Auto-immunity, calendar concerns, Celiac, Christian, Chrohn's, Chronic Illness, food allergies, Invisible Illness, Lent, Orthodox Church, Spoonies, Theological Reflection

Rend Your Hearts and Not Your Intestines


I remember blinking into the bright window at the allergist’s office as he handed over the prescription for my Epi-pens. “Anaphylaxis is a train leaving the station. We have to catch it before it gets going,” he said. I had gone to him after my throat started swelling closed on an ordinary morning. I thought maybe I had developed a peanut allergy because of how dull my breakfast had been: toast with butter and strawberry jam, tea with sugar and milk, and a bite of the peanut butter Lara bar my son handed me. But the allergist was holding a readout with a very strange set of answers. I was allergic to wheat.

The first thing I thought about when I got home was how I was going to commune at church. I inquired of the Lord and immediately heard a word of comfort: Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. 

I was going to have to overhaul all of my habits and diet and, when the sensitivity got too strong later, my family’s diets. But at least I knew that I was not saying goodbye to God when I said goodbye to bread.

After months of trying to manage with Benadryl and near misses on throat swelling, my priest and I found a way for me to receive communion that allows me to participate in God and stay alive. I have to come to the chalice like one severely ill and have the wine-dipped spoon just touch my lips.

I find it humbling in a good way to come to the hospital for souls and receive communion like someone in the hospital for bodies. In fact, the differences forced on me by food allergies do not cause any spiritual obstacles to me at all. They are a gift, reminding me of the deep love of God who made me and has arranged the challenges and gifts of my life for our salvation.

But there are also external challenges from people who have a hard time believing that food allergies are a big deal. Here are the most common misconceptions and how I’ve navigated them prayerfully through the tradition.

Either God Or Bread–Oops! Casual Heresy

  • The most basic push back when I tell people I cannot eat bread, including the Holy Gifts, is that I am wrong. The Holy Gifts, according to this logic, are either bread and wine OR the Body and Blood of Christ; I cannot have it both ways.
  • #nope: Time warp with me back to St. Irenaeus (or even St. Paul, but Irenaeus is clearer). The gifts of God are given by Him, and we offer them back to Him, and we see that this means that the material world is good. With me? The reason that matters is because…
  • There is no either/or when God comes to us. Our Lord was both fully man and fully God, and the Holy Gifts are both fully God and fully bread. 

***Take-away: You can be allergic to bread without being allergic to God.***

“Marytrdom” and the St. Polycarp Side-eye

  • “Eating blessed bread or Holy Gifts in the Liturgy when you have celiac/allergy can be thought of as a form of martyrdom.”
    • Teensy bit of medical info before the theological importance: Celiac damage is cumulative, so the idea that no harm is done is, well, false. Allergies to wine or wheat have more immediate consequences. All of them cause harm when a person with the condition is exposed to the allergen/gluten.
  • #nope: Time warp back to St. Polycarp. Yes, the beloved and aged bishop who, once he was finally caught, denounced an entire coliseum of Romans as “athiests.” Let’s look at his story and see how many times he deliberately turned himself in for martyrdom. That would be none. And in fact, in the prelude to his martyrdom, we find an illustrative story about how people who zealously went forward to prove themselves by trying to become martyrs wound up chickening out and renouncing the faith when it came to it.
  • Martyrdom is not self-harm. Martyrdom is witness to the truth of the Incarnation and Resurrection. Self-harm undermines witness.
    • Hey, Ms. Early Church Examples Person, what about Ignatius of Antioch, who told people not to rescue him from martyrdom? 1)He was already captured when he wrote his letters, and he wanted his flocks to understand their role in bearing witness with him. 2)He was going to offer himself in language remniscent of the Eucharistic offering in order to bear witness to the Resurrection, not intentionally off himself by eating poisons.

