage inflicted by daily life in our wealthy, narcissistic, anti-ascetical culture. Orthodox fasting in particular is an exhausting discipline, but it is a merciful yoke. By the time you reach its Paschal end – O tofu, where is thy sting? – you wonder how such a burden could have left you feeling so strangely light.