Notes from underground

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Archive for the tag “fasting”

Julian, Gregorian, Mammonian: thoughts on the Festive Season

There was the Julian (Old) Calendar, then there was the Gregorian (New Calendar).

When those on the New Calendar (NC) are celebrating Christmas, those on the Old Calendar (OC) still have 13 days to wait. When those on the New Calendar are celebrating Theophany/Epiphany, those on the Old Calendar are celebrating Christmas Eve. But whichever calendar you are on, there are the Twelve Days of Christmas between the celebration of Christmas and Theophany.

Except that there is a still newer calendar, the ultramodern calendar, which I shall call the Mammonian Calendar (MC), which wants to move the Twelve Days of Christmas earlier still. As for example here:


If 14th December is the 4th day of Christmas, that means that Christmas day itself must be on the 11 December (Gregorian). That would put New Year on 18th December.

Such numbering gets even more confusing than the Julian/Gregorian one, so why not go the whole hog?

Make New Year’s Day the 1st December, and in the interests of the economy make all the days between Black Friday and New Year compulsory retail shopping days, on which all retail businesses must be open 24/7, and all non-retail businesses must close, to allow their employees  time to shop. The months could be given more appropriate names too. How about calling December Steinhoff, January Gupta, February Jooste and so on. Name them after all the heroes of Monopoly Capital. Even Cecil Rhodes could make a comeback.

But seriously, there’s a lot of confusion.

Think of all the places the 4th day of Christmas can be:

  • 14th December in the Mammonian calendar
  • 28th December in the Gregorian Calendar
  • 10 January in the Julian Calendar (with Gregorian notation)

Lots of my Western friends seem to think we keep Christmas on 7th January (Gregorian), but no, we don’t. Most Orthodox Christians in Africa follow the Gregorian calendar for the fixed feasts, of which the Nativity of Christ is one. Two parishes in our diocese follow the old calendar, St Sergius in Midrand and St Thomas’s in Sunninghill. Most of the rest are new calendar.

But business threatens to impose yet another layer of confusion.

My blogging friend Fr Andrew Stephen Damick has made a valiant attempt to chart a safe course through the muddied waters here How Many Days is Orthodox Christmas? — Roads from Emmaus.

And I’ve been doing my bit by posting “It’s the 5th day of Christmas” (that’s today, Gregorian) on Facebook, and hoping some of my friends might pass it on as a reminder to the confused which day it actually is. I don’t think many of my friends are on the Mammonian calendar yet, though Black Friday arrived on these shores a couple of years ago, and is probably here to stay.

The High Priests of Monopoly Capital also like to call the time preceding Christmas “the Festive Season”.

Not for Orthodox Christians it isn’t. For us the Festive Season begins on 25 December and lasts until 4 January. From 15 November till 24 December is the Fastive Season. No meat, eggs, or dairy products. On some days fish is allowed (it’s the main time of the year when we eat fish).

Hot Cross Buns are a relic of the fasting season in the Western Church. If they fasted on no other day, they did so on Good Friday (I don’t know what they do now), and so hot cross buns, if made properly, should be fasting food — no eggs, butter or other dairy produce. But on Boxing Day (the Second Day of Christmas) — no way!

On Christmas day this year we went to the Divine Liturgy at St Nicholas of Japan Church in Brixton, Johannesburg, 91.4 km at 91.4 degrees Fahrenheit, with no aircon in the car. We took Charles Nkosi down to be baptised (full story, with pictures, here). On the way home one of our number, Artemius Mangena, got a phone call from his brother, inviting him to a Christmas dinner…. a vegetarian Christmas dinner! So much for the Festive Season. I said he should at least try to eat some cheese.

 

 

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Diet, fasting and the environment

I’ve read a number of blog posts recently about eating and drinking and the environment, and this one suggests that we should drink water to save water The Green Phone Booth: Drink Water!

Well, I have to admit that in addition to drinking plain water, I also drink rather a lot of tea and coffee, though one thing I try to avoid is bottled water, unless it has some flavour added.

I’ve previously blogged about the strange habit of many people of drinking bottled water, which is expensive, unhealthy, and environmentally unfriendly. Quite a lot of the bottled water that is sold is just tap water anyway, so why not drink it straight from the tap?

