Millions of Christians around the world are currently on a 40-day journey of fasting and restraint commonly known as Lent. While fast food chains and restaurants around the world prepare for the long Lenten season by featuring tons of fish dishes on the menu, I won't be able to enjoy them. That's because my branch of Christianity (Eastern Orthodox) does Lent a little differently than everybody else.
From the first Monday of Lent (February 19 this year) to Easter (April 8), we won't be consuming fish, meat, dairy, olive oil, and alcohol. However, we can consume shellfish, octopus, and vegetable oil, and alcohol and olive oil are permitted on weekends.
I've been going through this experience every single year of my life, and the struggle is always different (and harder) each time. Nonetheless, a consistent thought pattern does emerge in my head as the Lenten season goes on every year, whether they be “right” or “wrong.”
"This is gonna be great!"
I always head into Lent with a positive attitude, thinking that I'm going to just breeze through it and that it'll be over before I know it. After all, this is the umpteenth time I'm going through Lent, right? At this point, I'm having fun experimenting with tons of different recipes involving tofu, beans, and/or soup, and enjoying every single one of them. Who says going plant-based for a while can't be a little fun?
"Just one burger. What could hurt from that?"
Lent can definitely take its toll on you early on. Fasting this way for so long can be physically draining, to say the least. That weariness creeps into my thoughts, because I'm starting to get tired of not being able to eat meat and am feeling the temptation. "Just one burger," I think to myself. "What could hurt from that?"
Keep in mind that this is still extremely early into Lent, and I'm already showing signs of weakness. The true mental battle hasn't even begun yet.
"I'm sick and tired of all this tofu... when is Lent over again?"
By this time, my body has physically shifted over to deal with a plant-based diet (with some shellfish), but the mental battle is just beginning. Temptation comes literally every single day to eat meat. In this day and age, where everything convenient is basically meat-based and restaurants are packed full of animal protein, it's extremely easy to do so. At least Lent is nearing its halfway point.
"PHEW, we're halfway done. Thank God!"
This week is what I like to call the "Second Wind" week. I get a breath of fresh air and relief knowing that I've made it over the official halfway hump. It's only going to get tougher from this point, though, as I'm still eating tons of tofu and other options like peanut butter sandwiches or chili are just not good enough anymore. The cravings start to get real at this point.
"Not... gonna.... make... it...."
This is probably the second toughest week of Lent for me. At this point, I'm completely sick of eating just soy and plant-based protein. I begin eating a lot more shellfish than I had been in the weeks before as a way to at least appease the desire for a little bit. Still, the thought of a juicy steak or a gooey grilled cheese are both extremely tempting, but I promise myself that I will do everything in my power not to cave.
Honestly, I've given in and eaten meat at this point so many times throughout the Lenten journey in the past that it's safe to say this is the turning point for me in Lent.
And we haven't even gotten to the hardest part of the fasting period yet.
"I made it this far. Home stretch. No turning back now."
This is the official final week of Lent, which makes me happy to get through because it gives me a little sense of relief and finality. "We made it."
I've definitely grown in mental toughness throughout each Lent to this point because I've had to fight extreme levels of temptation, stood through countless services, and tried really hard not to give in. Regardless, it’s time to prep for the final - and hardest - of any week in the Lenten season: Holy Week.
"They said this fast was 40 days. They lied. And it sucks."
If you factor in the 6 weeks of actual Lent, plus this week, it totals at 49 days of actual fasting from meat, dairy, and fish. Not to mention that on Good Friday we don’t eat anything. The fact that Lent is actually more than 40 days drains me throughout this week as I count down the days to Pascha and pray for the whole thing to be over. Fast.
Easter Saturday and Sunday
"I made it! Christ is Risen! It's a great day! And best of all - MEAT!!!!!!"
This is it. The day I’ve been waiting for. As the Paschal services go on through the weekend, I take a little bit of time to reflect on the whole Lenten journey. Did I make it all the way through without breaking the fast? What did I learn about myself? How did I mentally and spiritually grow?
This is the time for me to synthesize those lessons, learn from the experience, and be happy for the celebration of Easter. Even if I did break the fast, I know that I'll be accepted into church for this joyous occasion.
And when everything's over, I chow down on eggs, bacon, and lamb like the hungriest guy on the planet. And usually get sick afterward from eating too much.