Sunday, February 14, 2010

Post Twenty Eight: "WHEN YOU for lenten seasons" by Catherine Mandell

(click on images to enlarge)

Once again, Great Lent is upon us.

So a post about fasting is in order.

Several years ago I became quite ill.  So much so that I ended up in the hospital in need of a blood transfusion which required the replacement of 4 units of blood.  I will not go into the reason for this loss of blood as some who are squeamish might, well,...

Following all this I had become anemic and short of breath, etc.

But any way, coupled with this episode, I had been living a very stressful lifestyle of way too much activity, not eating correctly, and hardly any rest.  Added to all of the above, I had unwisely fasted very severely during the Fasts of the Church.  Unwisely I say because I really did not disclose all the pertinent information to my spiritual father of my health, etc. and did not tell him just how extreme I had taken the fasting.  If you wish to gauge my state of mind during this period somewhat, I had posted reflections about Lent 2008 here and here.  Forgive my writing of this time as since then I have become less dramatic.

Following this time, through the pleading of my parents and with the firm advice of my parish priest and also medical admonition, I was told to abstain from fasting for an indefinite amount of time to heal my body.  This was not easy for me mainly because I was afraid I was not participating in the Life of the Church and also I have to admit that I was prone to the weakness of worrying about what other Orthodox Christians would think of me.  This I came to see as a form of pride and acquiesced.

As time went by, I approached my parish priest again about the whole fasting issue and we came to the agreed upon praxis that I should not fast save on Wednesdays and Fridays where I would abstain from meat but I was to eat all other foods.  I have been doing this now for about a year and a half.

At the start of the New Year, I felt that I was strong again enough to more circumspectly enter into the praxis of the Church in regards to fasting.  I spoke to my parish priest about it and agreed to make the attempt to strictly fast but that I keep a close watch on my health and let go of the fast if need be.

Last Thursday I had the opportunity to visit St. Anthony's Greek Orthodox Monastery in Florence, Arizona.  My spiritual father is there and we spoke for a little time about various subjects.  We spoke in some detail about the upcoming fast for Great Lent and he's on board with my course and even encouraged me to run as hard a course as possible(don't expect sentimental sympathy from Athonite monks).

While there, as always, I spent time in the book store and ran across this excellent cookbook.  I won't post the recipes, but I would like to mention how good many if not all these recipes are.  I will post these worthwhile sections that disclose the spirit the book was written in as well as offering some sound advice and instruction on fasting as prescribed in the Orthodox Church.

Countless cookbooks are available promoting diets for particular purposes such as losing weight, building muscle, or fighting disease. This is not another such book. It is rather a collection of recipes for hearty meals when people abstain from certain foods, primarily meat and dairy products, for spiritual reasons. The dishes described in this book follow the Orthodox Church's rules for the strictest fasting days of the Church year, the liturgical lenten seasons, and most Wednesdays and Fridays.

Orthodox Christians, like many others, believe that their spiritual lives start with their stomachs. They believe that when peoples' eating is right their spirits can be more open to God and more attentive to all that is good, true, and beautiful in life. When, on the contrary, peoples' eating is wrong, their minds are disordered; their emotions are rebellious; and their flesh rules their being and behavior in harmful ways.

Right eating means to eat the right foods in the right amounts at the right times in the right ways for the right reasons. People who eat properly prepare and partake of their meals with discipline and dignity, free from emotional drives and carnal desires. They do this to serve God, their fellow creatures, and their own well-being more effectively, fruitfully, and joyfully.

The Orthodox Church provides guidelines for healthy eating and sane fasting. The Lord Jesus Christ is the first and final teacher on this subject, as he is on all others. He is the living interpreter of the Church's scriptures and canons. He shows how to apply the rules of eating and fasting to the conditions of life that differ for each person and family.

Christ and his apostles feasted and fasted. They affirmed that God gives all foods to be enjoyed with thanksgiving (Acts 10:10-15; Rom 14:6). They also warned that eating can become idolatrous. St Paul, for example, speaks of "persons (who) do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own belly" (Rom 16:18)."Their end," he says,"is destruction, their god is the belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things" (Phil 3:19).

