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Fasting and Vegan Food - Mark Fletcher - 21-02-2007 08:53 PM

Those contemplating regularly eating vegan food as part of a fasting programme (as outlined in Our Daily Life) may have felt at some stage like losing the will to live. However, things are not all that grim if you persevere and shop around.

I am glad to have found that not all vegan products in my local health food shop are expensive, tasteless, bland, joyless affairs (though many of them are - vegan 'cheese' is vile, for example). Soya milk is quite nice, especially if it's sweetened. 'Dove's Farm' brand organic corn flakes and other products are surprisingly nice.

Think twice before becoming vegan though, should you feel very enthusiastic. I have tried to several times in the past, but have felt ill after a few months on each occasion and gave up. Unless you can afford good quality multi-chelated vitamin supplements and can be very "choosy" about diet, then perhaps it's a bad decision. Don't necessarily believe all the claims made by vegan propagandists in my opinion.

There are very good ethical reasons for becoming vegan, and I'm not in any way 'knocking it'. However, I do think that the Vegan Society is not worth joining for a variety of reasons, the most important of which is that it has some members who will do rather bizarre things in the name of 'Animal Liberation', however 'normal' they may appear. At the moment, I do eat meat regularly. I am shocked and saddened by the way animals are treated in so many different contexts. I should really stop eating it altogether, I suppose. Sadly, the smell and taste of sizzling sausages always makes my mouth water. Kyrie eleison and happy fasting.


Fasting - John Charmley - 21-02-2007 09:49 PM

Dear Mark,

I fear that I am going slow but not altogether sure, hoping and praying that I am getting the spirit of this fast right, if not the letter.

My wife is fond of vegetarian food in any case, but it seems to me that it is more important that I make sacrifices than that I stick to something at which, at this stage of my development, I will fail. So, I have given up biscuits, chocolate, alcohol and red meat completely. This hurts, much more than giving up dairy produce (of which, apart from a little milk, I partake of sparingly in any event), and in that sense reminds me that I am making a real sacrifice!

Equally, I find it, at this stage, impractical to abstain from all food until the evening, so I confine myself to the lightest of lunches; this prevents me keeling over - and stops any sense of spiritual pride developing, because I know that if I were more advanced than I am, I would be able to manage this; it is something towards which I aim.

I hope, as Lent goes on, to get closer towards what I should be doing, but no red meat, chocolate or alcohol are real sacrifices, which I offer gladly as an earnest for those I would like to make but am too weak, at this point, to make.

Not good, I guess, but trying! (And praying).


In Christ,

John


True Fasting - Fr Gregory - 22-02-2007 03:29 AM

Fasting is less about food than it is a state of mind. I have been to Coptic gatherings at which the most amazing and exotic ?meat? and ?fish? dishes have been served, followed by extravagant ?cream? cakes?.all strictly vegan, of course, but absolutely not fasting food. Those who give up, say, meat and dairy products (which they find easy) but keep on enjoying other things (which they would find harder to give up) are not really fasting. A little fasting which is done in the right spirit, mindfully and intentionally, is far better than ostentatious ?weeping, wailing and ashes? fasting. The latter suggests spiritual pride rather than asceticism. Fainting from hunger to demonstrate ?spirituality? likewise does not suggest true fasting.

All spiritual disciplines have to be applied in the spirit of true Christian asceticism: they are means, not ends. If I obey the rules of fasting with a rigor and strictness, but lack charity or forgiveness to others, I may as well be eating roast beef and sherry trifle.

Spiritual discipline must also be applied with economy (in the Orthodox sense) and should be subject to the guidance of a Spiritual Father (the more appropriate Orthodox concept than Confessor).

The concept of Economy (Gk: oikonomia) is in contrast to that of the strict application (Gk: akribeia) of the law. It does not allow for the law to be ignored or set aside simply because it is generally or in an individual case inconvenient (for example, ?I prefer to have breakfast before the Liturgy?). Nor can the most important laws be abandoned (for example, a man cannot, even by economy, have two wives simultaneously!).

Economy recognizes that the purpose of the law is essentially spiritual, and intended to guide towards the spiritual life rather than, by threats of punishment, to compel conformity (at least in appearance). This purpose is perhaps summarized in the words of the Prophet Isaiah:

?A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax [more accurately, ?a dimly burning wick?] shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth? (Isaiah 42.3)

which are quoted by the Evangelist Matthew:

?A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he send forth judgment unto victory? (Matthew 12.20).

The law, and the care of the Church, should bind up the reed so that it can be renewed and grow to its full capacity; it should be to breathe life into the smoking flax (or renew and add oil to the dimly burning wick) so that its flame can burn bright.

All of us are, in various and different ways, bruised reeds and dimly burning wicks. The heavy-handed application of the law can break and extinguish us. A gentle application of the law, used as a guide administered in love, and taking into account the specific needs of the individual?s spiritual life, can give life and light.

We too must accept our own individual ?bruisedness? and ?lack of oil?. We are not called to be lazy and indifferent in the discipline of our own spiritual lives, but we are called to be gentle, realistic and loving. Yes, we have to love ourselves! Remember the commandment to love your neighbour as yourself? If I do not love ? that is, show care, compassion and concern to ? myself, how can I love my neighbour.

