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When we fast, We Fast Together

By Natnael Yeibyo

Xom Arba’a or the Lent is a season of soul-searching and repentance. It is a season for reflection and taking stock. Lent o r i g i n a t e d in the very e a r l i e s t days of the C h u r c h as a preparatory time for Easter, when the faithful rededicate themselves and when converts were instructed in the faith and prepared for baptism. By observing the fifty five days of Lent, the individual Christian imitates Jesus’ withdrawal into the wilderness for forty days.

In the Orthodox and Catholic Church there are seasons set for fasting. One of these seasons is the Great fast, also known as “Abi Xom” in Eritrea.

Here and now we welcome this great fasting season, which started February 28th.

L e n t is a fasting time set for self examination through a devout time of prayer. It is a time of contemplation and repentance.

Much of what is practiced in the Orthodox or Catholic Churches today has been in practice for hundreds of years. If you have tried to time your visits to correspond with a church service and found the doors locked, it is probably because you have attempted the visit too late in the day. Church services are held very early every Sunday morning and usually lasts until around 9.

During Lent, however, the Church is open every day, for longer periods (4 am-22:30pm) with the church service held at noon. Followers fast during Lent. No dairy products, meat, fish or eggs are eaten. For those adhering strictly to religious doctrine, Wednesdays and Fridays are also observed as “minor” fasting days for the rest of the year, when believers abstain from dairy products, meat and eggs.

Literary speaking fasting is not eating and drinking, but as a religious duty it is an act of sacrifice — an act of self-denial and humiliation. It is denying comfort to the flesh but feeding strength to the spiritual personality. The fast should be kept not by the mouth alone but also by the eye, the ear, the feet, the hands and all parts of the body: the eye must abstain from impure sights, the ear from malicious gossip, and the hands from acts of injustice.

How do people fast?

As fasting is a way to subdue the flesh for the sake of the spirit it must be done sincerely and should be kept private. The person fasting is not supposed to reveal it to anyone.

For those who fast, the first week is probably the hardest. By the second week, without noticing, they have already gotten used to eating shiro, made from ground chickpeas, ades (lentil), a lot of vegetables and fruits.

Unknown to many of those who fast, pets such as cats and dogs also fast in spite of themselves. Some do suffer during the fasting season. Poor, pets! Victims of collateral damage!

Imagine a dog or a cat eating dried bread and leftovers of vegetarian food for the whole duration of the Lent just because its owner is fasting. When in a human household, well, do as the humans do!

The last few years Lent and Ramadan have been overlapping. This year is no different. Ramadan is set to start in three weeks.

Ramadan is a Muslim religious observance that takes place during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, believed to be the month in which the Qur’an began to be revealed. Prophet Mohammed was spoken to by Allah on a date known as Laylat al- Qadr, or the Night of Power. Allah gave Mohammed the teachings of the Qur’an and set him on his path to becoming a prophet and the founder of the Islamic faith.

Ramadan is a time when Muslims slow down from worldly affairs and focus on self-reformation, spiritual cleansing and enlightenment, establishing a link between God Almighty and themselves by prayer, supplication, charity, good deeds, kindness and helping others.

When I was a kid, I used to love Ramadan of all other similar fasting seasons of other religions, for during the month of Ramadan our daily supply of dates, pastry and other sweet meals was assured.

The Asmara shuk (market place) would be busy with street vendors hawking their sweet scented merchandize displayed on a long table for all to see and smell.

Feturek Yasaim! (Eat with healthy relish, O thou who are fasting) they would shout. We enjoyed the show, the smell, the chanting from the nearby Mosque, the hustle and bustle of the people, bicycles, wheel barrows, taxis, etc. We toured the food sites with our small allowance, we bought some pastry and ate them on the spot, a practice unthinkable to our Muslim friends; for they had to wait until a white thread became impossible to detect in the dusk.

However, this year we will be all fasting at the same time and having a go at a meat sambusa some of our Muslim friends bring for us will be unacceptable. Perhaps they will bring us sambusa made completely from vegetables.

At the end of the day, we Eritreans eat together no matter where we are from or what we believe in. It is a testament to the close knit society Eritreans display everywhere in the world. Fasting, whether it is Xom or Ramadan, is done to further foster love, peace and unity among us.

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