Blogger Clarissa gives some reasons for not drinking it straight from the tap here Does Anybody Drink Tap Water? | Clarissa’s Blog — she thinks tap water tastes horrible, and she finds that in every city she has ever lived in.

I have been warned not to drink tap water in some cities — Mosc0w and Athens come to mind — but I’ve been living in Tshwane for 30 years and I don’t think I’ve come to any harm from drinking the tap water yet. The tap water is quite safe and palatable, as it is in most South African cities.

I agree with Clarissa on one point, though. I know some people who are forever banging on about the environment, but even when they are at home they still drink bottled water.

And then, from the same source as the recommendation to drink tap water, comes this The Green Phone Booth: Four Small Changes to Make in Your Daily Life:

Eat less meat. Meat production is a major contributing factor in climate change – in fact, livestock produce as much as 18% of the planet’s greenhouse gases. Meat production also uses far more water than growing plants. I’m not a vegetarian, but I have taken steps to reduce my meat consumption. Even one veggie meal every day can make a big difference, and you may even get the chance to try some new recipes while you’re at it.

And one of the commenters on that recommended this Meatless Monday | one day a week, cut out meat, which appears to be a new secular fast. Orthodox Christians, of course have meatless Wednesdays and Fridays.

So if the secularists fast on Mondays, and the Christians really observe the fast on Wednesdays and Fridays, perhaps meat consumption could be reduced.

But there is also a downside to this: School Districts Take on ‘Meatless Mondays’ to Support Healthy and Humane Eating Habits:

Schools are in a unique and powerful position to influence students’ eating habits for a lifetime to come. These pioneering schools recognize that responsibility, and the many benefits Meatless Monday offers for our health, for our planet, and for animals.

In a country where “separation of church and state” is elevated to a sacred principle, why are they imposing the secular fast on Christians? Should they not be providing the option of Meatless Fridays for Christian pupils? And would it make any difference at all to the secularists if they fasted on Fridays instead of on Mondays — other than that that would not provide them with an opportunity to stick it to the Christians? This seems to be a case of outright religious discrimination.

But some of the arguments for this need to reduce meat consumption seem a bit odd to me. Why Meatless?:

The water needs of livestock are tremendous, far above those of vegetables or grains. An estimated 1,800 to 2,500 gallons of water go into a single pound of beef. Soy tofu produced in California requires 220 gallons of water per pound.

I’ve seen other arguments that cattle farts produce greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming, but the same would apply to any other animals on the planet, including wild animals and human beings. If we follow that line of reasoning, we should exterminate all animals, wild and tame, to save the planet — but to save it for what?

A better argument that I have seen, and one worth considering, is from a book I read recently The long road home: book review | Khanya:

Americans now wanted to eat more meat, and it paid their farmers to feed their cereals to the livestock needed to produce that meat, rather than to human beings. For the first time in history, high meat consumption in one major country would distort agricultural output all over the world.

If you want to be environmentally friendly about meat, then insist that the meat you buy comes from grass-fed and not corn-fed/grain-fed cattle.

And one last little tip: at public events caterers have learnt to be sensitive to religious diversity and provide kosher and halaal food, but most of them have never heard of nistisimo. Perhaps they had better learn it now, and provide nistisimo food on Wednesdays and Fridays for the Christians, and on Mondays for the secularists who observe Meatless Mondays. Oh yes, and even the secularists can Google for “nistisimo recipes”.

Coffee’s Mysterious Benefits Mount

Coffee’s Mysterious Benefits Mount:

From lowered cancer risks to a sharper memory, more studies are showing that coffee is good for you – but why?

Regular coffee drinkers have a 39 percent decreased risk of head and neck cancer, according to a new study published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. Those who drank an estimated four or more cups a day had significantly fewer cancers of the mouth and throat than non coffee drinkers, the study found.

Well that’s nice to know.

I’ve read so many articles about how common food that we eat every day is going to kill us that it’s nice to read about some of the benefits too, though the article does go on to say that coffee can do bad things as well.

And this year the Apostles’ Fast seems to be going on for ever (for people on the Old Calendar it will be even longer than Lent), and I seem to drink more black coffee during the fasts, because I don’t like black tea, so it’s nice to know that it has some benefits.

