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March 14, 2021

Cheesefare Sunday (Elder Epiphanios Theodoropoulos)

By Archimandrite Epiphanios Theodoropoulos
Cheesefare Sunday received it's name because on it, like the previous week, we do not eat meat, but only dairy products, such as milk, cheese, etc., as well as eggs and fish.

Many find this rule of the Church to be "unreasonable", saying: "How is milk of a lamb allowed but not the meat of the lamb, since milk is produced by the lamb? How are eggs allowed and not chicken, since the first are produced by the second?"

Of course these people would have a point, if we maintained that the meat of the lamb or fowl was tainted and for this reason we do not eat it. Then we should not eat what is produced by them, since these also would be tainted. But through our Church no food is tainted. This is what is taught by the Apostle Paul in his First Epistle to Timothy (4:3-5). Rather the Church simply divides food into greater or lesser consumption towards self-restraint and, at certain times, allows the one and forbids the other.

An accurate response towards those who say the above has been answered by Athanasios of Paros, a wise and important teacher of the Church, when he writes to a certain doctor:

"You criticize your friend because during Cheesefare he eats eggs, yet does not eat the chicken which gives birth to the egg? But what similarity can be made between an egg, which is not alive, and a chicken, which is alive? The egg is much lower than the fowl. And as proof I appeal to your own opinion, that is, the opinion of a doctor. To whomever is sick and begins to approach the stages of recovery you prescribe as food small and delicate chicks and not tough fowl. For what reason do you do this? Because, you say, the fat and greasy foods will harm him who now begins to recover from his sickness, since his stomach does not have the strength to endure and digest heavy foods. If therefore there is a difference between a small chick and a big chicken and the chick is, as a food, much lower in strength than the chicken, and no doctor has ever said that the egg of a chick or chicken is the same food or equally suitable for the sick, is it not clear that unreasonable are those who criticize us for eating eggs and not fowl?... They criticize us also that we eat olives, but not olive oil, even though inside the olives is the olive oil. But within grapes is wine also. Yet however many grapes we eat we will not get drunk; at most we will become stuffed in our stomachs...."

Besides this, it is well-known that with olive oil we are able to cook innumerable and delicious foods, though olives are considered xerophagy (dry foods). Xerophagy is to not eat cooked foods, but unprepared ones, such as bread with olives or dry fruit, etc.
On Cheesefare Sunday the Church brings before us the exile from Paradise, because of the disobedience of the first-formed Adam. Why does it do this? Behold what is said by the Horologion:

"The commemoration of the exile of Adam from the nourishment of Paradise, was arranged for the eve of Holy Lent, by the most-divine Fathers, to show not by simple words but by this reality, how beneficial a good fast is to man; and on the contrary how harmful and destructive is the lack of self-control and the transgression of the divine commandments; and how the first commandment of God towards people was that of the commandment to fast, which the first-formed received but did not keep, and not only did they not become gods, as they imagined, but they lost the blessed life they had and fell into corruption and death, transferring these and a myriad of other evils, in as much as this was their source, to the entire human race. These things are today brought before us to see by the God-bearing Fathers, that we may remember from where we fell and what happened to us due to the lack of self-control and disobedience of the first-formed, and that we may once again return to that ancient blessedness and glory through fasting and obedience to all the divine commandments."
The Gospel reading of today teaches us three basic things: a) That if we do not forgive others for whatever offense made against us, God will also not forgive us. Our forgiveness towards others is a term and condition for our own forgiveness by God. b) That we must indeed fast, but our fast must not be done for show or out of pride. And c) That we must not acquire as treasure material treasures on earth, but instead spiritual treasures, namely virtues - and especially almsgiving -, in Heaven.
Scandalized By Fasting
Here it would be good to add that some have over-interpreted the command of the Lord regarding one's refraining from showing others that we are fasting (c.f. Matt. 6:16-18), and when they are found among others who do not keep the fasts, they also do not fast, even though in their home they fast. "I ate meat", they say, "even though it was Friday, in order that I may not scandalize them!"

Of course, we must be very careful to not scandalize our fellow people, but this scandalizing which we must keep away from is the scandal which comes from violating the Law of God or the commands of the Church. Scandals which come from our keeping the Law of God or the commands of the Church (if in fact such "scandalizing" exists), should leave us completely indifferent!

If there exist (and surely there do) people who are scandalized when we blaspheme, swear, lie, do not keep the fasts, etc. etc., then our offense is doubled: we are offenders for both the sin which we committed and through this the scandalization of our brethren.

But if there exist people who are scandalized because we pray, we confess, we receive the Divine Mysteries, we keep the fasts, etc., let them be scandalized and let them say whatever they want!

We must understand well that it is one thing to expose and another thing to confess. The Christian who finds himself at a table with others which has foods one would eat on Pascha, though it is a fast day, should compose himself calmly and humbly, without pharisaical boasting and bragging, in denying the foods offered. This is not exposing, it is rather the basic consistency towards one's principles, it is a confession of one's character as a submissive child of the Orthodox Church. With this stance he will teach others that they are not keeping good standing with the legislation of the Church. If however this person also eats, he will in fact teach the others that they also can break the commands of the Church. "Since he", others will think, "who attends church often and confesses and communes, also eats, this means that fasting means nothing. We therefore do well also in not fasting."  

Source: From the book Περίοδος Τριωδίου. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.