Madeline Blount
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Fast of the Demons

March 3, 2009 @ 3:24 PM | Permalink

Yesterday was the first day of Greek Orthodox Lent.  Following the gluttonous explosion of Carnival, traditional Orthodox Cypriots go without meat or dairy until Easter, which is 40 days.  In a moment of cultural solidarity and gastronomical experimentation, and I admit perhaps a moment of ascetic insanity, I decide to follow the tradition this year.  

I researched the rules, which are thorough and strict:

-full fasting (no food, ideally) from the first Monday to the first Wednesday, then another period from Wednesday to Friday.  

-after this first week, you eat regular meals but without meat, dairy, animal products.  

-wine (but not beer or spirits, heh) and olive oil are restricted to weekends.  

-"fish without backbones" are considered fair game, any day of the week.

Increased prayer is supposed to accompany the diet restriction, otherwise the fast is considered empty.  Priests call it the Fast of the Demons.  My curious, secular, reflective fast would fit this demonic criteria I guess . . .  

One of the reasons why I am interested in trying the fast is to experience the old countryside way of cooking and eating.  For the many years that people did follow the rules quite rigorously, Orthodox Cypriots had to get creative.  Some of my favorite Greek and Cypriot dishes are technically lenten: vegetables stuffed with rice, a simple salad, flatbread, taramosolata (a fish roe dip).  It's also said that the tradition of going without before the harvest goes back to pre-Christian times, which makes sense.  

I spoke with my Greek Cypriot friends and people I've been working with about this; to my surprise, many of them don't follow the fasting rules, or they greatly adapt them.  Cyprus is one of the most religious countries in Europe, so I expected a greater following -- but while a great number of Cypriots would consider themselves Orthodox, they may not pray or go to church.  From what I've seen, it's more of a cultural following.  This is why the butcher's and cheese shops are still open even in the more traditional areas of Nicosia, and it's why my friends invited me to a picnic on the first day of the fast.  

At that picnic I shunned cheese for the first time in my life.  We'll see what happens in the next 40 days!

The Church of St. Lazarus in Larnaka, where the Saint died the 2nd time (Jesus having raised him from the dead once, he supposedly then went to Cyprus).  Beautiful and Byzantine.  


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Loved the ending on this. Related: I find that sometimes I remember a meeting or moment but can't recall what country it happened in. I also find that if I ...

Saleem Reshamwala on Upon Waking, and Placelessness 2009-03-23

Thanks Saleem -- I've also experienced that tonguetied delirium from speaking multiple languages in the same conversation. . . interesting to think of meaning separate from words, does meaning require ...

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