A Christian Ramadan?

It seemss that a number of evangelical Christians have “rediscovered” fasting by observing the Muslim fast of Ramadan, Notes from a Common-place Book: A Christian Ramadan?:

I find it interesting that these evangelicals are fasting not as a Christian discipline, but rather to show respect and solidarity with Islam. I have several Muslim friends. Were I to announce I would be participating in Ramadan with them, they would see it as the obvious gimmick that it is. Others seem to agree.

I noticed something similar back in the 1980s, when it became fashionable in some Christian circles to hold Christian Passover meals. I did so myself on a couple of occasions, when I was an Angl;ican, and even invited some Jewish friends to join us at one of them. It was in a small town where there was no Jewish community and the Jews who came were generally non-observant, and seemed to appreciate both the invitation and the meal itself, though perhaps they were too polite to say what they thought of the Christianised bits (If he had sent the prophets, but had not become man for us, we would have thought it enough; if he had become man for us and not performed miracles of healing, we would have thought it enough, etc). But my observant Jewish friends were rather horrified when I told them about it, and clearly saw it as the obvious gimmick that it was.

In some ways it was a useful educational exercise, to learn something of the Jewish roots of Christian worship. But it also became clear that it didn’t fit.

In our Anglican parish we discussed when we should have it. Some said Maundy Thursday, on the assumption that the last supper was a passover meal. We did that one year, but it didn’t feel right to eat meat in Holy Week. So the next time we did it, we did it on Easter Monday. And looking back on it, I can see that St John Chrysostom’s criticisms of Judaising Christians were right on the money. The “Christian Passover meal” was a chimera.

And then this year, having just completed the Dormition Fast, I read various blogs where people were urging Christians to observe the fast of Ramadan. I suspect that most of them had never even heard of the Dormition Fast. Though they were Christians, they were more familiar with Muslim traditions than with Christian ones.

So I recommend the whole article Notes from a Common-place Book: A Christian Ramadan?, and the comments are worth reading too. Another thing I discovered a couple of years ago was that some evangelicals were beginning to realise that there was quite a lot in the Bible about fasting, but they were suspicious of the practice because they associated it with asceticism, which they regarded as a Bad Thing. For such people I wrote Christian asceticism: Khanya.

There’s also another interesting take on this at The Ochlophobist: ramadan and closet lesbian evangelical zionist dancers; usual ochlophobic topics…

Another reason for keeping the fasts of the Church

Fasting is supposed to be good for the soul, but according to Nouslife, it can benefit the environment too.

Nouslife: Eat more plants – environment will like it:

Every so often I post stuff like this and I’ll continue to do so because the research keeps coming in and the arguments still stack up: if we’re serious about our environmental footprints, then we should reduce or remove meat in our diet. This time it’s from the New Scientist: ‘Livestock are responsible for nearly a fifth of all greenhouse emissions, from the methane produced by their guts and manure, to nitrous oxide emissions from the fertilisers used to grow feed for them. Because it takes several kilograms of plant matter to grow a kilogram of meat, producing meat and animal products such as cheese usually greatly multiplies the environmental damage done by farming. The huge amounts of land required are driving the destruction of rainforests, for instance. Even small reductions in consumption, such as making Mondays meat-free, could make a big difference.’

I don’t know about Mondays as well, but just the normal Wednesdays and Fridays might do — keeping those meat and dairy free, as well as the fasting seasons, like the pre-Christmas and Lenten fasts. It could give a whole new meaning to Easter eggs.

Oh yes, and in the feasting seasons, when you do eat meat, try to avoid restaurants that advertise that their meat is “grain-fed”. Grass-fed is healthier, both for you and the planet.

Meat-free Monday?

I’ve seen two stories on the same day about people calling for a meat-free day each week.

Day of the lentil burghers: Ghent goes veggie – The Guardian:

Ghent embarks on a radical experiment today seeking to make every Thursday a day free of meat and of the fish and shellfish for which the city is renowned. On the eve of what is being touted as an unprecedented exercise the biggest queue in the Flemish university town of 200 000 yesterday was for signatures – to collect a bag of wholefood goodies and sign up for ‘Donderdag – Veggie Dag’ turning the burghers of Ghent into pioneers in the fight against obesity global warming cruelty to animals and against the myth that meat-free eating amounts to a diet of soggy lettuce a slice of tomato and a foul-tasting bean burger.

