Lent Fasting - Easter stories part 2

 If you’d be in Romania now, or in any other Orthodox country, and the restaurants would all just be open (no covid-19 making a mess) you would find yourself in vegan paradise. Especially in a country like Romania, where eating meat is almost a religion in itself, the Easter Lent period is a special time. The Great Lent, as the 40 days before Easter are called, means that you eat no meat, no dairy, no animal product what so ever. All food should traditionally be vegan.

I have never done this fasting myself, nor did my parents, but my grandparents did. They came from a generation where religion and religious practice was much more a part of everyday life. Never the full 40 days, though, but I remember how my grandfather was seriously fasting the week between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday. On the Wednesday and Friday of that week he would do even a black fasting day, which meant not eating anything at all for 24 hours. He always says that this made him feel stronger. As a child I always thought that was weird. But now, I cannot help but wonder if he was right.  Fasting as a diet is very popular these days and doctors are positive about the advantages of having larger periods of time of not eating.

Fasting in Orthodoxy has never been about diet, punishment or deprivation, though. The Great Lent should be about getting into the spirit of Easter. The whole idea of food and cooking should be different. Quick dishes that require little preparation, like salads, nuts and breads should make more space for prayer, worship and almsgiving.  It is both a physical and spiritual preparation.

The idea of fasting comes from Judaism and was later adopted by Christianity and Islam. If you look further, you will see that there are other “theories” behind the need for fasting. In each and every culture around the globe you will find fasting rituals in many different ways and shapes. Many of those rituals are adapted to the geographics of those cultures. In Romania, a country where the winters are cold and harsh and one gets very little physical exercise because if it, having a period of cleanse after eating lots of conserved food and meat, sounds like a pretty heathy thing to do.

The spiritual cleanse that comes along with fasting is something that is appealing to me. Taking time to pray or meditate, to worship God, Nature or Earth, and thinking about what you can do for others, can never be a bad thing, right? It should even be something we do every day, but being humans, having rituals helps us reconnect and focus.

In Orthodox countries like Romania, quite some people are at least trying to fast during Lent. Older people the most, but more and more younger ones are trying to embrace this tradition. On their tables there will be many fresh salads, vegetables stews, bread and pastas. These days you can also find soymilk, oat milk and tofu on the menu. But I really like the old-fashioned Romanian fasting dishes, with the fresh herbs and tasty vegetables. I like to eat vegan on a regular basis and I love visiting Romania for Easter to get a few days of vegan menus in the restaurants. Because usually those menus disappear after Lent.

This year, because of the covid situation, I cannot go. Also, because between Catholic/Protestant and Orthodox Easter is such a long gap, I would like to try to get into the Easter spirit by fasting for the very first time. Just like my grandfather used to do. The week before Easter.  I am not sure that I will do the black fasting too.

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Because of the use of two different calendars, the Julian and Gregorian one, the way Easter is calculated means that Orthodox Easter usually follows the Catholic/Protestant a week later. Sometimes the difference is five weeks and so it is this year. That is why this year I will be sharing five weeks long stories about Romanian Easter and traditions, to bridge the long gap between the two Easter celebrations. This is part two.

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