Vegetarian Lent in Lebanon
Without a doubt, this part of Lebanon is firmly under Christian control. Churches, not mosques, are seen on the horizon, with crucifixes adorning the walls of homes.
I'm being fed some pretty wonderful meals here by my host's mother, but as it turns out, they're all vegetarian. We're in the midst of Lent, and the popular practice in these parts is to give up the consumption of meats and the such during this period of time.
Lent, in Christian tradition, is the period of the year leading up to Easter. The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer—through prayer, penitence, almsgiving and self-denial—for the annual commemoration during Holy Week of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, which recalls the events linked to the Passion of Christ and culminates in Easter, the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Conventionally it is described as being forty days long, though different denominations calculate the forty days differently. The forty days represent the time that, according to the Bible, Jesus spent in the wilderness before the beginning of his public ministry, where he endured temptation by Satan.
Fasting during Lent was more severe in ancient times than today. Socrates Scholasticus reports that in some places, all animal products were strictly forbidden, while others will permit fish, others permit fish and fowl, others prohibit fruit and eggs, and still others eat only bread. In some places, believers abstained from food for an entire day; others took only one meal each day, while others abstained from all food until 3 o'clock. In most places, however, the practice was to abstain from eating until the evening, when a small meal without meat or alcohol was eaten. Even now, the Romanian, Coptic, Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox Churches continue the practice of avoiding all animal products including fish, eggs, fowl and milk sourced from animals (e.g. goats and cows as opposed to the milk of soy beans and coconuts) for the entire fifty-five days of their Lent.
In current Western societies the practice is considerably relaxed, though in the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches abstinence from the above-mentioned food products is still commonly practiced, meaning only vegetarian meals are consumed during this time in many Eastern countries.
Local Churches of Note
This rather amazing structure is built into the cliff face, accessible only by foot:
Saint John "al-sheer" church is elevated on a rocky cliff over 28 man-made crypts in the southeastern façade, whose carbon-dating suggests 1500–2400 years of age.