I ate meat today. It’s Friday. Happy tummy!
Fort Wayne’s annual Ribfest was today, so I spent way too much money on a fantastic beef brisket and a glass of Fat Tire. And it’s a Friday. For the first time since I’ve been Orthodox, Ribfest fell outside the Apostle’s Fast, a brief, meat-free period in mid-June that gives me pause at cookouts. Because it was the week after Pentacost, there was also no fasting from meat on Wednesday and Friday this week. Gastronomical perfection available to me today. Three cheers for how the calendar worked out this year. Hip-hip-horray!
As I clipped off my I-am-old-enough-and-plan-to-consume-adult-beverages bracelet from the festival, I remembered my old no-drinking, no-movies, no-playing-with-face-card days. And I compared it to my fast-filled word in the Orthodox church. There’s a big hairy-arsed difference.
We fast, I fast, from meat and dairy (when I can) nearly every Wednesday and Friday, about 50 days before Pascha, 40 days before Christmas, about 14 days in August and usually about seven days in June. When you add it up, I’m a vegetarian about half the year. I want to be clear: I like meat. If God didn’t intend us to eat meat, He wouldn’t have put New York strip steaks on cows. Just saying.
I don’t abstain because it earns me points with Jesus or because there is something inherently wrong with meat-eating. I abstain because it is a discipline. It gives me a minute to pause and think about Christ’s betrayal (Wednesdays) or His death (Fridays). It helps me focus on what is important before the big feast days, simplifying my menu and my life.
In my Christian life Before Orthodoxy, way before I even knew of it, we didn’t drink alcohol. We didn’t do a lot of things. We didn’t do these things because they led to other things that were bad (drunkenness, gambling, fun…) But we didn’t replace them with anything. We certainly didn’t get any benefit from such abstinence, that would be “works” coming into our salvation. Can’t have that.
So any indulgence in anything verboten brought nothing but guilt and spiritual navel gazing, at least for me. Is God going to be mad? What if someone sees me? What if it keeps people from being saved?
I do a lot worse things to harm the Kingdom in a thousand different ways throughout the day, other than my consumption of adult beverages. And those are things I should worry about. Refraining from meat, in theory, should cause me to be more aware of those things and put my mind in a more God-centered way.
But on these glorious days, when all is available to me, I feel no guilt. What I feel is a deep gratitude for the gift given me, not just in the wonderful food, but also my salvation. I am still mindful of what happened on a Friday, in part because my normal routine was interrupted.
But I gotta tell you, that brisket was pretty good. So was the sauce.