And then this from Britain: Support Meat Free Monday – Eat less meat for a better planet:

It’s a food campaign to encourage the nation to help slow climate change by reducing their meat consumption by having at least one meat free day a week.

Having a MEAT FREE day every week is a simple way to start making a real difference in the world. The more people who join in, the more difference we can make.

What I find curious about this is the days on which it is suggested that this fast should take place — Monday and Thursday.

Traditionally, Christians have fasted from meat on Wednesdays and Fridays, and though many no longer observe this fast, some do, and since Belgium was, in the past, a country with a majority Roman Catholic population, why not encourage people to begin that practice again?

Perhaps it is to avoid embarrassment to atheists, who might not want to abstain from meat on Wednesdays or Fridays and thus give the impression that they are Christians. In Albania, when it was officially an atheist country, teachers would interrogate children at school to find what they had or hadn’t been eating at home, especially during the Christian fast of Lent and the Muslim fast of Ramadan. They would also ask children if they had been eating lots of eggs during the Easter season. If there was evidence fo feasting or fasting, a visit from the police was sure to follow.

But if fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays would cause embarrassment to atheists, why not encourage people to fast on a day of their choice? Or is the aim to get Christians who are already abstaining from meat on Wednesdays and Fridays to add another day?

I’ve been to a number of conferences and gatherings where Halaal and Kosher food are provided, but it is rare for find Orthodox Christian fasting food on such occasions. Perhaps if Wednesday or Friday were adopted as the meat-free day it might make such things a little easier.

Peace is kosher and halaal — but is it nistisimou?

The Times – Peace is kosher and halaal:

“Muslim and Jewish students got together yesterday to cook up a storm at the University of Johannesburg.

The Centre for Islamic Studies and the SA Union of Jewish Students joined forces to promote peace by cooking a meal together.

Caylee Talpert, chairman of the Jewish organisation, said: “This event is meant to mend bridges and to make us all realise that we are all the same. This will ensure that we develop friendships based on knowing each other.”

The cafeteria kitchen at the university was filled with eager students in aprons and chef’s hats.

While I’m pretty certain some Lenten fare (nistisimou) is decidedly not kosher, like shellfish, the vegan style of Lenten fasting food is probably both kosher and halaal as well.

And while some food products are marked Kosher, and some are marked Halaal, I’ve never seen any marked as Nistisimou. I’ve been to conferences and meetings where Kosher and Halaal food has been offered and served, but never Lenten fare.

Even in Greese, I’ve found it difficult to find fasting food. The exception, ironically enough, was MacDonalds, which offered a “McLent” special (MacSarakosti): a veggie burger or six spring rolls. One hopes that the chips weren’t flavoured with beef (a Hindu sued them in the USA over that), and that the potatoes weren’t genetically modified with genes derived from rat fat.

"As we forgive those…"

Sunday 18th February 2007
* Tone 3 – 36th SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
* SUNDAY OF CHEESEFARE
* The Expulsion of Adam from the Paradise of Bliss
* Sunday of Forgiveness

Today is Forgiveness Sunday, also known as Cheesefare Sunday, the last day before the Great Fast of Lent. In the Orthodox Church Lent begans at Vespers, around sunset. During the service, the colours are changed from gold to purple, the music changes to a minor key, and the first act, to begin the fast, is when the members of the congregation prostrate themselves before one another, and ask forgiveness of each other, and as they rise, say, “I forgive you”. So the first day of Lent is known as Clean Monday.

The Scrivener: “As we forgive those…” has posted a very suitable article for the day, and one that is worth reading in preparation for Vespers.

And so I ask any readers of this blog whom I may have offended, knowingly or in ignorance, please forgive me.

It is also the Sunday of Cheesefare — the last day we eat cheese, butter and other dairy products, and eggs before Pascha, fifty days hence. We said goodbye to meat last week. You can have little idea of what Easter eggs mean if you have not abstained from eating them during the fast.

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