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An unworthy Deacon, named for the brother of God: James, striving to "work out his salvation with fear and trembling" within the Tradition (paradosis) of the Eastern Orthodox Faith. It is a strange and marvelous journey, and I am accompanied by the fourfold fruit of my fecundity. My wife, the Matushka or Diaconissa Sophia, is my beloved partner in the pursuit of Theosis, and she ranks me in every way.
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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

To Feast, or not to Feast?

That is the question. So, let me give you my answer. On the appointed day of Thanksgiving: FEAST! Kill the fatted bird and FEAST!

But, if you wish to maintain the fast: Glory to God! If you wish to lessen the fast (like a church feast day falling during a fast): then enjoy your fish, wine, and oil and Glory to God! If you wish to feast with the vast majority of your neighbors, family, friends, and countrymen: kill the fatted bird and give thanks unto the Lord.

Some of you will no doubt suggest that all of this needs to be taken up with you Spiritual Father...and that's fine, I'm sure. But frankly if your Spiritual Father is dogmatically insisting on any one of these "options" I think I'd be a little concerned.

Let me give you my reasoning, FWIW, as to why I think we SHOULD or at least CAN celebrate Thanksgiving in the traditional American way. First and foremost, were it not obvious, we are Americans. Thanksgiving is one of the few traditions we still all largely celebrate together - despite an ever growing propensity for celebrating diversity. When do we ever get to celebrate unity, by the way? And we are not talking about a political holiday (of which many have been incorporated into old world Orthodox feasts), but a holiday intended to exhort us Americans to give thanks to God. (That is one of the early States proclamation...Lincoln - fittingly - would offer the first national one in 1863).

I have a hard time imagining St. Herman finding a very important tribal and family tradition amongst the Native Alaskans and then telling his converts that they must abandon it (or even portions of it) in order to satisfy the letter of the fasting law. Sow discord and disunity for the sake of avoiding meat for one day? Rather would we not expect to see our Saint baptizing the Feast? I would expect so. I mean, think about it: why do we celebrate the Nativity of Christ when we do? Because we Baptized a pagan festival. Why do we drag trees into our houses? Because we baptized a pagan practice - which still makes little sense. Amongst my Slovak family there are MANY traditions (e.g. dumping water on girls) centered around Pascha that absolutely have a pagan origin and yet have been retained. Fact is, Thanksgiving OUGHT to be an EASY celebration to baptize in comparison to hauling dying trees into our houses. (I've no doubt there are some fundamentalists - Orthodox and protestant - who refuse to have Christmas trees...and to them I say: BAH HUMBUG!)

I believe it was a visiting priest from Kenya who told us the story of a Bishop who went out to a remote village to visit a bunch of new believers. The Bishop had his usual entourage and as they all sat down for a meal they were SHOCKED to find hardly anything but meat provided. They all waited anxiously to find out what the Bishop was going to do. He blessed the food and then told his entourage in Greek: "Now it is fish." The notion that we can get around the "problem" of Thanksgiving by employing the acceptance of hospitality by seeing that we are invited to someone else's house seems to me to be profoundly disingenuous. How is this different than telling everyone in the Orthodox Church that you are now to receive the hospitality of American culture: Thanksgiving?

Consider the issue of the New Calender. Despite whatever practical reasons, in switching we now find ourselves celebrating Christmas with the majority of the people we live around and we converts have one less thing to worry about with regard to family problems and celebrations. Alas, our Old Calendar convert brethren may escape the dilemma of Thanksgiving during the Advent Fast, but they gain the bigger dilemma of western Christmas during the Advent Fast. Additionally, by adopting the new calender, Old Calenderists rightly note that we have laid waste to the Apostle's Fast - in some years it doesn't even exist at all. So, my point is, if you are going to say we should not break the Fast for Thanksgiving, then I'm thinking you ought to apply the exact same legalistic logic to the adoption of the New Calender.

Ah yes, but James, Thanksgiving has lost so much of its meaning. It's now merely an excuse to be a glutton, a drunkard, and to watch football. Well, welcome to reality! Do you reckon Christmas and Easter have not lost much of its meaning to the popular culture as well? More than that, do you doubt that were you to make a run of Lent/Pascha in the old world that you would see the exact same loss of meaning for so many people there? You suppose you might find a fair number of Greeks or Russians who did nothing with the Fast and everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) with the Feast? Don't deceive yourself, there is no great religious Feast in this world that is not diluted in its meaning to the point of becoming little more than....well...what we assume we see most Americans making of Thanksgiving. And to be fair, I have indeed seen my share of gluttony and drunkenness on Pascha in the world of convert Orthodoxy...though not so much football. We bring meaning to everything...without our input, nothing has meaning. And we may input for good or for ill.