Christian scriptures and saints teach that in eating and fasting, as in all things, moderation is the rule. Excesses of any kind are harmful and destructive. People who refuse to fast and abstain from certain foods periodically are sure to be controlled by the crudest forms of carnal passions: lust, greed, anger, sadness, sloth, and despondency. If people fast excessively, however, and put all their trust in this activity, valuing abstinence from food as a thing in itself and finding in it their alleged merit before God, they will surely fall into the spiritual passions of vainglory, pride, ungodly zeal, condemnation of others, and spiritual delusion. This traditional Christian teaching is brilliantly summarized and explained by St Ignatius Brianchaninoff in his book The Arena (see chapter 35). The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (three of whom are mothers) also contain gems of insight on this subject, some of which are provided with the recipes in this collection.

This modest cookbook for producing meals without meat and dairy products—and many also without oil—is a wonderful aid for achieving the disciplined eating, fruitful fasting, and enlightened abstinence that are essential for spiritual living. Used by Christians in the spirit of their Lord and his saints, this collection of recipes can aid us in preparing fasting foods that can help us to glorify God and serve our neighbors in healthy bodies that are "members of Christ" and "temples of the Holy Spirit" (I Cor 6:15,19).

We thank Catherine for gathering these recipes, many of which she created herself, and for presenting them in such an accessible and elegant manner.

Fr Thomas Hopko
Dean Emeritus
St Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary



Many years ago, my husband and I decided that we would try, to the best of our ability, to follow a stricter rule of fasting during Great Lent. It was a gradual process, full of trial and error, frustration, temptation, and a lot of spaghetti and split pea soup. When I look back at the recipe and menu diaries I kept during my first attempts at an oil-free and dairy-free fast (with the idea of compiling a collection of recipes for our use), I am amazed and grateful to my husband for the amounts of split pea soup he consumed with no complaint! A phone call to my sister Juliana Thetford started me on my long journey to the completion of this cookbook.

In compiling this cookbook, it is not my intention to dictate rules of fasting to anyone. This is something that is worked out individually between each Orthodox Christian person and his or her spiritual father. I have included the general rules of fasting and the strictness of each fast at the end of this book, yet how one follows those rules and adheres to the strictness of the fasts is highly personal. By writing this cookbook and working out these recipes, I have aspired only to provide a source for other people, especially other Orthodox Christians, who have decided to take the same road my husband and I fearfully took all those years ago and, hopefully, without as much split pea soup.

I wish to thank my husband, Raymond, for his support, vast encouragement, and honest appraisals of the food I prepared. My children, Zachariah, Jacob, and Rachel, are also included in this thanks, for as we all know, children are the hardest to please and the most honest in their criticism. I also have to give many thanks to my sister Juliana Thetford for giving me inspiration, ideas, and recipes. I also must thank my sisters Masha Solak and Alexandra Sedor, my sister-in-law Macrina Hopko, my brother-in-law Mark Mandell, and my mother Anne Hopko for trying out these recipes and offering honest and helpful critiques. I thank the sisters of the Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Ellwood City, PA for the recipes that were generously shared with me. Thanks to my father, Fr Thomas Hopko, for the Foreword, and for the quotes from the Old and New Testament and from the Desert Fathers and Mothers (that are found throughout the text of this book); and to my brother, Fr John Hopko, for the Afterword, both enabling me to offer you "food for the mind" to underscore my offering to you of "food for the body."

Glory be to God in all things!
Catherine Mandell

The Lenten Pantry

Through many conversations with clergy and lay people about fasting, in regards to the creation of this cookbook, and in reading literature that contain references to Orthodox fasting, I have discovered that there are many different attitudes and ideas about what constitutes a "fasting food." There are many different beliefs on substituting, that is, whether or not you can or should substitute margarine for butter or soy milk for dairy milk. There are those who oppose the practice of "reading the label." They believe that if you have to read the label to find out if the food has no dairy or oil, you probably should not be eating it in the first place. There are people who consider "no oil" to mean no olive oil, but vegetable oil may be used, and those who take the dictate of "no oil" at face value: no oil at all. I do not uphold or denounce these ideas but use them to illustrate, once again, that one's rule of fasting is highly personal: What one considers "fasting food" may not concur with someone else's considerations.

