Eastern Orthodox Christian fasting in northeastern Pennsylvania

Rena K Quinton, Florida International University


The purpose of this research was to examine the fasting practices of Eastern Orthodox Christians (EOCs) in northeastern Pennsylvania. Fasting, according to Eastern Orthodox Church doctrine, is primarily abstinence from meat, dairy products, fish and certain other foods during Easter Lent and other periods, for approximately 180 days annually. Goals were to discern what EOCs consider their fasting rules to be, their actual fasting practices, what factors influence this practice and the relationship of fasting to nutrition. Methodology included 29 months of ethnographic fieldwork at local parishes, content analysis of local written materials and semi-structured interviews of 58 core church members. A pile sort was conducted whereby subjects classified various foods according to fasting or non-fasting status and then sorted the fasting foods into a hierarchy of avoidance. Data were analyzed using ANTHROPAC and NVivo software. Results included identification of a cognitive hierarchy of avoidance, with meat the most important to avoid, followed by dairy and alcoholic beverages. An important finding was the differences in subjects' knowledge of Church doctrine and a wide variation in their actual fasting practices. Contrary to Church doctrine, fish was not usually perceived as a food to abstain from. A historic Byzantine Catholic presence in the area (with a different fasting doctrine), family members who did not fast, and health concerns were some factors that affected fasting practices. A conclusion is that while meat, dairy and alcoholic beverages were usually categorized as foods to avoid during fasts, it is not possible to generalize with regard to actual practices or the impact of fasting on nutrition, due to individual variation. It was demonstrated that qualitative data could provide information that can be crucial to know prior to conducting quantitative nutrition research or counseling. Findings of this study suggest that one cannot assume subjects who belong to a given religion that has prescribed food avoidance practices are following them homogeneously and/or according to official doctrine.

Subject Area

Nutrition|Cultural anthropology

Recommended Citation

Quinton, Rena K, "Eastern Orthodox Christian fasting in northeastern Pennsylvania" (2004). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI3165155.