Saturday, March 08, 2008

Cheesefare Sunday

I hope you will allow me a small personal digression.

Here in Cyprus, it is already Sunday and, particularly, what is known in the Orthodox world as Cheesefare Sunday.

The Christian West is already deep in Lent, in fact I think today may be Passion Sunday, or even Palm Sunday. I must confess that I am blissfully ignorant, because I decided this year to follow the Orthodox calendar toward Easter and, most significantly, to try to observe some semblance of what the Orthodox call Great Lent.

And that doesn't start until Monday, with what is known as Green, or Clean Monday.

For those of you who have been around here for awhile, you will know that last year I proposed doing the same thing, and that proposal went little further than posting an item on the blog with the very same colourful photo I am posting today. I say little further, because I did manage to take Holy Week very seriously in terms of fasting (abstinence really) and managed my first ever 24-hour total fast on Good Friday.

This year, I am really making a stab at observing Great Lent in the Orthodox way. What that means is that, since last Sunday, I have eaten no meat. And from tomorrow, I will also not be allowed any dairy products -- milk, butter, cheese, yogurt and so on.

It all starts in earnest the next day -- Green Monday. From then on, except for Sundays, the following 40 days will be filled with nothing more than fruits, vegetables, grains and oil -- and shellfish and crustaceans. Yes, bizarrely, I could eat lobster, clams, shrimp, mussels, squid and such every day until Easter, and not be violating the rules. Of course I won't -- budget being a small consideration in the matter.

The custom is for Green Monday to be a family affair -- when people gather together for a big feast -- odd for the first day of Great Lent. Of course, there is no meat or dairy products, but feasting is still possible.

My Cypriot house mate, Michalis, and I are preparing a get-together for a few friends, along with my children. We will grill squid, octopus and langostinos, which will all be accompanied by potato and pasta salads and all manner of green things. It will all be washed down with ouzo, the last of the alcohol that will be drunk until Easter, except for Sundays, when we are allowed proper fish and wine.

I just hope that we will be able to keep this up. Believe me, it ain't easy. It is not even technically Lent, and yet I have gone a week without meat. All that implies a radical change in buying and cooking habits and, if there is a lack of imagination, a very tedious diet.

And, of course, this is all meant to be accompanied by, no, guided by, prayer and spiritual exercise. Of this I have not even spoken. But, as in the Western tradition, Lent is a time to reflect on our sinfulness and our mortality, on our need to be shriven; not only to refrain from certain pleasures of life, but also to refrain from those acts and words that are poisonous to us.

I hope I have more to say on all this as the rest of you are headed toward Ascension and Pentecost.


A Wandering Aramean said...

It seems quite bizarre, in fact, innovative in all the worst senses of that word, for a Western Rite Christian in a Church that doesn't have an Eastern Rite to arbitrarily if not whimsically choose to follow a foreign practice instead of his own.

Any bishop I know would not give permission for such behaviour on the part of a postulant...and for that matter would consider even the request for such permission to be evidence of sufficient spiritual immaturity as to warrant the termination of postulancy.

Isn't there enough silliness in the Christian world without this?

Albion Land said...

Dear Aramean,

What planet have you wandered in from? I don't know whether to laugh, or simply to let my jaw drop and my eyes stare blankly ahead of me, dumbfounded.

I'm not sure I recall having seen your moniker here before, but I am almost inclined to think you might be someone who has been known here in the past by a different name.

I don't know where to begin to parse your comment, which seems to have been written in the greatest of seriousness.

What, pray tell, is silly about fasting? Never in my life have I heard such a description applied to the practice.

You seem to have a problem with a Western Christian -- who lives in an overwhelmingly Eastern Christian country and who does not have the luxury of living within his own liturgical community -- learning from the experiences of his eastern brethren by sharing with them their devotion.

Whimsical? Arbitrary? The former implies capriciousness; the latter a lack of serious thought and consideration. I would think that, given what I said immediately above, neither charge would hold water here.

And how, pray tell, is their practice foreign to mine? As far as I know, the Western church has bothered itself very little with prescriptions on fasting, aside from the traditional fish on Friday sort of thing and "giving up something for Lent." That being said, there are no doubt religious (monastic) communities that do have more precise prescriptions, but these are in no way binding on the faithful in general.

Finally, for the record, I am not a postulant, though there is the possibility that one day I might become one. The closest that I currently have as a bishop is the metropolitan of the Anglican Catholic Church, the Most Revd Mark Haverland, a fairly regular reader of and occasional contributor to this blog.

If he so wishes, I will leave it to the good archbishop to pronounce on the "spiritual immaturity" of my devotion. If he so commands, I shall gladly obey and desist from the Lenten fasting that I have chosen. Indeed, I would joyously do so. After all, I could simply give up chocolate and be done with it.

Quite frankly, however, I would doubt that Archbishop Haverland will even wish to become involved in this conversation, it is so positively silly.

Albion Land said...


I forgot to point a very interesting fact. In Cyprus, the Roman Catholic Church has chosen to follow the Orthodox calendar for Easter, so that people's lives are synchronized with the rest of society.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

I lived in Arizona for a while, and that is as far west as it gets. California is to the left of Arizona, but nothing is to the west of Arizona. After my time in Arizona, I think it fair to say that no Aramean knows what a Western Christian is.
Let me give a sample of western poetry to underscore the point:

Here lies Lester Moore
Four slugs from a forty-four
No Les
No more

(From the Boothill graveyard , Tombstone, Az.)

Until you grasp the depth of such verse, until it grabs you in the heart with its pathos and powerful imagery, your words about "western" Christians ring- dare I say it?- hollow.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Orthodoxy is a high maintenance religion, but the spiritual rewards of prayer, fasting, alms-giving, worship and Scripture meditation are great. One can't learn to live this way overnight. It takes time, and incremental steps. And as soon as you slip into legalism about this way of live, your have to start from scratch, because you've missed the point.

I hope that you were able to attend Forgiveness Sunday Vespers, Albion. I find this service so meaningful.

Orthodox Easter (Pascha) falls this year on April 27. There are 3 criteria for dating Pascha. It must fall after the Spring equinox as it is observed in Jerusalem. It must fall after the first full moon, and it must fall after Jewish Passover, as a witness to the Jews that Christ is the fulfillment of Passover.