Today is the first day of Great Lent. May the Lord bless and strengthen each soul who is embarking on this spiritual journey today. Immerse yourself in prayer before all else, and especially before you begin to think about what you will eat today.
The fourth secret of a successful Lent is that we must not allow ourselves to play games. I mean that it is very easy indeed for us to start inventing loopholes in our observance which enable us to pretend that we are keeping the fast while actually we are making every allowance to satisfy our appetites.
One game that is played is to say that a food is fasting food, or vegan, if it only contains a small amount of those ingredients which we have committed to avoid. Sometimes the game is played in such a way so that if a non-fasting food is only the third ingredient then it is OK. But there is no point in having made a commitment if we are going to break it in such a manner. Why not just admit that we are going to eat whatever we have said we would avoid rather than playing such games.
In the UK it is very easy to see if a product contains dairy. We can pick up a packet, turn it over, look at the Allergy Advice and see if it contains milk or eggs. If it does, and we are following a vegan diet during Lent, then the best thing to do is to just put it down and walk away. Find something else. But don't play games.
It is better to have a simple rule and keep it, than one which we have already decided we will break.
Orthodoxy is not a legalistic law based spirituality. But the teachings of the Church are provided for our salvation if we participate in them with our whole hearts.There would be no great value in training for an athletics event and being told to run round the track 20 times if we kept cutting across the middle to avoid the effort we had started off being committed to.
If we are offered a coffee it is not hard to ask for it black. If we are out with friends we really don't have to order a Quarter-Pounder with extra Bacon, we can choose the most fasting friendly food available. We have to decide why we are starting the fast. If it is to please God and to draw closer to him then he is not fooled by the myriad exceptions we allow ourselves. He knows and we know the difference between the unavoidable requirements of hospitality and the easily adopted laxness which we often prefer to choose. If we have travelled 1000 miles and our non-Orthodox friend has spent hours preparing a meal for us, then that is one thing. But if we have control over what we will eat but excuse ourselves in the same way then that is something else altogether.
There is such a great blessing in offering to God a sacrifice of prayer and fasting. It would be a shame to lose that blessing by pretending to ourselves that we have made a sacrifice when in fact we are spoiling the fast by playing games. If we avoiding meat then let us really avoid meat unless it is impossible. If we are eating a vegan diet then let us really avoid dairy products unless it is impossible. Find a website with fasting recipes. Choose in advance what you will eat for a particular meal. But stick with the commitment you have made and God will surely bless it.