Originally broadcast April 8, 2005.
BOB ABERNETHY, anchor: Lent is over for Western Christians, but Eastern Orthodox Christians have a different calendar. For them, Great Lent, as they call it, has just begun. That means specific dietary prohibitions almost every day — no meat on some days; on other days no dairy products, oil, or wine; and, occasionally, a total fast. Our guide to the Great Lent fast is Jack Hinton of the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Washington, DC. Hinton explains that strict fasting helps achieve the Orthodox goal of “theosis” — union with God.
JACK HINTON (Parishioner, Russian Orthodox Cathedral, St. John the Baptist, Washington, DC): In general, the purpose of fasting is preparation for an important event that takes place at the end of the fast, and this is true not only of Great Lent, but of the other fasting periods as well.
The very cause of the fall of man was an act of disobedient eating.
Fasting is voluntary, but it’s expected unless you’re physically unable to. What I hope to achieve is weakening myself physically so that it’s easier for me to remember that I depend for my very existence and for my daily sustenance on my Creator. I want to deemphasize the day-to-day material world and to emphasize spirituality.
There’s a strict fast, which means abstain from everything for, obviously, short periods of time, and this applies to the preparation for every Holy Communion.
The basic fast is abstain from meat, and meat includes fish with backbone; dairy products; animal byproducts; oil; and wine. There’s fasting on Wednesday and Friday virtually every week — Wednesday because that’s the day when the conspiracy to murder Jesus was hatched, and Friday is the day when that conspiracy was carried out, and Jesus was crucified.
October has the fewest fasting days of any month. Out of 31 days, we have eight fasting days. People might tend to gain some weight in the month of October. There are four extended fasting periods during the year. The first is the pre-Nativity fast. Sometimes it starts before Thanksgiving Day. [That] means tofu turkey.
Here’s the fast for Great Lent. That is an austere fast. There are two days — the Feast of the Annunciation and the Feast of Palm Sunday — when the fast is very substantially relaxed. Fish is allowed, and if fish is allowed, then automatically oil and wine are also allowed.
It’s also customary on Great and Holy Friday to abstain from everything, even water. At least hold out for as long as you can and then gradually have what you need, starting with water and then maybe a little fruit juice. If you need bread or a little bit of rice, go ahead. But do your best to abstain completely.
It affects my daily life, there’s no question. When you reduce the amount of food you’re eating, and your blood sugar drops, and you become a little bit lightheaded, you are very much prone to lower concentration.
There is a spiritual and a physical dimension to the fast. It doesn’t do you any good to not have the kinds of food that are prohibited and forego the period of introspection and deep contemplation of your own spiritual state.
Theosis is what happens to those who run the earthly course successfully and are given their salvation at the end of this life. Fasting plays a role in theosis. It is the process by which we are perfected and made divine. We all become little “anointed ones,” little Christs.
ABERNETHY: All in all, counting Great Lent and other times, too, the Russian Orthodox this year are observing some kind of fast on 184 days.