Vegan for 47 days: The Lenten season begins in Russia

Observing Lent means giving up all animal food.
Observing Lent means giving up all animal food. / AP
Lent, the solemn weeks before Easter, is a time when Russian Orthodox believers fast and prepare their bodies and minds for the most important Church celebration.

After the culinary extravaganza of the previous week’s Maslenitsa festival, the Russian Orthodox Church on Feb. 27 embarks on its longest and strictest period of abstinence. Lent will last until April 16, and about 2 percent of Russians, nearly 3 million people, intend to fully observe the strict dietary rules throughout its seven-week duration, reported Interfax, citing a Levada Center opinion poll. 

Observing Lent means giving up all animal food – meat, eggs, fish, seafood and all dairy products. On the first and last day of Lent, complete fasting is recommended. On the second day, only bread and water are allowed. On the other days, believers are expected to refrain from alcohol, with the exception of a little wine on weekends, smoking, sex, swearing, and bad thoughts.

Some 18 percent of those polled said they intend to observe Lent partially, for instance, giving up meat and alcohol. Overall, up to 30 percent of respondents are prepared to reduce their consumption of alcohol during Lent; about 15 percent will restrict their sex life; and 19 percent will reduce time spent in entertainment.

"I try to observe the Christmas Fast and Lent because it’s a time for contemplating oneself and one's attitude to others, to the world and to God," said Tatiana Shramchenko. "Recently, I find it difficult to observe Lent according to all the rules because I often think about food than my inner spiritual life. So, this year I decided to abstain from not all the things on the banned list but only the food that I am very fond of – sweets, pastries and cheese. As for meat and dairy products, I hardly ever eat them anyway.”

Lent is not a diet

The Church warns against perceiving this period of abstinence as a diet. “We are not merely giving up meat, dairy and fish products during Lent, but rather, by training our will power on small things we show devotion to God and readiness for ordeals that may befall us in the future,” said archpriest Maxim Kozlov on the website pravmir.ru, or Orthodox Church World.

"At the same time, if a person is observing a period of abstinence, they should remember that the additional strength they get, as they spend less time eating or watching TV, should be devoted to spiritual life or to helping other people,” he added.

On the pravmir.ru forum, believers ask whether soy products are allowed during Lent, and church officials explain that they are unless there are medical issues. Furthermore, church and monastery food stalls often sell soy products, even sausages. Yet priests warn that one should exercise “restraint, both in terms of quantity and quality, avoiding treats or self-indulgence.”

Read more: The 5 best Lenten menus in Moscow restaurants