Lent is upon us. If you want to make an Orthodox Christian commit the sin of pride (and thus, in theory at least, to have to go to Confession), then mention how hard it is to remember your decision to “give up” chocolate, or to complain about having to eat fish on Fridays during Lent.
By contrast, Orthodox Christians observe four extended fasting seasons per liturgical year—Advent (or the Nativity Fast); Great Lent; the fast before the Feast of Ss Peter and Paul (usually in June); and the Dormition Fast, which commemorates the falling asleep of Mary, the Theotokos. (Orthodox tend to hedge the question of Mary’s assumption into heaven, although I know of at least one Orthodox Church of the Assumption.)
That adds up to more than a third of a year. During this time, Orthodox are asked to abstain from meat and dairy products, as well as alcohol and even olive oil, depending on what day of the week or month it is.
I especially liked the link between the fast and good physical and spiritual health:
I cannot say enough about the sheer, simple gratitude to God that I have felt on those Lenten days when I have heaped my plate with tofu and chickpeas and spinach, and felt that vitamin-laden food—exactly what no less a secular authority than Mark Bittman of The New York Times prescribes as the most healthy diet—hit my stomach after a long day. Not enough to be stuffed, but just enough to be sustained, to have the strength to do good work and love others better and to increase prayer.