Armenians began fasting for Lent this week in preparation for the celebration of Easter.
Though the fast has always been part of the Christian festive calendar, it was a tradition that was largely forgotten in Armenia during the years of the Soviet Union . Today, the habit of has been revived and has even become something of a trend.
Some look forward to fasting, others consider it a tortuous experience. The Lent period began this year on February 23 and will continue for 48 days until Easter on April 11.
The fast days symbolize the period of Christ's 44 days of praying, starving and repentance in the desert, says Elza Manukyan, press secretary of the Araratyan Patriarchal Diocese On those days, it is common to use only food of vegetative origin.
Ethnologists say fasting was a common tradition in Old Armenia with both young and old. Families would hang aklatis on the garret-window of their houses to help them not to break the fast.
Aklatis was an onion with 7 feathers thrust in it symbolizing 7 weeks of the fast. Each week one feather was taken out and the fast period ended with the last feather. Easter would start magnificent symbols and rich tables.
Since during the fast they would only have vegetable dishes, it was a habit to collect all the eggs, butter, meat and other products to enjoy them later. Today, there are no strict rules and the role of aklatis for each one is the strength of their conscience and will.
Unlike previous years, when cafes and stores offered few fasting products, popular demand has led many places to enrich their menus with special dishes for the period.
Armine Mnatsakanyan, an employee at the Karap food store, says she sees the attention of many people, despite Armenian habits, move from meat, sausages and dairy products to vegetables.
I sell salads and beginning with the first day of the fast I can feel the difference. People prefer salads with cabbage, carrot and other vegetables and the famous Armenian pasouts tolma. It's a rare phenomenon during normal days. So when fast days start we enrich the selection of such salads to please the customers, she says.
For some holding a fast is a way to lose weight, for others it's a chance to demonstrate their strong will to their friends, and for still more it's a demand of the soul.
Fasting is a time when a person has to try to become closer to the image of a Christian, depriving himself of pleasures such as certain food products. The meaning of fast is not only eating vegetative food, otherwise it would have been called a diet, says Svetlana Gevorgyan.
I fast every year to refresh myself and restore my health to some degree, says resident of Echmiadzin Varduhi Mkrtchyan. Though I like eating and during the fast there's a constant temptation for chocolate and cakes, but I somehow manage to restrain myself. I challenge myself. It's very hard.
For me, holding a fast is a way to recognize myself, says painter Diana Galstyan. When a person deprives himself of some pleasures including food, he becomes more sincere with himself and understands a person's essence.
I am sure that when holding a fast people are more attentive towards their surroundings, of course in cases when fasting comes from your soul rather than being a necessity. It is not a question of food only.
Manukyan says many don't realize the real meaning of fasting. She says: Saint Grigor Tatevatsi would say Satan always holds fast, does not eat anything but does not stop sinning and does not get tired'
So it's not only certain kinds of food one refuses during the fast, but also inveterate habits, talking too much, telling lies, cursing and other sins. Refusing to eat is useless without also refusing to sin.