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Festive Fasting: Inside an Orthodox Advent on a meal plan.

Advent season is coming up, and while many Christians and non-Christians alike associate this time of the year with calendars filled with chocolate, holiday music, and celebration with friends and family, the Orthodox Christian community also observes fasting during this season of the Church calendar.

According to the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese website’s page on Nativity fasting, there are different rules for different periods during the fast, but overall it is a less strict fast than some of the other fasts of the year, such as Lent. In general, fasting is the practice of abstaining from certain foods for the purpose of focusing on the Heavenly rather the earthly. During the Advent fast, most Orthodox Christians abstain from meat and dairy, with more specific restrictions on wine, oil and fish for certain days.

In an interview, Hannah Conover, the president of the Orthodox Christian Fellowship (OCF) on campus, discussed her relationship with fasting.

“Fasting to me is a way to govern one’s relationship with God, through sacrifice and denying oneself. It is a way to understand we need God and not to over-value the things of this earth,” Conover said. It is important to note that fasting is not done as an act of penance or seen as a way to please God. Instead, importance is placed on the spiritual discipline of the person fasting, and so fasting is not supposed to be done alone.

“Advent fasting is significant in the Church to prepare ourselves for the Nativity of our Lord,” Conover said. “We focus on prayer, almsgiving, and fasting.” All three of the activities are an important part of the Advent season, not simply the act of fasting in and of itself.

Fasting certainly does restrict the eating options for those participating during this season, especially when there isn’t enough awareness surrounding the issue of finding healthy and nutritious meals for people on a fast.

“I usually try to get salads, veggie burgers, usually anything that is available,” Conover said. “Some days there are things at the salad bar that are vegan, but most days there are not. On days we can eat fish, I will try to get a tuna sandwich. I just try to find the best, healthiest options available.” However, Conover admits that the dining options aren’t always accommodating, and sometimes it’s a struggle to make sure she’s not only eating, but eating well enough to take care of her body. Conover is both a dancer and a Nursing major, so she has to be both mentally and physically fit; finding foods that can provide her with the energy she needs isn’t as easy at school as it had been at home.

“It is hard because usually there are not vegan options, or at least not healthy ones,” Conover said. “I wish Eastern had a bigger salad bar with more healthy toppings and some healthy vegan breakfast options like smoothies or oatmeal. I wish we had a vegan soup offered at all times, and maybe more cooked vegetables, beans, and whole, vegan foods.”

Oftentimes, it’s easy to forget the massive role that food plays in our lives. After all, we consume it everyday, usually without a second thought. However, fasting can be a way of making that process intentional, of teaching us to be both wise and virtuous in what we consume and how we consume, thereby teaching us how better to devote ourselves to God. Fasting is an act of preparation; for after fasting, there comes the feast, in which the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ is celebrated with great joy.

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