Much to the dismay of most Greek people I have ever met, I’m vegetarian.
And no, that doesn’t mean I eat lamb.
When I relay this information to people I meet for the first time (particularly Orthodox people) I like to joke that, rather than being vegetarian, I’m just fasting year round.
Of course, I don’t really look at it that way, but being an herbivore means that fasting looks different for me.
When I tell people that I’m vegetarian, people often respond with shock: “I could never give up meat.”
Which is understandable for committed carnivores.
Every time we enter a fast period, the change in diet requires intent, and thoughtfulness. It means we have to consciously make the decisions needed to adjust our eating each time we sit down to a meal or just grab a snack, something we may otherwise do without a second thought. We need to constantly remember that we are fasting, and choose every bite of food accordingly.
That’s part of what makes a fasting a challenge.
But what does that look like when you’re a vegetarian?
I’ve been one for so long that it feels second nature to me. I rarely have to actively consider what I can and can’t eat, it feels more natural than anything. While I’m still very aware of why I made this choice, the follow through is less a burden and more simply a way of life.
But that way of life gets challenged every time a new fast period rolls around. After all, if I’m supposed to avoid eating meat for forty days, what do I do when I’m already not eating meat anyway?
This mindset is part of the problem. We usually think of fasting as something that relates exclusively to our eating. Something we have to endure a few times a year (at least) before a holiday feast.
But it is about so much more than reading ingredient labels.
Fasting is a means to an end, not an end in itself. It is something that we are doing for a greater purpose, to bring ourselves closer to Christ.
It is an invitation for us to act with intent, and not just when we eat.
So while my eating habits are minimally impacted (I certainly miss my cheese) I try my best to be more focused on how I’m acting during a fast period.
Fasting is a time to focus on being more contiencious of the choices we are making, in what we eat and what we do. To look at every action we take and consider whether or not it is bringing us closer to Christ.
When my friend is pestering me, or something isn’t going quite my way, I try to focus on expressing more patience and compassion. Because for me, that is a struggle, and that struggle is what makes a fast period beneficial.
And isn’t that something we should all be struggling with during the fast? After all, as St. John Chrysostom said, “ For what does it profit if we abstain from fish and fowl and yet bite and devour our brothers and sisters? The evil speaker eats the flesh of his brother and bites the body of his neighbor.”
That applies whether or not we eat meat the rest of the year.
Instead of focusing on what I’m eating for its own sake, I try to use fast periods as a time to actively considering all the decisions that I’m making. I try to use this time to slow down and make sure that I’m acting with intent. I try to remind myself that I’m preparing myself and working toward being closer to Christ.
I try to do this when we’re fasting so I can do it better year round.
Charissa is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. Charissa grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah where she studied political science at the University of Utah. She enjoys sunshine, the mountains and snowcones. Charissa currently lives in New York City.
For more on fasting, check out this episode of Be the Bee: