This past Sunday, I gathered with friends to celebrate Jesus' arrival into Jerusalem over lentils and seafood.
Nope. It's not my Easter yet. And in response to answering this question approximately 34567890987654 times in the last 40 days, this is why.
Western Christianity and Eastern Christianity have their hand full of differences (The Great Schism, anyone?) One of them is their calendars. The other is the practice of Lent.
Western churches use the Gregorian calendar while Eastern churches use the Julian calendar (sometimes referred to as the Lunar Calendar).
The timing of Easter happens to be the biggest difference between the two calendars. Orthodox Easter is dependent one two factors:
1) A full moon in Jerusalem (the site where Christ was crucified and rose again).
2) The timing of Passover: When Jesus arrived into Jerusalem, it was to celebrate the holiday. Since Passover lasts 7 days, Eastern Easter occurs the Sunday after Passover ends.
But the timing isn't the only major difference between these two sectors of Christianity.
Great Lent, or the Great Fast, is the 40 days (technically 48) preceding Easter. If you've heard of Lent by the definition of other Christian denominations, you've probably heard of the concept to "give something up". It's the idea of surrendering something for 40 days to exhibit the most minor definition of "suffering". Giving up something is considered by Western definition, its own form of fasting.
Eastern Orthodoxy, however, encourages a different fast. Rather than giving up something as a "sacrifice", Orthodox Christians are encouraged to fast from animal products. When Jews (including Jesus) fasted, it was actually an abstinence from food. Eventually, Christians would fast from everything except bread, salt, and water. And then around 400AD, Christians were called to fast from meat and dairy specifically.
The fast is less of a sacrifice and more of a means to learn discipline and to "gain control of those things that are indeed within our control but that we so often allow to control us" (Orthodox Church of America). We live in a country where food controls the media, our social lives, our body images. For me, the fast is a constant reminder of what time of year it is. I do not have to attend church every day--but I do have to eat every day.
I've also seen variations of the fast. This is because one can think of it as having several tiers. The first tier is meat. Most Orthodox Christians do abstain from meat during the Great Fast. Technically, Orthodox Christians are supposed to give up meat a week before they give up dairy. These Sundays are known as "Meatfare Sunday" and "Cheesefare Sunday" respectively for that very reason. The second tier is dairy. The third tier is fish with a backbone (shellfish are allowed). The fourth tier is alcohol. And, the fifth tier is olive oil. The only individuals I've met that fast from all five of these categories are priests.
Keep in mind that very devout Orthodox Christians fast from all of these things every Wednesday and Friday. This is because Christ was betrayed on Wednesday and crucified on Friday.
I've been completely vegan for 43 days now. But to be honest? I could have done it better all along:
Blessed fasting is done in secret, without ostentation or accusation of others (Mt 6:16; Rom 14)
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