by Fr. Lou Christopulos
Clean Monday, the first day of Great Lent, is February 19 this year. Our Pascha is celebrated on April 8, the same day as Western Christian Easter. The 40-days of Lent is primarily about repentance – an attitudinal change, a shift of focus away from ourselves and to God, utilizing such tools as prayer, fasting and charity. When we focus on ourselves primarily and things of this world, we “miss the mark” or sin. When we redirect our focus primarily to God, we “hit the mark”, we live the way we were created to live.
Some important Lenten questions:
What is the Triodion? This is a period of time in the Church including the four pre-Lenten Sundays of preparation for Lent, Great Lent and Holy Week.
How long is Great Lent? It is 40-days from Clean Monday (February 19 this year) to the Saturday of Lazarus, before Palm Sunday. This Saturday, Palm Sunday, and Holy Week are NOT technically a part of Great Lent. Nevertheless, our fast continues through these days, with a partial relaxation on Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday, picking up in its strictness on Palm Sunday Night through Holy Week to Pascha.
Why do we fast? We humans are psychosomatic. We have a soul and a body. The true fast is psychic – a spiritual or soul fast from sin. The psychology of the Church teaches us that to get to this spiritual fast, we must go through our body. Thus, we fast from food to help us in our self-discipline. If we can say no to simpler things, such as food, it helps us to say no to more difficult things such as gossip and judging others. Fasting also helps us to redirect our focus on God. When I’m hungry, I am in need. I recognize that I am not self-sufficient. I need basic food to live. Basic food is from God. Another element of fasting is doing without for ourselves, so we can help others. Charity or almsgiving then is a direct result of saving money spent on food or things for ourselves, and re-directing that money to help others in need.
How do we fast? The ultimate fast is a fast from sin. This is the goal of fasting. The prescribed Lenten food fast helping us to that goal begins on Meatfare Sunday, eight days before Great Lent with a fast from meat and begins on Clean Monday with a fast through Holy Saturday, from meat, fish, dairy products, oil and wine – with some exceptions: a lessening of the fast on weekends (oil is permitted); and on the Annunciation and Palm Sunday (fish, wine and oil permitted). There are variations to this fast for a variety of reasons including health, age, children, travel and living in a non-Orthodox country. For variation questions, speak with one of our clergy. But remember, it is better to eat meat than to devour your brother or sister.
What about prayer? Prayer is one main way of communicating with God. We praise God, we thank God, we ask for help for others and ourself. WE ask for forgiveness, for guidance, for strength. Great Lent is a time for heightened prayer life – both personal and corporate. Weekly throughout Lent we have Compline Services on Mondays, Pre-Sanctified Liturgies on Wednesdays and Salutation Services on Fridays. Additionally, we are challenged to be more regular and focused in our personal daily prayer life. The Prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian sets the tone for our personal prayer approach to our Lord. Also, the Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have mercy on me a sinner,” is a formula for constant prayer.
What about almsgiving or charity? This is essential in helping us to turn to God directly and indirectly, by helping the “least of his brothers and sisters.” As was mentioned in “Why do we Fast?” turning to God involves turning away from ourselves, re-directing our attention to helping others. Prayer, fasting and almsgiving or charity are the three legs of the Lenten table.
What about Confession? Confession, or more appropriately, the Sacrament of Repentance, is simply knowing ourselves, recognizing the ways we miss the mark, acknowledging them and attempting to change. We can do this on our own, which can be helpful. Sacramentally, when we do this with a confessor, “two or more are gathered in Christ’s name” and the Grace of God is imparted in a healing and strengthening manner. Confession times are listed on the calendar. Take advantage of this healing sacrament utilizing honesty and humility as a garment of re-baptism and re-generation of our life in Christ.
May Great Lent be a time of re-focus in our life – away from ourselves and to God.
May we “die”
More to the un-Godly aspects of our life, in Christ’s death and live anew in His Glorious and life-giving
Fr. Lou Christopulos
The Lenten Prayer of St. Ephraim (said daily in Great Lent)
Lord and Master of my life, deliver me from the spirit of laziness, despondency, desire for power over others, and useless talk. (Prostration) Give rather to me your servant, a spirit of purity, humility, patience and love. (Prostration) Yes Lord and King, allow me to see my own sins and faults and not to judge others. For you are blessed forever and to the age of ages. Amen. (Prostration)
St. John Chrysostom on Fasting
Do you fast? Give me proof of it by your works. If you see a poor man, take pity on him. If you see a friend being honored, do not envy him. Do not let only your mouth fast, but also the eyes and the ears and the feet and the hands and all the members of our bodies. Let the hands fast, by being free of avarice. Let the feet fast by ceasing to run after sin. Let the eyes fast, by disciplining them not to glare at that which is sinful. Let the ears fast, by not listening to evil talk and gossip. Let the mouth fast from foul words and unjust criticism. For what is it if we abstain from birds and fishes, but bite and devour our brothers? May He who came to the world to save sinners strengthen us to complete the fast with humility, have mercy on us and save us.