Friday, February 02, 2007

A Return to Paradise: Vegetarian Fasts During Orthodox Lent

My friend Deborah Todus-White is an Orthodox Christian and she was recently telling me about the tradition of vegan fasts during Great Lent, which begins this Sunday (February 4, 2007). I was so captivated that I asked her to help us all learn more about this ancient foodway.

I am, by birth, a Romanian Gypsy Byzantine Catholic who is beginning her annual journey of Great Lent. Most of this journey will be about my spiritual “turning around” to face the Divine... and food!

My spiritual tradition embraces many fasts, but this one is the longest and it travels a vegan path known as "Abstinence." During this journey I will be challenged to remember my story as a Romanian Gypsy Byzantine Christian. In our story, from our very beginning, from the time of the creation of our parents in Paradise, Adam and Eve, to the time after the great flood, people ate only fruits, grains and vegetables -- the food of Paradise, the Peaceable Kingdom! My hunger for meat and other rich foods is a constant physical reminder of the enmity that exists in creation and God’s call for me to care for all creation, to come home... The Paradise Diet Plan!

Great Lent will challenge me to see these hungers for what they are, to willingly set them aside in order to restore peace on earth and peace within myself. It takes me to my first of many path markers: the cave in Bethlehem where the earth, the stars of heaven, the angels and the gentile beasts of the field all played a role in receiving the Prince of Peace. I stop for a moment to kneel on this still dark night, to listen as the angels proclaim His message to all present, “Peace on Earth and Goodwill to Men."
Journeys in my faith never follow straight paths but rather spirals within the circle of creation. Maps and markers are critical on circular journeys. Fasting will make my spiritual eyes and ears sharper so that I won’t miss any turns... I hate having to stop and ask for directions!

So, I begin at Triodion, the time of preparation. My first “step” is to “sit” down. I pick up my Chotki, my prayer beads, to seek spiritual guidance, wisdom and strength. They will be my constant companion on this journey. Here is where I realize how far I have wandered from home in only one year. This starts the great inner debate of what to pack... what will I wear... how long is the trip... is chocolate really an issue?!

The next week is the Sunday of the Prodigal Son. I abstain on Wednesday and Friday. Today’s Liturgy reminds me how joyful the father was when the prodigal son returned home and of the feast that awaited his return. The vision of the dessert tables will keep me on this journey!

The next Sunday is Meatfare Sunday. We say goodbye to meat and alcohol until the Pascha/Easter feast. Now, you have never eaten with my ethnic family so let me tell you about this day... well let’s just say it is the first day of many “are we there yet(s)?!”

The next Sunday is Forgiveness Sunday or Cheesefare Sunday. This is the day I say goodbye to dairy products and olive oil, the last yummy tongue coating pleasures. It is also the day that I must stand before every member of my Byzantine Church Community, Priest included, to take their hands in mine, look them in the eye and ask their forgiveness for any hurt I have caused them since last year. This tells me that I must leave all enmity behind in order to Return to Paradise. Note to self: always pack tissue on Triodion for there isn’t a dry eye at the end of this... I always forget!

My journey now becomes one of joyful return, like that of the Prodigal Son not one of “giving up or loss”!

-- Deborah Todus-White lives with her husband, three teenagers and a host of pets on James Island, South Carolina.

1 comment:

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