Have you ever broken the Fast? You know, snuck a bite of cheese or chocolate at work? Ever just break down and go to Burger King during Advent? Ever seek an invitation to a non-Orthodox friends house for dinner because if you have to creatively devise one more soy, beans, and rice dish for the family you are going to literally implode into a quivering mass of PETA propaganda beaten wimpiness? I will be the first to confess that I do not keep the fast perfectly, but if anyone tells you that the goal of the Fast is to keep it perfectly then I would suggest you run, do not walk - do not pass go and do not collect $200 - to the nearest exit. Fasting is FAR more about the state of your heart than about the food you put in your mouth and as such, if you find fasting is making you into a legalist than I would advise you go and eat an entire gallon of the richest ice cream you can find...NOW! I once heard Metropolitan JONAH relate a story of an Abbott bringing ice cream to his monks during one of the Fasts...I cannot recall the details, but the moral of the story was simple: don't become a pharisee. What you eat during Lent or Advent is far less important than many other things. Anyway, my point here is simply to suggest that breaking the Fast for a good cause is in no way an innovation and I'd be far better spending my time concerning myself with the fact that I sometimes break the Fast to truly feed my own private, secret and day to day gluttony. There are many bad reasons to break the Fast, I do not believe Thanksgiving is one of them.

Can I use Thanksgiving as an excuse to do the same (feed my passions)? You bet. But I can also do the same with weekends and Feast amongst Fast days (fish, wine, and oil) and indeed the Feasts themselves.

If we are going to be the Church in America, we really need to consider what is the heart of our Traditions. Think about all the lifestyle and cultural changes we make when converting to Orthodoxy...many of us converts know already how strange we seem to others. How often we are in Church during Lent...taking time off from work during Holy Week...fasting on most Wednesdays and Fridays...vespers on Saturday night...often celebrating easter at a different times than our friends and family (ah yes the joy of our families having Easter in the midst of our Lenten Fast!) and very often adopting cultural customs surrounding various Church holidays that are utterly foreign to many of us. We embrace them and we deal with some of the problems surrounding them that can sometimes isolate us from our more popular culture, not to mention friends and family. Some will no doubt say: "Good. I want to be isolated from our predominant culture." Okay, fine...I can understand that, but we must also understand that at some point we may as well be asking gentile converts to be circumcised. It is one thing to do this with regard to our moral teachings (remember given our society today we are more and more asking a great deal of people - they would say - and I would not dream of changing a wink of THAT), but I think it is another with regard to our practical Traditions.

Is one day of fasting worth isolating ourselves from our friends, neighbors, and families? Should we not embrace this which is good in our society? Recognize it for the worth it has - or rather the worth we can impregnate it with - and celebrate it? It needn't be an occasion for drunkenness and gluttony...there should never be an occasion for such things.

Thanksgiving is a part of our predominant culture that can still be a very good thing - no, I take that back...it IS a very good thing. We ought to fully baptize it. Yes, were we an Orthodox culture at the time of the founding of this feast we would surely have chosen a different time for it...but we must deal with reality as surely as we deal with the the reality of the New Calender. Baptizing Thanksgiving has been happening already. Many Parishes offer the Akathist of Thanksgiving and I've also heard of some doing a Divine Liturgy. Why not?

We bring so many customs and traditions from Russia, Greece, the Middle East, Ukraine, etc...and they can be wonderful things that many a convert will embrace. But we are not utterly devoid of good customs here in America. Thanksgiving is full of precious memories for so many of us - heck MOST of us!

Who cannot recall the wonderful smells from Grandma's kitchen? The handing down of recipes, the formal prayers before a meal (sometimes not heard any other time in some homes), the laughing and story-telling of Thanksgivings past, "Over the river and through the woods...", some even have dinner time customs such as dropping dried corn kernels into a jar while telling everyone else about something they are thankful for this year and then the jar remains on the table during the meal as a reminder. Thanksgiving is a good thing. It is bad only to the degree that we make it bad and I simply refuse to believe that the unfortunate collision of cultural calenders suddenly renders the Feast bad or unimportant.

Good luck becoming the Orthodox Church in America if we tell converts that they must abandon or seriously curtail this wonderful American Tradition. I believe if we ever see an American Orthodox Church, it will in some way include Thanksgiving.

