ADN: True to Lent -- Alaska's Russian Orthodox faithful close in on 40 days of
True to Lent
Alaska's Russian Orthodox faithful close in on 40 days of abstinence
from meat, butter and eggs
By T.C. MITCHELL
Anchorage Daily News
Published: April 4, 2007
During a 13-hour flight from here to Russia, an attendant placed a
meal that included a piece of chicken in front of Father Daniel.
"You have a choice. Do you eat or do you not eat?" he asked, opening
his palms over a table.
For many of us, that question would arise because of the declining
quality of airline food. For Father Daniel, it was a matter of faith.
The priest at St. Tikhon in downtown Anchorage was traveling to his
homeland during the Great Lent, as the six weeks of observance is
called in the Russian Orthodox Church. During that time, Feb. 18 to
April 1, there is fasting, and chicken is among the foods that
should be avoided.
Despite the ban on eating animals with a spine, Father Daniel ate
the chicken, but he figures he's still good to go as far as the
afterlife is concerned.
"The fasting period shouldn't be looked on as a scholastic idea.
It's not a whole bunch of rules. We don't do A to get to B so we're
100 percent certain we will get to C."
In other words, not eating chicken or beef or fish or eggs and
butter is a matter of discipline, not an act of reaching heaven.
"Tell me: If you and I have a nice big steak, a glass of wine and a
dessert, what do you feel like doing."
A nap came to mind.
Hence his point: "When people indulge in meat, they relax more."
And relaxing causes even the most devoted to lose their focus, and
that's what Lent is about -- focusing on one's spiritual life.
Given the state's abundance, Alaska seems like the best place in the
world to fast in this way because shrimp don't have spines. Neither
do clams, mussels, scallops or oysters. Not that we have lobsters
here, but that's one spineless animal many of us could agree would
get us by to the next meal. Surf without the turf seems a small
price to pay.
But even with such a variety available, the advice still applies:
Don't get so satiated that you turn inward. Because it's not about
you, it's about your soul.
A heaping plate of clams in tomato sauce can be as distracting as a
"It's about moderation," the priest said.
It's also about common sense.
Not only is the weary, hungry traveler given the OK to eat a piece
of chicken to sustain his health, so are nursing mothers, people
with special dietary concerns and many others, including children.
"I have a 2-year-old daughter. It would be a sin for me to say, 'You
can't drink milk for 40 days.' She wouldn't understand. And it
wouldn't be good for her."
The same goes for people who live in the Bush.
"We have Carrs and Fred's. We can go to the store and get what we
want. The church respects individual lives. People who live on the
Upper Kuskokwim might have gotten their last bag of potatoes in
So they, unlike others in the church, can eat fish during the Great
Lent because that's a food they have preserved for the future,
knowing they would need it to last through the long winter.
Having grown up in interior Russia, Father Daniel can relate to long
winters and planning for the future.
"In my mom's head, she knew each year the fast was coming up, and we
needed to stock up on potatoes and preserve the mushrooms."
Besides all that, he thinks fasting is good for the body.
"Ask any doctor -- forget about six weeks -- if not eating meat is
good for you. I don't know how many parishioners have come up to me
after a few weeks without meat and tell me how good they feel.
"You could go to a dietitian, and they will say the same thing. And
after 2,000 years, we can tell you that for free."
The Eastern Church, like other denominations this year, is in the
middle of the Holy Week, so the Great Lent ended last weekend. But
the fast continues until Pascha -- Easter Sunday.
Saturday night at about 11:30, the parishioners will gather for
services. Sometime after midnight, there will be a blessing of the
Pascha baskets that will contain foods that weren't eaten for the
past seven weeks.
This is no time to gorge, though.
"You have to build up to it. Take it easy. We might start with some
eggs and cheese. You need to start slowly so your body gets used to
it," Father Daniel said. "I might have something light, like a
little bit of lamb. I would prefer an Alaska king salmon."
And so it will go for another 50 days until the Fast of the Holy
Apostles begins, the second of four on the calendar. That one will
last about a month this year, ending on June 29. Still time to catch
a baseball game and enjoy a cheeseburger and a beer.