***Take-away: Hurting yourself is not martyrdom. It actually diminishes witness.***

Just Believe the Anaphylaxis Away

  • If you have faith, God won’t let you be hurt by Holy Communion.
  • #nope: Time warp back to our Lord in His 40 day temptation. Yes, that temptation, the model for our own fasting. What did He say about just having faith and doing something you know is harmful? Do not put the Lord your God to the test.
    • Look, I’m an Orthodox Christian. Like most of you, I’ve seen miracles with my own eyes, besides reading about the multitude of miraculous stories in the lives of saints. I’ve even added my “amen” to the Church’s request for them, and seen the energies of God the Holy Spirit change things.
  • The miraculous is normal for us. But that does not mean that we know better than God. If we tell a member of Christ’s Body that they have to prove their faith by asking God to save them from an attempt at harming themselves, we are not being faithful to God. We are not encouraging the brother’s or sister’s faith. By telling other people that they will not be harmed if they do something they know is harmful, we are not showing faith at all. We are being self-centered and trying to comfort ourselves by endangering another. We are saying, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

***Take-away: Demanding that your brother or sister test God shows lack of faith, and it’s not faithful to God or neighbor.***

Allergy sufferers are not the only Orthodox Christians facing troubles with holy food. Medically fragile persons, persons with feeding tubes, persons with muscular issues, special needs, and mobility issues all might need modifications in how they celebrate with Orthodox cultural foods and, importantly, how they receive the Holy Gifts.

This blog category–Always Lent– is for those of us who, due to medical needs, cannot partake of many of the traditional foods of the Orthodox Church, and for their communities. Some of us cannot even share _in the usual way_ in the Holy Gifts. We are always fasting. It is always Lent for us.

As my husband likes to remind me, some were born eunuchs, and some were made eunuchs. Some were born fasting, and some learn to fast as a discipline.

We who have this gift of being born fasting have two needs that this blog will address: 1) To celebrate the spiritual richness that comes with limited diets. 2) To find ways to participate in the fellowship of the Church in a way that does not harm us. 

Follow this blog for modified recipes and reflections on life when it is Always Lent.

always lent, Auto-immunity, calendar concerns, Chronic Illness, Fasting, food allergies, Invisible Illness, Spoonies, Uncategorized

Guest Post: Alana’s Fast


What does a fasting season menu look like for people with food allergies? We all have different needs, but from time to time, we will share what works for some of us. May these posts encourage you in your journey and to give glory to God in all things!

Today’s post is from Alana Sheldahl, who shared her soup recipe with us earlier this week. You can find Alana at her blog, Morning Coffee.


My Lent with Food Allergies and Health Problems

Man does not live by bread alone…”–Jesus Christ, spoken in rebuke to Satan who was attempting to tempt him to passion.

I am not a well person, and when I am feeling well or doing well, it is in part because I am taking very very VERY careful care of my nutrition.  I have multiple food allergies, fibromyalgia and autoimmune thyroid disease and reactive hypoglycemia.  These conditions are being treated and managed and part of that treatment is through nutrition. In addition to all of this, I am in recovery for disordered eating.  As such, traditional Orthodox fasting has, in the past, put me in a place of greater ill health, and has gotten me in trouble with compulsive over-eating as well:  All my binge foods are lenten!

I realize that anything I share is not going to universally apply to ANYONE else, unless you also happen to be allergic to dairy, peanuts, tree nuts, sunflower seeds, shrimp and chocolate, or must be gluten free for health reasons (doctor’s orders!), or you ALSO must avoid all sugars and baked goods for health and eating disorder purposes.  But with such a long list of food restrictions, I hope I have some relevant things to share with others and hopefully some encouragement to offer those in similar circumstances along the way.

Let me start by sharing how I fast.  Since I am ‘always fasting’, I do modify my fast that goes with the Church calendar.

There are other health issues in our family (young adult people with autism spectrum issues, hypoglycemia, anxiety and a husband with terminal cancer) and so we do what we can to keep ourselves stable and able.

Furthermore, allow me to state up-front that because of my eating disorder recovery, I do weigh and measure all my food and share daily my intake with my 12 step sponsor.  But that’s my asceticism, and yes, I do this even on Pascha or the Nativity Feast…no days off from abstinence or avoiding my trigger foods, even if they are wildly popular for feasting purposes.  There are also no days off from avoiding the foods I am allergic to.  I have epi-pens.  I never want to use them.  

