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The fasting dilemma

22 March 2010

One of the things that pious booklets sometimes say about Lenten fasting is that one should put aside the money one saves by fasting and give it to the poor.

The difficulty I find is that Lent usually involves more expense.

Fasting food often costs more than ordinary food. The following illustration is taken from the USA, but it applies in other places too.

Fasting food includes fish without backbones, like shellfish, but excludes fish with backbones. Perhaps in the fourth century, in St Basil’s time, shellfish, octopus and calamari were cheaper. Perhaps they were the poor man’s food, because they could be gathered along the shore by poor beachcombers, whereas fish with backbones were caught by professional fishermen who went out in boats, and so cost more. I don’t know, I’m just speculating. But certainly prawns and calamari cost a lot more in Gauteng than the ubiquitous hake (which is dyed orange to masquerade as haddock too).

Another thing about Lent is that there are more services.

And that’s cool in Orthodox countries, where for most people there are plenty of churches within walking distance, at least in the cities. But here it requires a (sometimes long) car ride, and this year we haven’t seen much of the Presanctified Liturgy, because just about every road is being dug up, and travel is something to be avoided as far as possible. But even when travel is possible, it too means additional expense.

I’m not complaining, mind. It’s just that when I see these things about the money you save in Lent I think they are misleading. You actually need to save money during the rest of the year to be able to afford Lent.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. 22 March 2010 1:15 pm

    I’ve always suggested that the fasting rules need to be overhauled as it would seem to be adherence to, and advancement of, the principles of fasting that should be most important.

    Another added cost for a lot of people is soya milk. When I volunteered at an Orthodox coffeehouse, we would serve drinks with soya milk and aerosol-propelled artificial cream during Lent. The former may be as good or better for you (I haven’t really looked into it because I don’t like it), but the latter isn’t.

    The financial cost aside, it does seem strange to enjoy lobster, crab, shrimp, prawns, scallops, oysters, calamari, etc., as fasting food. Apparently, Lent is the time for trading in fish and chips for a seafood platter.

    • 23 March 2010 4:47 am

      I usually drink black coffee in Lent, but as I don’t like plastic coffee without milk, I often buy real coffee, which costs more.

      I noticed that in Greece Macdonalds offered a “MacLent” special — chips with vegetable spring rolls.

  2. 22 March 2010 4:24 pm

    Seems like simple vegetarianism would be the most appropriate. It would certainly seem to adopt much of the meaning and plenty of the struggle, but have a stronger support mechanism in the west (there are plenty of veggie cook books and restaurant menu items and it nothing particularly awkward). Besides, I know plenty of Orthodox that do this now anyway.

  3. 22 March 2010 6:18 pm

    Maybe saving during the rest of the year for food and travel during Lent is a discipline to be taken on?

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