That's my 2 cents and I offer them without judgment to anyone who feels inclined to practice otherwise. I'd be interested to hear what you and your family will be doing.

As a side. I'm raising a couple of Turkeys for next year. The MRS has been freaked out to see the ingredient lists on store-bought turkeys. And to think, we figured it ought to say simply: Turkey.

...offered by Dn. fdj, a sinner at 8:19 AM [+]


Breaking the fast on Thanksgiving is a great blessing - it reminds me that I am not a good Orthodox Christian and no one should ever listen to what I have to say re religion. This has not stopped me from spouting off at the mouth (or keyboard), unfortunately.

By Blogger 123, at 9:24 AM  


LOL...yeah, well I don't need Thanksgiving to do that for me...heck I'm not sure a day goes by that something at least SHOULD make me and certainly others realize how full of crap I am.

But I keep shoveling it.


By Blogger fdj, at 9:54 AM  


Well lucky for us that crap is also good fertilizer as long as God sends the rain and sun.

By Blogger 123, at 9:59 AM  


For me, it is also wrapped up in accepting hospitality, as my aunt and uncle invite us over for a Thanksgiving Vegetarian Feast (on the day after Thanksgiving)

On Thanksgiving proper, we have a tofurky feast, which is mostly, but not all, vegan. But, that's just because we are vegetarians.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving bounty!

By Blogger Mimi, at 10:08 AM  


To be serious, I accept whatever is put in front of me by my non-Orthodox wife who spends a great deal of time preparing the meal for me, our family and friends (we also try to invite over anyone that may be stranded or have no one to celebrate with). I allow myself to eat whatever is available starting at the Thanksgiving meal itself (around 2pm) until the end of the day - I don't allow myself leftovers the day after. I have also been trying not to feast too abundantly, but to take only small portions of each dish. (Though no matter how little I take I always pass out soon after the meal starts to finish.)

By Blogger 123, at 10:12 AM  


I don't know much about this - but I tend to think if you are in a Orthodox family that can keep the fast and be content, praise God! But if you are showing hospitality to non-Orthodox, or (like me and others) have spouses and others who are putting on beautiful meals made with love, then I am guided by one of the sayings of the Desert Fathers:

We came from Palestine to Egypt and went to see one of the fathers. He offered us hospitality and we said, 'Why do you not keep the fast when visitors come to see you? In Palestine they keep it.' He replied, 'Fasting is always with me but I cannot always have you here. It is useful and necessary to fast but we choose whether we will fast or not. What God commands is perfect love. I receive Christ in you and so I must do everything possible to serve you with love. When I have sent you on your way, then I can continue my rule of fasting. The sons of the bridegroom cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them; when he is taken away from them, then they will fast.'"


Question for you here (as I am stocking a small farm myself and interested in your new farming adventures) - during the fasts what do you do with all your goats' milk? Feeding the pigs? Do you have pigs? Just curious.

-Eric John

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:10 AM  


I'll answer your question....

We have young children and I've always felt very strongly that they NEED their dairy! So I do not require my children to fast from dairy. We continue to make cheese, which sometimes needs aging anyway. During Lent the goats are typically dry in preparation for kidding. I plan it out so that they kid just after Pascha.

By Blogger Susan Sophia, at 11:59 AM  


Insofar as calcium is concerned, I was surprised to find that broccoli has more available calcium than a glass of whole milk.

While my 11 week old son is wonderful, he has not yet refused the breast on fast days as I have read of in some saints' Lives. Of course, his mother isn't Orthodox, so perhaps he is just being gracious to her hospitality. :)

By Blogger 123, at 12:03 PM  


yes, there are lots of great ways to get calcium. I think, though, there is great nutritional value in milk that I'm not yet ready to take away from my growing children. Especially in RAW goats milk! Enzymes, minerals, vitamins!

By Blogger Unknown, at 12:17 PM  


OOOPS...didn't realize my daughters name was logged in. the last comment from Kelsey Anna was actually from her mother...SusanSophia

By Blogger Susan Sophia, at 12:19 PM  


Enzymes, minerals, vitamins, oh my!
Enzymes, minerals, vitamins, oh my!
Enzymes, minerals, vitamins, oh my!

A good friend of ours and her family drink nothing but raw cow's milk. She swears by it. Unfortunately, I hate everything but skim.

My wife started giving him some probiotic and cod liver oil to help add in some other vitamins and minerals.

