March 14, 2016

Great Lent

Great Lent

The Great Lent is the time of preparation for the feast of the Resurrection of Christ (Pascha, Easter). This is the time when, for forty days, the Church is involved in repentance, fasting, prayer and almsgiving. Unlike some other Christian traditions, the Orthodox see Lent not as a morbid time of self-sacrifice, rather, it is a period of purification and joy.

Let us begin the Lenten time with delight ... let us fast from passions as we fast from food, taking pleasure in the good words of the Spirit, that we may be granted to see the holy passion of Christ our God and his holy Pascha, spiritually rejoicing. Thy grace has arisen upon us, O Lord, the illumination of our souls has shown forth; behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the time of repentance. (Vesper Hymns)

One of the most visible elements of the Orthodox Lent in the strict fast. The purpose of fasting is purification of the body and soul and to strengthen ones unity with the Trinity. The rules of fasting in the Orthodox Church are monastic in nature. Simply put, no animal products are allowed. This includes meat, dairy products, eggs and so on.

The Eucharist is not celebrated during the weekdays of Great Lent. The Eucharist is a paschal celebration which celebrates the Risen Lord. Pasch is a Hebrew word meaning passage and refers to the passing of the angel of death over the households of those who had smeared lamb's blood on their door posts and lentil (cf Ex 12:1-13). Pasch is very similar to the Greek word, paschein, which means to suffer. Since Lent is a period of preparation for Christ's suffering, Resurrection and a reminder of humanity's separation from God due to sin, the Eucharistic feast is not presented. Holy Communion, however, is presented on Wednesday and Friday evenings in the form of the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts. As the name implies, the Gifts (Host and wine) served at these times have been blessed (presanctified) during a previous Eucharistic Liturgy.

In the writings of St. Basil the Great (329-379 AD), we find that during the early history of the Church, the faithful were accustomed to receiving Communion on Saturdays, Sundays and twice during the weekdays; typically on Wednesday and Friday. If the Liturgy was not to be presented during the weekdays of Lent, how would the faithful receive Communion on these days? The solution was already present in the monasteries where the monks would participate in Communion, sharing the Gifts sanctified on the previous Sunday. Fasting was different in the early period of the Church. It required total abstinence from any food until sundown. During Lent, Communion was shared at Vespers (evening prayers) and was the final act of the day.

The Church does not intend to totally abstain from the Eucharist during Lent. On the Sabbath (Saturday) and the Lord's Day (Sunday), the Divine Liturgy is celebrated, including the Eucharist. The Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom is presented on Saturdays with prayers for the dead included. This is the liturgy used by the Orthodox Church throughout the year. On the Sundays of Lent, the longer Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great is celebrated.

Sundays of Great Lent

Feast of the Triumph of Orthodoxy
The first Sunday of Lent celebrates the overthrow of the heresy of iconoclasm in 843. The iconoclasm was a doctrinal battle over the presence of icons as graven images and, thus, sinful. The theme of this Sunday's liturgy is the victory of true faith.

Commemoration of St Gregory Palamas
St. Gregory Palamas (d. 1359) was a theologian who taught that humanity can become divine by fasting, prayer and through the grace of God and the Holy Spirit.

Veneration of the Cross
The third Sunday of Lent focuses on the Cross and Christ's suffering for the redemption of humanity from sin.

St John of the Ladder (Climacus)
St. John (ca 525-610) was the abbot of St. Catherine's Monastery on Mount Sinai during the 6th century. He wrote the thesis, The Ladder of Divine Ascent which addresses the spiritual struggles of Christian life with hope and encouragement.

Saint Mary of Egypt
This St. Mary (ca 344-421) is known as the repentant harlot. She is an example of the truth that no matter how great ones sin and evilness is, this will not keep the individual from being one with God if they are truly repentant.

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