Better, therefore, to give up a little with humility as an act of love than to put on sackcloth and ashes and live on stale bread and water!

On vegan and vegetarian food generally: a well-balanced and nutritious vegan or vegetarian diet usually takes more effort and knowledge to establish because most of us have been brought up on a meat diet. Simply eliminating meat or fish can lead to nutritional problems. Good vegan and vegetarian diets are as healthy, and probably more healthy, than the alternative, but they require a good basic knowledge of food to ensure adequate protein is consumed, and to provide appropriate sources of vitamins (e.g. B12) that are often lacking in a non-meat diet. There are some excellent basic vegan and vegetarian cookbooks available that provide good nutritional information. I am essentially a vegetarian ? by which I mean, I do not normally eat meat, fish or poultry. The exception being that, if I am offered food and to reject it would cause offence, embarrassment or real inconvenience to my host, I will eat it without comment. I suppose for me, taking up meat would be the equivalent of a vegan fast!

Fr Gregory


Fasting - John Charmley - 22-02-2007 06:55 AM

Dear Fr. Gregory,

Many thanks for your helpful words. I am glad to be reassured that fasting in the right spirit is what we ought to be doing. Certainly every time I am tempted to lapse into my normal routine and do not, I get a kind of jolt, and the effort required to stick with what I am doing certainly seems to require a new spirit of discipline.

My aim is that as I get used to what I am doing and it becomes less of a discipline, I should try to become a little more strict by giving up something else; but, as I read recently, trying to imitate monastics and others with long experience of ascetic practice is a form of foolishness for those less used to these things - rather like trying to run a marathon when running for the bus is your usual daily routine.

In Christ,

John


fasting and vegan food - kirk yacoub - 22-03-2007 09:49 AM

The great Syriac Orthodox scholar and theologian Bar 'Ebroyo (Bar Hebraeus) wrote that:
"Fasts are held in homage to Christ, to the Mother of God, to the Apostles; they are a form of thanksgiving and a petition for blessings
and grace..."

It is in this spirit that we should approach Lent. Too much discussion regarding vegetarian or vegan diets brings with it the danger of forgetting that abstention from all meat and dairy products is not an end in itself, but rather a physical means towards a spiritual end.
Lent is an inner struggle, the objectives of which are the weakening of fleshly lusts, the training of the will to overcome the nagging demands of whims, giving the spirit the opportunity to overcome mundane desires so that, cleansed, the spirit can conquer the flesh. Self-observation during Lent reveals to us the depths of our usual self-indulgence,as well as how little we really need to eat in order to live an active life.
The struggle is not an easy one. The stomach grumbles, relentless advertising tempts us. Our thoughts dwell on food. If we crave vegetarian
or vegan substitutes this means that we are really craving the original.
Persistent self-observation will show us that frequently we are "hungry" for no other reason than to fill a gap, though not a gap in our stomachs, but a gap in our lives. A similar role is played by the desire for "better" cars and gadgets, by the thoughtless viewing of television, by the purchase of a glossy magazine which we flick through and toss aside a few minutes later.
Lent strives to enable us to replace the ephemeral and ultimately unsatisfying worldly objects with which we fail to fill this gap in our lives,
with the eternal, fulfilling and spiritual practices of prayer, meditation and good works.
Life in the Church during Lent does not concentrate itself on admonitions against gluttony and the advocacy of various diets. In the Syriac orthodox Church, alongside fasting (hopefully practised in the undemonstrative spirit
commanded by Christ), the Lenten Gospel readings are the same every year, concentrating our hearts on the inner meaning of five of Christ's miracles and the parable of the Good Samaritan; evening prayers are focused around repentance and God's infinite mercy.
Therefore, during Lent, we should not think about food except to give thanks to God for the bread, fruit and vegetables that we eat. Those unpalatable truths we learn about ourselves should act as a spur to strive
to deepen our relationship with God.
This is because the road of Lent does not end with a sigh of relief and a return to bad old habits. Lent ends with Holy Week, the commemoration and celebration of the saving Passion and glorious Resurrection of our
Lord and our God Jesus Christ.
Kirk Yacoub


Fasting - John Charmley - 22-03-2007 10:06 AM

Dear Kirk,

Many thanks for sharing these reflections with us; they direct our thoughts where they truly need to be.

It is a good reminder of St. Isaac's words:
Quote:It is a hard thing to be a slave serving the body

What you say about the purpose for which we fast is so helpful. It is, after all, a part of our spiritual training, and, to quote again from St. Isaac:
Quote:A little endurance in the face of small matters will hold back danger when serious ones come; for it is not possible to overcome great evils without a small victory over trifling matters.

That fasting should be, for so many of us, no small matter, is itself a sign of how much we need His help and that of His Church.

Again, thank you for such an interesting post.

In Christ,

John


Thanks - Mark Fletcher - 22-03-2007 11:34 AM

Thanks for such a moving and illuminating posting, Kirk. I am light years away from anything resembling the demonstration of your level of understanding of Orthodoxy and fasting. It certainly gives me something to aim for. I would be interested to read many more of your postings (should you feel moved to make them) as they have an authenticity and potency about them which is really rather refreshing. Thanks again.