So at our house, we ratchet the fast down to not eating red meat…along with the other things we must avoid.  And I also will mostly forego the sheep’s milk cheeses I am not allergic to.  About once or twice during a long fast I find myself getting run down and I do need to have a beef meal.  But I do it prayerfully and carefully and unapologetically.

The only bread I ever consume is the Eucharist.  I don’t take antidoron or Lytia bread ever at all.  No Koliva because it contains wheat and sugar (and often nuts). No exceptions.

When I was first Orthodox, and learning the fasting routine in a parish that was 100% converts where there were no babushkas or yia yias to feed us and show us how it was done in the old country, I did it ALL WRONG. I ate SO much bread.  All the bread.  I binged on bread.  It is, after all, lenten. Lenten cake, cookies, cinnamon rolls…all of it went into my body, much to my detriment. And Oreos and Frito Pie…ridiculous.  One cannot eat that way half the days of the year and stay healthy.

There was one Pascha where I had to wear a maternity top because I was so bloated and distended.  I was not pregnant.  I thank God for my health care provider who set me in the right direction!!!  I used to think that there was no way I could follow the fasting rules and not gain weight, but now I see that much of my problem was in the types of foods I was choosing, and the quantities I was eating.  As it is, I do not perfectly or strictly follow the fasting rules, but I am doing as much as I can, and am the better for it.

Nowadays, I try to more closely  follow the whole fast at least two meals per day, and then have some poultry or fish for that last meal.  I think in terms of “one meal at a time”, and I do what I can.  For myself personally I have a measured portion of carb food (grains or starchy food like sweet potato) at breakfast and at dinner, but all other meals and snacks are grain free.

A common breakfast is half a cup of dry oats, w/ 2 T. hemp seeds and half of a T. of coconut oil, for instance.  Lunch usually looks like veg plus protein:  steamed broccoli and  can of tuna is a common choice.  Dinner often finds us eating beans and rice, with a side salad.

So, strictly lenten pantry items that can help keep a nutritious fast, which Ihappen to not be allergic to:  

Hemp hearts-I find these at costco and they are wonderful for adding protein to one’s whole grain breakfast cereal, or fruit.

Gerbs Pumpkin seeds (Amazon)

Gluten free Rolled Oats or Steel Cut Oats (Amazon)

Canned Coconut Milk-excellent for creamed soups. (Trader Joe’s or Amazon)

Lower calorie boxed unsweetened coconut milk (most any grocer)

Unsweetened Flax milk (good luck finding this, but it’s nutritional variety)

Vanilla Vega One Protein and Greens vegan shake mix.  (Amazon or Costco)

All fruits and vegetables…seriously.  (any grocer)


Black beans

Navy beans

Garbanzo beans



Nutritional yeast flakes (so good!) (Amazon, I like Now brand).

Organic Cornmeal for polenta

Coconut oil. All the coconut oil. (Costco prices are nice.)

Spectrum butter flavored palm oil shortening  (Whole Foods, Meijer)


Truvia (yes, I’ve done my homework, it is acceptable to me, YMMV)

Guilty pleasure:  Smart Balance margarine (it has canola…hence the guilt). (any grocer)

Lemon Juice

Curry Powder (must have), chili, cumin, cinnamon…all the herbs and spices, yes please!

Tomato sauce (check for sugar!)

So that’s my list.  Any of the starchy foods I have to limit in quantity and frequency so as not to feel ill.  In addition to this you will find chicken, canned tuna and fish patties and ground turkey on my table during the fasts…because we are run down, stressed, deathly ill or chronically ill, and it’s the best we can do. What you will not find on my plate:  bread, anything I am allergic to, any baked goods, sweets or pastries, or anything with sugar or fried foods.
Glory to God for all things, even food allergies, which teach me abstinence and help me to stay humble.  


Thank you, Alana!