In this section, I have listed some foods that are readily available in grocery stores or natural food stores that can be kept on hand during a fasting season. In creating this by no means complete list, I tried to keep in mind all the ideas about fasting that I have encountered.

I also recommend that this book not be your only source for ideas about creating lenten meals. With the recent surge of interest in vegetarianism, there are some really great cookbooks and websites available that either are solely vegan or contain vegan recipes—that is, for vegetarians that consume no animal products whatsoever, including dairy products, meats, eggs, and fish.

Lenten margarine: Lenten margarine has no whey or other dairy products in it. Check the label carefully. Tub margarine usually has no dairy products in it. Dairy products include whey, sodium caseinate, and milk solids. Lenten margarine comes both unsalted and salted. A readily available brand of unsalted lenten margarine is Fleischmann's Unsalted Margarine.

Soy milk: Soy milk can vary from brand to brand. Aseptically packaged soy milks, such as Edensoy or Westsoy, are beige to light brown in color, may or may not contain oil, and often taste quite "beany." These types are great for baking or making soups. Soy milks that one finds in the dairy case, such as Silk, are lighter in color, tend to taste less "beany," and may or may not contain oil. These are great for cereal, shakes, or to drink plain. Soy milk can be found in several flavors: plain, vanilla, chocolate, carob, and strawberry, to name a few. Try a few different kinds and brands to find one that will suit your palate and your needs. There are other types of "milks" available as well, such as rice milk (e.g., Rice Dream) and the less available oat milk.

TVP: TVP, or Texturized Vegetable Protein, is a dehydrated soy product made from what remains after soybean oil is extracted from soybeans. It is sold in dry form, in flakes, or in chunks. The recipes in this book that include TVP generally call for the flake variety. You can find TVP at natural food stores or health food stores.

Tofu: Tofu, or soybean curd, is curdled soy milk that is formed into blocks. Tofu comes in various degrees of firmness. Extra-firm, firm, or soft tofu comes packaged in sealed water-filled tubs and can be found in the produce or refrigerated sections of supermarkets and natural food stores. Extra-firm or firm tofu are good for recipes calling for cubed or crumbled tofu. Soft tofu is preferable for recipes that called for blending or pureeing the tofu. Water-packed tofu must be refrigerated. Once opened, it should be stored covered by water and the water should be changed every day.

Silken tofu is made by a different process that results in a creamier texture. This tofu is aseptically packaged (vacuum packed). You can find this type of tofu in the produce or health foods sections of supermarkets and in natural food stores. Silken tofu can be stored, prior to opening, in the cupboard at room temperature. After it is opened, it should be stored in the same manner as water-packed tofu.

Both types of tofu should be bought and used well ahead of the expiration date on the tub or package. Tofu can be frozen, wrapped airtight, for a number of months. Freezing changes the texture and color of tofu and is actually preferable in some recipes.

Reduced-fat tofu, or lite tofu, has recently become available, as well as flavored and smoked varieties.

Tahini: Tahini is a smooth paste, similar in texture to natural peanut butter, made of ground sesame seeds. Tahini is used as a flavoring ingredient, as well as a replacement for oil or solid fats in some recipes.

Prepared breads:
• Frozen bagels are usually dairy and oil free. Check the labels and avoid egg bagels, which usually look yellow. Not all yellow bagels are egg bagels, though!

• A variety of frozen bread doughs and rolls. See the Breads chapter for more information.

• Pita bread is a good choice. However, some brands do contain oil. Damascus and Father Sam's are good brands.

• Flour tortillas usually contain vegetable shortening, although there are some new ones on the market that are oil free. Corn tortillas, however, usually are oil free.

• Frozen soft pretzels, such as Hanover brand, are usually oil free.


