Saturday, March 08, 2008
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.