“. . . Another reason for the decline in fasting among Orthodox is the argument, commonly advanced in our times, that the traditional rules are no longer possible today. These rules presuppose, so it is urged, a closely organized, non-pluralistic Christian society, following an agricultural way of life that is now increasingly a thing of the past. There is a measure of truth in this. But it needs also to be said that fasting, as traditionally practiced in the Church, has always been difficult and has always involved hardship. Many of our contemporaries are willing to fast for reasons of health or beauty, in order to lose weight; cannot we Christians do as much for the sake of the heavenly Kingdom? Why should the self-denial gladly accepted by previous generations of Orthodox prove such an intolerable burden to their successors today? Once St. Seraphim of Sarov was asked why the miracles of grace, so abundantly manifest in the past, were no longer apparent in his own day, and to this he replied: ‘Only one thing is lacking – a firm resolve’. . .”
The full article, edited in 1977 by Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) and the late Mother Mary, which is so excellent that I can offer no reflection or analysis to in any way improve upon it, may be found here in its entirety.
I wish all who are celebrating it a joyous Maslenitsa or Cheesefare Week! May you enjoy many blini, cookies, cakes and other buttery sweets before Clean Monday and the full advent of the Lenten fast!
This week before the start of the Orthodox Lenten fast is comparable to Mardi Gras, but people feast for a whole week rather than just the day before the start of Lent, as in Western Christianity which marks the beginning of Lent with Ash Wednesday. Great Lent for Orthodox Christians starts on Clean Monday, which directly follows the Sunday of Forgiveness.
Maslenitsa marks the first meat-free week of the fast, easing into the stricter fast of Great Lent during which faithful Orthodox Christians abstain from all meat and dairy products, and devote themselves to charitable works and increased prayer focus.
During this week, most Orthodox Christians prepare to go without dairy products (starting the following week) by using all their butter, eggs, milk, shortening, etc. to make delicious pancakes, cakes, etc. I just made homemade Belgian waffles for a ‘contrary’ dinner!