As of Sunday evening, Lent has begun for a great part of the world. I’m an Orthodox Christian, and for 40 days leading up to Holy Week (the week before Easter), we fast, preparing for Easter.
I’m going to start this off with a full disclaimer: I’m decidedly, in no way whatsoever, an expert on the topic of Lent. What I know is what I’ve experienced, and I’ve only lived through two Lents, and only one of them as an Orthodox Christian (I was Chrismated – received into the Church – a little over a year ago). And, to be fair, my dad’s books sitting next to me and the articles I’ve googled have also contributed to this post.
Lent is, as I understand it, a period of preparation. We fast, we pray, we give alms, we confess. It’s a journey of repentance, a journey with our Savior. Most people tend to think of Lent as a time for punishing yourself, maybe, making yourself suffer with Christ. It’s seen as gloomy, sad. But this is not the case! We’re called to rejoice. It is the season for correction, purification, and enlightenment through the fulfillment of the commandments of Christ. As a hymn that is sung at Forgiveness Vespers says:
Let us enter the Fast with joy, O faithful.
Let us not be sad.
Let us cleanse our faces with the waters of dispassion,
blessing and exalting Christ forever.
Let us begin the Fast with joy.
Let us give ourselves to spiritual efforts.
Let us cleanse our souls.
Let us cleanse our flesh.
Let us fast from passions as we fast from foods,
taking pleasure in the good works of the Spirit
and accomplishing them in love
that we all may be made worthy to see the passion of Christ our God
and His Holy Pascha,
rejoicing with spiritual joy.
But what exactly is fasting? I keep using the word; I should probably define it. Fasting is, at the most basic level, abstaining from all or certain foods. For us, that means meat, dairy (including eggs), olive oil, fish-with-a-backbone, and alcohol. But fasting isn’t just what we’re not eating, it’s also keeping our bodies and our thoughts from evil things. Of course, this is something we should be doing all the time, obviously, but Lent adds an extra reminder.
While fasting, we’re encouraged to read from the Psalms and to pray the prayer of St. Ephriam. When we pray this prayer we prostrate after each stanza. Last year I did a bit of a photo edit for it. It is a truly beautiful prayer. But for that matter, all Orthodox prayers are.
Besides decreased food and increased prayer, there are also many new services during Lent. It begins with the service of Forgiveness Vespers, this past Sunday night, where we ask for the forgiveness of everyone in the church and they ask ours. Then there’s the Canon of St. Andrew, the first Monday and Tuesday (I can’t say much about this, as we’ve yet to make it). There’s an akathist (prayer service) every Friday, at least at my church. In my area (I have no idea if this holds true for everywhere else) we have Pan-Orthodox Vespers every Sunday evening, rotating which church it is held at. Then there’s a Presanctified Liturgy every Wednesday. I’ve cried at every signal one I’ve gone to. Not from sadness, though.
And that’s Lent. Probably (definitely) not the most comprehensive explanation; I barely scratched the surface. There’s so much depth and meaning and beauty and joyfulness and blessedness in Lent, and I have a feeling that ten years, twenty years, to the end of my life I’ll still be learning.
When my family and I first started the journey to Orthodoxy, I began journaling all the services we attended. I fell off after a bit, but I did write up our first Forgiveness Vespers. I’ll probably edited it heavily and post it next week, if anyone’s interested in seeing it.
But before that happens, this Friday is the book release of A Question of Honor!! I’m part of the blog tour, and I’ll have both a book review and author interview! *dances* I’m so excited about this!
And the books, although these will probably be just a tad harder to get your hands on than internet articles. Unless your dad collects them, which I guess is entirely possible. Mine does.
The Lenten Spring – Fr. Tom Hopko
The Lenten Triodion – (translated) Mother Mary and Met. Kallistos Ware