In a commentary for "Keston News Service,'' Mrs. Alyona Kojevnikov explained some subtle pressures imposed by the atheist authorities on Orthodox believers, pressures not always apparent to the outside observer.
"One such difficulty...is meeting the requirements of fasting. The Soviet authorities are fully a w a r e of the significance of this practice to the Orthodox and for decades now have taken specific steps to reduce to a minimum the availability of certain foods which are in great demand during fa s t periods or Church feasts.
"For example, for many weeks before Easter, curd cheese, the basic ingredient of the traditional Russian Easter dish pascha, is virtually unobtainable. Being highly perishable, this food cannot be made ahead of time and stored. Vegetable oil, a scarce enough commodity at the best of times, disappears from the shops, the only alternative being animal fats proscribed by fast rules. Naturally, these and other “deficit” goods are always available on the black market, but at grossly inflated prices which make them unavailable to the average citizen. These and similar malicious acts by the authorities are well-documented in samizdat." (KNS #217)
With more and more "non-dairy" foods available in western supermarkets, some of us are tempted to overindulge in tasty lenten dishes. If we kept in mind the difficulties of keeping the fast by the faithful in the Soviet Union, perhaps it would give us a better perspective of the real struggle of self-denial which Lent can--and should--be.