The following prepared sauces appear in several recipes as ingredients and are nice to have on hand:
• barbecue sauce

• chili sauce

• hot pepper sauce

• ketchup

• soy sauce

• duck sauce

• salsa

• oyster sauce (check the ingredients; some have fish)

• Worcestershire sauce (vegetarian versions have no anchovies)

• hoisin sauce

Seasoning mixes, dry and canned:

• Sloppy Joe mix, dry in packets

• Sloppy Joe mix, canned

• Taco seasoning mix (check for dairy or oil ingredients)

• Chili seasoning mix (check for dairy or oil ingredients)

  • George Washington Golden Seasoning and broth—contains MSG
• Commercially prepared spice blends

Soups: Most commonly available canned soups from supermarkets contain chicken or beef broth or egg noodles. Sometimes, a bean soup will end up being lenten in nature. Natural food or health food stores will often carry soups that are not meat based. An example of this is Health Valley Fat-Free soups. Oodles of Noodles Oriental flavor Ramen noodle soup is meat- and dairy-free but does contain oil. It also contains MSG, as do practically all dry broth or bouillon seasonings. If you want to avoid MSG, you can find all-natural, MSG-free vegetable broth powders or bouillon cubes at natural foods stores or upscale supermarkets.

There are some great bean soup mixes available, for example, Manischewitz Four Bean Soup Mix.

Prepared mixes:
• Rice pilaf mixes, such as Near East brand, are usually meat and dairy free. If you omit the margarine in the preparation directions, they can be oil free as well. Uncle Ben's also puts out some meat- and dairy-free rice pilaf mixes. Peruse the ingredients list to be sure. Lipton Rice and Sauce also has a few meat- and dairy-free mixes, and some are even oil free.

• Vegetable burger mixes are now available almost everywhere, because of the growing popularity of meatless eating. Fantastic Foods Nature Burger and Casbah Perfect Burger are two examples. You can also find frozen veggie burgers but be aware that a number of them contain cheese and/or eggs.

• Falafel mixes are a nice change from the vegetable burgers. Fantastic Foods makes a great mix.

• Near East makes a good tabouli mix when you do not have the time or the inclination to make it from scratch.

• Couscous is a great quick grain (while couscous is actually a very small pasta, it is commonly considered a grain), and there are flavored mixes available. Near East is a common brand.

• Aunt Jemima Original or Whole Wheat Pancake and Waffle mix has no dairy or egg products.

• Most flavored or plain instant oatmeal packets are dairy free and oil free. Prepare with water or soy milk.

Prepared foods:

• Heinz makes vegetarian baked beans

• Several brands of fat-free refried beans are oil and meat free, such as Trader Joe's and Old El Paso.

• Many supermarkets now have extensive salad bars or prepared food bars, where you can find many varieties of lenten prepared salads, usually containing oil.

• Many supermarkets also now carry "specialty foods," in special sections or self-serve counters, where you can find prepackaged containers or self-serve dishes of prepared hummus (in several flavor variations), guacamole, and other dips and spreads that are meat and dairy free.


• Baked tortilla chips are widely available. However, the only brand I have found to be completely oil free is Baked Tostitos.

• Pretzels—some brands are even oil free.

• Rice cakes or corn cakes are usually oil free. Obviously, avoid the cheese flavors.

• Dry-roasted nuts, as well as other nuts that do contain oil.

• Sunflower seeds

• Dried fruits, for example, raisins, apricots, figs, dates, and Craisins.

• Popcorn, both air-popped and microwave. There are several brands of microwave popcorn that contain only corn, oil, and salt.

• Crackers

Fasting Periods of the Orthodox Church

If you have any questions or concerns, please check with your parish priest, your spiritual father, or the church calendar or rubrics for what is allowed specifically on each day. All dates are in accordance with the revised Julian calendar, or the "new" calendar. What follows are general guidelines, and as with anything general, there are always exceptions, for example, as with feast days or saints' days. Fasting periods are presented in chronological order.

January 5—Eve of Theophany

This is a strict fasting day. Fasting persons abstain from all meat products, dairy products, oil, eggs, fish, wine, and alcoholic beverages.

Cheesefare Week

This is the week before Great Lent, during which we start our fasting efforts by abstaining from meat. However, this is the only abstention. We are still allowed fish, dairy, oil, eggs, wine, and alcoholic beverages, even on Wednesday and Friday.

