Please find following a message from Fr Themi (Orthodox Mission to Sierra Leone) which discusses fasting in the context of poverty, and gives us all some perspective on our lives. I found it a very interesting and thought provoking commentary and hope that you find the sharing of it relevant, particularly since we have been discussing fasting at recent meetings.
“We have reached the season of Lent and all over the world Christians have started fasting and observing certain elements of self-denial. I tell that here in Sierra Leone the reality of fasting and self-denial go on quite naturally without even the church insisting on it. It is simply part of the daily reality of life.
For example, part of the principles of fasting during this period includes the abstinence from meat and dairy products. However here who can afford to eat meat anyway? It is only the rich and the whites who can afford to eat meat on a daily basis. Furthermore fasting requires the abstinence from dairy products (e.g. cheese, yogurt etc.) But who can afford cheese here?
So basically the rules of fasting apply to the vast majority of the population on a daily basis throughout the year as part of the economic reality of third world nations such as Sierra Leone.
Perhaps then the only meaningful fast here would be for an individual to deny himself / herself a food which they can afford and which they like as long as it does not affect their health – given the limited choice of food variety that the poor can choose from.
When fasting we are instructed to deny ourselves certain pleasures in life. Unfortunately pleasures in Freetown are scarce. We are have just entered our third year and when I think I have seen it all. Here in Freetown we have over 20 large slums, each one worse than the other – with hundreds of thousands of people living without toilets, water, regular food, inadequate shelter, heavily polluted environments, with a plethora of diseases and a very high child mortality rate.
The other day I visited Susan’s Bay; the name sound beautiful but in fact is one of the most horrific slums in Freetown and certainly the worst I have ever seen. It was as if I had fallen into Hades, the lowest pit of misery in terms of human existence. Words cannot describe the misery and human suffering I saw. Suffice it to say that on the day we visited already five children died by midday. And this is simply a daily reality. No clinic is available to serve these people and the sick die while being carried by hand to the nearest hospital. So this is certainly life in self denial, and daily fasting.. no wonder God loves the poor.
We have applied to build a clinic to serve them and we have been promised an ambulance from Germany. Praise God!
While for rich nations fasting and self denial are seen as difficult and for the vast majority of westerners as an unnecessary religious custom (even though it has a very strong spiritual result), it shows us the way to Love our neighbors, forgive our brothers and sisters and thank God that we were born in nations of peace and prosperity where our families can grow and live long healthy lives. But the poor of the world face this practice of denial and face their own mortality as a daily event even when very young.
Imagine that five children die in one day, because there was no clinic to help them.
I am told by my friend Tony Sklavos of Sydney who recently witnessed a suicide that an inquest is being held; doctors, psychiatrists barristers and police were called to provide information on this sad case of the suicide. Thousands of dollars were spent on the inquiry (and rightly so) newspaper reporters gathered in great numbers to hear the witnesses; because the death of one young person is one too many in any world.
And here scores of children die every day even before they reach the age of five (25% of children here do not reach 5) – no inquests, no barristers, no doctors’ reports, no psychiatrists appear, no reporters print the news and no police will investigate the deaths; just a hand full of NGO’s and Church organizations, undermanned, under staffed and under funded.
This is why the work of the church with the support of organizations like PK4A and Light Of The World here, are so important in Africa.
Our mission is undoubtedly one drop in the ocean in the overall scale of things – but it is a drop that God requires us to produce. I am thanking you all for your help and asking for your help to continue so our mission here can continue effectively, especially during this time of Lent, this time of fasting and self denial.
Remember we can fast or not – it is our choice. We can deny ourselves or not. It depends on the level of our faith. But the people I am seeing here do not have that choice. They fast and deny themselves every day.
Respectfully in Christ
(Rev Themistocles Adamopolou
Orthodox Mission to Sierra Leone)