I haven't had to deal with this issue yet. I keep meaning to talk to my spiritual father. Will do that once it gets closer to our little man being weaned. Again, with a non-Orthodox wife, I'm sure to be given less than carte blanche in deciding this matter, whatever my opinion or preference might be.

By Blogger 123, at 12:22 PM  


Hey Eric...

As the MRS noted we can make cheese with the milk...a bit of fasting torture - because man those curds are delicious as we pack the cheese press.

You can also freeze milk - we have done this and made cheese...but never drank it.

Part of the dilemma here for us is that we intentionally LIVE off of our farm and budget accordingly. But thus far we have managed to sell our eggs (always easy) and give the kids milk and process the rest.

We don't have any pigs yet...but during fasts, no chicken need fear the pot.

By Blogger fdj, at 1:19 PM  


I should pause and note that for those of you with non-Orthdoox spouses, I am sure the problems of fasting/feasting/ and holidays are especially difficult sometimes. A good deal of sensitivity is needed, I am sure - both by spouses and the Church.

By Blogger fdj, at 1:32 PM  


It actually hasn't been too hard for me, personally. I'm the one fasting, after all, not her. I also don't get any more worked up about smelling meat at home as I do smelling meat walking down the street or from a coworker's office. The baby has made it a little more complex, because I am doing more of the cooking and the wife is craving things for her (and the baby, therefor) that I can't eat. But, throwing a veggie burger down next to my wife's turkey burger ain't that big a deal. When she cooks, whatever she makes is what I eat, and she is usually good about not making something I shouldn't eat (even if I would eat it if she put it in front of me).

I think the real difficulty will come in deciding how we introduce the little one to fasting. Will need guidance from the spiritual father on that one. In some ways, preserving some things for 'when you are older' is probably a good idea - you can fast when you are bigger; Vespers is for grown-ups; I'll take you when you're ready, etc. Not that it should wait too long, but it might be a good way to get him to want to come and to ask mommy to let him go with daddy.

By Blogger 123, at 1:45 PM  


I also have a non-Orthodox spouse, who does most of the cooking - while he's very good about remembering the big fasts, I've also learned to not ask too many questions about some ingredients, and my priest has always instructed me to eat what is put in front of me as made with love.

And, I forgot to mention, James and your lovely bride, of course you are invited to our abode for our Tofurky feast.

By Blogger Mimi, at 2:38 PM  


James and Susan Sophia:

thanks for the kind responses . . . kinda figured about the cheese but not so much about the frozen milk.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Eric John

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:01 PM  


I say feast! Not enough feasting and celebrating in this world. Too much of the faux kind, which is feasting and celebrating to forget, and not the other way around, celebrating the death of death and the good news of the Gospel. And so I will feast on Thanksgiving, and feast on the 25th with my family and friends, even though the parish where my wife and I attend adheres to the old calendar (I tried to read up on the tiff between old and new calendar adherents and I'm sorry to say that all the arguments just gave me a headache).

Also, James, thank you for the various Metropolitan Jonah links...I was so, er, touched to listen to him and read his writings.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:41 PM  


A most excellent post. I think some really spiritual guy said something like "Nothing is unclean if received with thanksgiving..." I dunno, does that trump the "calendar"?

By Blogger Steve Robinson, at 7:23 PM  


Not enough feasting and celebrating in this world. Too much of the faux kind, which is feasting and celebrating to forget, and not the other way around

Beautiful. You would think I would know and practice this, but too often I don't.

By Blogger fdj, at 8:04 PM  


For one who chose to become Orthodox (baptist for most of adult life), following the Traditional Orthodox was important. Had I been lazy in my attitude, i wouldn't have bothered. Why become 'orthodox' and not be baptized as such, follow the fasts to the best of your ability, prayers...etc, etc..??? For those who stauchly defend the new calendarist agenda, I don't buy. If you break fast for american Thanksgiving, then do you fast during western Christmas..??? How do you handle Traditional Nativity..??? Just blow it off, or what..???

By Blogger misha, at 6:42 PM  


For one who chose to become Orthodox (baptist for most of adult life), following the Traditional Orthodox was important. Had I been lazy in my attitude, i wouldn't have bothered. Why become 'orthodox' and not be baptized as such, follow the fasts to the best of your ability, prayers...etc, etc..??? For those who stauchly defend the new calendarist agenda, I don't buy. If you break fast for american Thanksgiving, then do you fast during western Christmas..??? How do you handle Traditional Nativity..??? Just blow it off, or what..???

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:43 PM  


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