Asked to comment on recent press reports that unlabelled halal meat is on sale in British supermarkets, Abba Seraphim observed:
“When the Holy Apostles met together at the Council of Jerusalem in AD 50 to deliberate on whether the Mosaic law’s requirement of circumcision and other dietary regulations should be required of the Christian Church, they concluded with the ruling, “For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; that ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if you keep yourselves, ye shall do well” (Acts XV: 28-29).
Orthodox Christians still observe feasts and fasts of the church and abstain from certain forms of food and drink both out of reverence and as a spiritual discipline. Now that we live in a multi-cultural society some of the issues addressed by the Council of Jerusalem have become more relevant to us than they would have been a generation ago. Other faiths still regard what they eat and drink as important and in many cases their rites have a deep religious significance. Hindus and Sikhs, when celebrating their feast of Diwali, as part of their devotions offer delicacies and sweets to their gods. These are afterwards shared with friends and neighbours as a fraternal gesture but should be politely declined by Christians, without causing offence, because they come within the apostolic prohibition.
Both Jews and Muslims respect the prohibition against eating foods offered to idols and have strict rules of kosher and halal to regulate this. Some strict Judaic schools teach that as the Talmud views all non-Jews as idolaters any food which has been cooked or prepared completely by non-Jews is prohibited, although rabbis or other religious officials do not “bless” food to make it kosher. However, in Islam dhabiha or the ritual of slaughtering, requires that Allah’s name should be pronounced before each slaughter. For Christians to eat food blessed in any name other than the ‘Father, Son and Holy Spirit, One God’, would be unacceptable and it might even be construed that by passive acceptance the recipient has in some measure consented to the kalima, or Islamic declaration of faith.
Recent press reports that leading British supermarkets have been selling halal meat without any labelling to indicate this, give cause for concern. That other faith communities should wish to prepare their food in a manner appropriate to their own religious and dietary requirements is something we must respect, but equally the failure to make this clear to the public by clear labelling demonstrates a lack of respect for Christian sensibilities and is to be deplored. The British Orthodox Church has already been in touch with some of the leading supermarkets to express our concern and I would encourage individual Christians to make appropriate representations themselves.”