Great Lent and Holy Week

This is the strictest fast of the church year. Fasting persons abstain from all meat products, dairy products, oil, eggs, fish, wine, and alcoholic beverages. On certain feast days (Annunciation and Palm Sunday) fish, wine, and oil are allowed. On weekends, and indicated weekdays, with the exception of Holy Saturday, wine and oil are allowed. On Holy Saturday, only wine is allowed.

Apostles' CSts Peter and Paul) Fast

This fast is not as strict as Great Lent or Dormition Fast. Fasting persons abstain from all meat products, dairy products, eggs, fish, oil, wine, and alcoholic beverages on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Wine and oil are allowed on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and on weekends, fish is also allowed. The length of this fast is determined by the date of Pentecost. Generally, the fast runs from the first Monday after the fast-free week following Pentecost to the day before the feast of Sts Peter and Paul, June 29. If June 29 falls on a Wednesday or a Friday, fish, wine, and oil are allowed but no meat or dairy products.

Dormition (Theotokos) Fast

The Dormition Fast is two weeks long, from August I to the day before the feast of the Dormition, which is on August 15. However, this fast is as strict as Great Lent. Fasting persons abstain from all meat products, dairy products, oil, eggs, fish, wine, and alcoholic beverages. On weekends, wine and oil are allowed. There are feast days that fall during this fast, on which wine, oil, and sometimes fish are allowed.

August 29—Beheading of St John the Baptist
This is a strict fasting day. Fasting persons abstain from all meat products, dairy products, oil, eggs, fish, wine, and alcoholic beverages.

September 14—The Elevation of the Cross

This is a strict fasting day. Fasting persons abstain from all meat products, dairy products, oil, eggs, fish, wine, and alcoholic beverages.

Nativity Fast

This fast is not as strict as Great Lent or Dormition Fast. Fasting persons abstain from all meat products, dairy products, eggs, fish, oil, wine, and alcoholic beverages on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Wine and oil are allowed on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and on weekends, fish is also allowed. From December 20 to December 24, fish is not permitted. December 24, the eve of The Nativity, is a strict fasting day, so no wine or oil is allowed.

Wednesdays and Fridays

All Wednesdays and Fridays during the year are strict fasting days. Fasting persons abstain from all meat products, dairy products, oil, eggs, fish, wine, and alcoholic beverages. The exceptions are any Wednesdays and Fridays during fast-free periods. Feast days that fall on Wednesdays or Fridays usually allow fish and/or wine and oil. On the Wednesday and Friday during Cheesefare Week everything is allowed but meat.

Fast-free Periods

• Afterfeast of The Nativity of Christ to the day before Theophany Eve

• The week following The Sunday of The Publican and the Pharisee

• Bright Week (the week following Pascha)

• Trinity Week (the week following Pentecost)

On Fasting during Great Lent

Fasting, specifically as it affects the issue of what and how much we are to eat, is always a topic that receives much attention when we prepare to begin Great Lent. Fasting is an ancient tradition in the Church and not one that we should easily ignore or dismiss. We all must fast during Great Lent. What then should we do?

We should begin by reminding ourselves of the basics of the Church's traditional discipline of fasting. During Great Lent, the strictest levels of fasting are prescribed, with certain exceptions allowed for weekends and feast days. The traditional norm, as developed and followed over many centuries in the Orthodox Church, is that we would abstain from the following items (listed here in order, beginning with those items that are eliminated first and then on down to those items that many be permissible at some times):

• meat and meat products (must be restricted)

• milk and egg products (often referred to as "dairy." These items are perhaps permissible for some, for example, young children)

• fish (permissible on certain feasts during Great Lent)

• olive oil (permissible on weekends and certain feasts during Great Lent)

• wine (this means all alcoholic beverages; they are permissible on weekends and certain feasts during Great Lent)

So then, generally speaking, during Great Lent we are to make do with the following types of food:

• shellfish (shrimp, clams, etc.)

• vegetables

• vegetable products

• fruit, grains (breads, pasta, rice, etc.), nuts, etc.

