NOTE: Traditionally, the Greek Orthodox monasteries here are apprehensive of anything labelled science, psychology, or whatever “worldly knowledge” label a study may contain. Western science, or the sciences in general are usually classified as “demonic” or “secular atheist propaganda” which are “unconsciously or consciously aimed at undermining Orthodoxy.” The monastics do not usually read anything outside of orthodox patristic writings, the Bible, Gerontikon, and Synaxarion. In some cases, the monastics may be required to read instruction manuals, or some theory books in arts and crafts, etc. but anything “scholarly” is usually discouraged because “knowledge puffeth up.” Papa Epraim (AZ) and Thomas J. Bole, III (TX) are some of the exceptions of monastics who can read and study science, bioethics, etc. and not the norm. There are the odd cases of monastics who will read secular magazines at doctors’ offices—such as Sports Illustrated, Time, People, etc.—but they usually get canonas if they confess it (or if the accompanying monastic informs the superior). Usually, only the Abbots/Abbesses can read newspapers and secular magazines, though they may give an article to other monastic(s) to read if it is something important—i.e. after 9/11, when American Free Press newspapers were circulated amongst the older fathers theorizing that this event was a CIA/Mossad PsyOps, or when the KVOA “Monastery Mystery” aired some of the superiors and second-in-commands watched it.
Some of the monasteries sold Protestant Creationist videos to help confused pilgrims understand the Science vs. Evolution debate and prove evolution wrong. Ironically, some of Geronda Ephraim’s monastics believe in evolution, which is the incorrect fronima to maintain. However, the general consensus is that people should read more simple things, they should try and be simpler and they should not fill their head with useless theories—not to mention, knowledge of science, and other scholarly things do not lead a soul to salvation. St. Nektarios Monastery (NY) has translated a number of Patristic articles on the Theory of Evolution: http://www.stnektariosmonastery.org/evolution.php
There are those rare moments, however, that the monasteries will promote, or quote science: when it supports and verifies their Orthodox teachings. Essentially, “because orthodoxy is the only truth, true science will support its teachings and practices. Science that disagrees with orthodox teaching is invalid and not true science, because Orthodoxy is the truth.”
When it comes to fasting in the Orthodox Church, the monasteries accept some of the following scientific studies, usually accompanied with the quote, “Science has proven…”:
Orthodox Christian holy books recommend a total of 180–200 days of fasting per year. The faithful are advised to avoid olive oil, meat, fish, milk and dairy products every Wednesday and Friday throughout the year. Additionally, there are three principal fasting periods per year: i) a total of 40 days preceding Christmas (meat, dairy products and eggs are not allowed, while fish and olive oil are allowed except on Wednesdays and Fridays), ii) a period of 48 days preceding Easter (Lent). During Lent fish is allowed only two days whereas meat, dairy products and eggs are not allowed. Olive oil consumption is allowed only at weekends, iii) a total of 15 days in August (the Assumption) when the same dietary rules apply as for Lent with the exception of fish consumption which is allowed only on August 6th. Seafood such as shrimps, squid, cuttlefish, octopus, lobsters, crabs as well as snails are allowed on all fasting days throughout the year. The Greek Orthodox fasting practices can therefore be characterized as requiring a periodic vegetarian diet including fish and seafood.
The study concludes that adherence to Greek Orthodox fasting periods contributes to a reduction in the blood lipid profile including a non-significant reduction in HDL cholesterol and possible impact on obesity:
The longevity and excellent health status of the population of Crete has been attributed to its lifestyle and dietary habits. The impact of Greek Orthodox Christian Church fasting on these dietary habits has never been studied. One hundred and twenty Greek Orthodox Christians living in Crete participated in a 1-year prospective study.
The present study is one of the first studies presenting an overall picture of the Mediterranean type of diet that is recommended by the Greek Orthodox Church.
The study shows that Christian Orthodox diet contributes greatly to the good health and nutritional status of the studied population.
A critical review of current evidence, perspectives and research implications of diet-related traditions of the Eastern Christian Orthodox Church on dietary intakes and health consequences
Certain dietary guidelines that provide for a type of periodic vegetarianism, during a total period of 180–200 days in a year, are prescribed for symbolic and spiritual reasons in the Eastern Christian Orthodox Church (ECOC); however, its potential implication on health has only recently begun to be investigated.
We aimed to review evidence on the potential association of ECOC’s dietary guidelines to health and disease indices, and to explore research and dietetics’ practice perspectives. Eleven publications were identified, providing data from prospective, cross-sectional, and case–control studies conducted among adults, and from one cross-sectional study among children. Data retrieved suggest that, compared with non-fasters, adult and child fasters enjoy better dietary quality and have healthier blood lipid profiles. The available evidence, however, is very limited and further investigation is warranted. It is being deemed important that dieticians and health professionals are able to exploit this dietary scheme of periodic vegetarianism and advise the ECOC adherents on how to further improve their meal planning.
This is a follow-up study was conducted to identify the heart disease risk-factor status and dietary changes of surviving elderly subjects in Crete who took part in the Seven Countries Study in 1960. In 1991, data were obtained from 245 of the 686 original male participants. There was a significant (11.5%) increase in serum total cholesterol concentrations between 1960 and 1991. Body mass index and systolic and diastolic blood pressures also increased significantly, and all age groups were characterized by central obesity. Dietary data indicated increases in the intake of saturated fat and decreases in monounsaturated fat over the 30-y period.
Comparison with a 1962 representative Cretan sample indicated a significantly increased concentration of adipose palmitic acid (16:0) in our surviving sample. The observed changes occurred during a period when many developed countries were observing a decline in most heart disease risk factors.
This study hints to the fact that that abbandoning the traditional Greek-Orthodox diet recommended by the Church and addopting the Western style diet that excludes fasting and includes a higher amount of meat products has a negative impact on the overall health and incresases the risk of heart disease.
Also see the last section of The impact of religious fasting on human health by John F Trepanowski, Richard J Bloomer which examines Greek Orthodox fasting.
Potential health benefits of the periodic vegetarianism in Greek Orthodox Christian diet: a brief overview by Ι. Α. Delimaris Education Unit, Hellenic Ministry of Education.
Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease with a Mediterranean Diet
Nutritional Study in Greek-Orthodox Monasteries – Effect of a 40-Day Religious Fasting
Dietary factors in relation to rheumatoid arthritis: a role for olive oil and cooked vegetables?
NOTE: Antonia Matalas has published numerous papers on diet and fasting in Greece: http://hua.academia.edu/AntoniaMatalas