Rules for the ‘Great Lent’ Fast in Eastern Catholic Churches

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — In the eyes of Latin-rite Catholics, the extent of Eastern Catholics’ Lenten fasting and abstinence is perceived as particularly strict.

The traditional Byzantine fast for Great Lent includes one meal a day from Monday to Friday, and abstinence from all animal products, including meat, fish with backbones, dairy products and eggs, as well as oil and wine for the entire period of Lent. Shellfish are permitted.

Fasting and abstinence are maintained on Saturdays, Sundays and on the eve of special feast days, although loosened to permit the use of oil and wine. On important feast days, such as the Annunciation and Palm Sunday, fish may be eaten.

“Oil and wine were restricted because, in the past, they were stored in animal skin,” explained Mother Theodora, the “hegumena” or abbess of the Byzantine Catholic Christ the Bridegroom Monastery in Burton, Ohio. “Though this is no longer the case, the tradition continues.”

There are varying degrees of fasting, from stricter to more lenient, depending on one’s work and state of health. Monks and nuns will often submit to the most strict fasting.

Holy Week is not considered part of Great Lent but “an additional, more intense time of fasting and prayer,” said Mother Theodora.

However, Eastern Catholics don’t plunge into fasting and abstinence cold turkey. “Meatfare” and “Cheesefare” weeks help them enter into the Great Fast gradually. By Meatfare Sunday, one week before the start of Lent, Eastern Catholics will have emptied their refrigerators and pantries of meat products. By Cheesefare Sunday, they will have cleared out all of their egg and dairy products, ready to enter into the Great Fast that evening, after Forgiveness Vespers.

In an effort to keep Eastern Christians faithful, yet creative, in the kitchen, cookbooks with fast-friendly recipes have been published.

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