• nonalcoholic, dairy-free beverages

Having laid out the traditional guidelines for fasting, certain points must be made in reference to them. First of all, each of us must make an honest, prayerful assessment of how well we can maintain the fasting discipline. If we are unable—due to age, illness, or some other weakness—to follow the traditional order of fasting completely, we must then make a decision about what we are going to do. Being overly scrupulous in this regard will not save us but neither will any rationalizing away of the need to fast. Each and every person, usually together with the other members of his or her family and, if necessary, in consultation with his or her parish priest, needs to make an honest and prayerful decision about how he or she is going to keep the fast.

For Church events—such as Sunday morning "coffee hours," and "bring and share" meals following the Divine Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts—we need to keep strictly to the traditional disciplines of the fast so that those who are following those norms will not be placed in any sort of awkward situation.

That being said, we must remember that the purpose of fasting (along with its "siblings" among virtuous acts—almsgiving and prayer) is to make us better able to carry out the two great commandments of our Savior, that is, to love God and to love our neighbor. If we fast from food but do not increase in love for God and others, our fasting is without purpose. The same is true for both charitable giving (almsgiving) and prayer. Love is the highest rule, above and beyond any other pious disciplines. Therefore, a consistent teaching of the saints is that, while we are to make every effort to keep the fast, the law of love teaches us that we are not to make a spectacle of ourselves in our fasting, and if we are presented with a situation where love requires us to break the fast, then we must do so and make up for that break in discipline through our care for one another.

Fasting, of course, does not concern just changes in our diet. When we fast, we should be making a concerted effort to change our entire style of life. Just as when we embark on a program of physical fitness we not only adjust our diet but also other facets of our lifestyle including exercise and rest, so, too, when we fast we are called to make changes in our entire life. The point of Great Lent is to restore our life to its proper state through a process of repentance that involves and encompasses our whole person. Therefore, when (not if!) we fast, we must also redouble our efforts in prayer and charity. We must "re-program" ourselves and consider carefully our use of time. We must consider not only what we are allowing to enter us as food, but also what is entering us through what we read, hear, and watch. We must make and keep a plan of renewal during Great Lent that encompasses our whole person and life. This plan should have as its aim not just to redeem the time of Lent, but also to help us make lasting changes in our lives for the sake of our salvation and the salvation of those around us—positive changes that will continue even after Great Lent is over.

A holy person of our time has pointed out that when we judge other people, we often lose the opportunity to love them. Let us all remember during Great Lent to open ourselves with honesty and humility to God's judgment and leave the judging of others to him: He is the only just judge and only he knows the true condition of a man or woman, his creature. Let us receive the coming of Great Lent and lenten fasting with joy, with "bright sadness," grateful for this time of repentance and renewal made possible by God's perfect love for us, his humble and unworthy servants.

Fr John Hopko
Rector, Sts Cyril & Methodius Orthodox Church
Terryville, Connecticut

As well, for anyone interested, some time back on the podcast that I and a couple of the local boys do, Blooming in the Desert, we did a show on fasting for which I wrote an outline of quite a bit of good information which some may find useful.  You can find that here.



123 said...

I have been blessed with a non-Orthodox wife. Since I, too, have proclivities toward zealotry, this has been a good thing for my entry into and first age in Orthodoxy. I may very well have succumbed to the temptation of zealous pride and attempted to strive beyond my strength. Of course, I'm not advocating not striving, I'm not arguing against fasting or Orthodox wives, etc., but there is wisdom in learning to crawl before you sprint and I tend to the latter course of action, so... God is good. Glad you're better.

Sophocles said...

Thank you.

And that in many ways sums up my struggle in many ways--I have in the past always tended to jump before looking. This has not always produced bad results as soemtimes boldness is called for but I think I am coming to understand at a certain level in the spiritual life we need to be cautious as their is a lot of growing to do.

If you don't mind sharing, I wouldn't mind hearing an example of when you have backed off from something in the Church and how you did it. I like hearing such struggles as they are good aids for a former hothead such as me.

Sophocles said...


And that in many ways sums up my struggle in many ways-