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Orthodox Lent

BY Svetlana Boykovai

Great Lent is the strictest and longest Lent for Orthodox Christians. Its purpose is to repent and prepare believers for Bright Sunday. It provides for abstinence from food, refusal of entertainment, and purification of the soul from sins.

For the Orthodox faith, fasting lasts forty-eight days, starting on March 18 and will last until Easter, which this year will be celebrated on May 5. According to Orthodox canons, Easter is divided into six weeks: Lenten Week and Holy Week. The Lenten Week is established in memory of the forty days that Jesus Christ spent in the desert fasting about prayers. Holy Week is dedicated to memories of the last days of earthly life, death and burial of Christ.

Lent is preceded by a four-week preparatory period. In the first two weeks, there is no ban on the use of certain products. During the third week, believers are prohibited from eating meat on Wednesdays and Fridays. During the fourth, on which Maslenitsa falls, consuming all meat products is wholly forbidden. The last week before Lent (Forgiveness Sunday) of the Christian tradition is the culmination of the preparatory period. On this day, it is customary to repent and ask each other for forgiveness for the offences inflicted during the year to be cleansed of sins and focus on the spiritual life. In churches, a special rite is performed at evening worship: after reading the prayer, the rector asks for forgiveness from those present at the service, and the parishioners do the same.

As mentioned earlier, Lent is a time of strict restrictions and prayers. Meat, milk, eggs, cheese, sour cream, cottage cheese, animal oil, sweet bread and pastries are entirely banned. Partial restrictions are vegetable oil and fish.

It is especially customary to fast during the first and last weeks. At the same time, according to church canons, believers should altogether refuse to eat on Monday and Tuesday of the first week of Lent and Friday and Saturday of the last week. On other days, vegetable food is allowed, and vegetable oil can be added to the food on Saturday and Sunday. On weekdays, there is only once a day, on Saturday and Sunday, twice a day. At the same time, the food should be simple; the church condemns the use of exquisitely prepared lenten dishes.

Pregnant and lactating women, the sick, soldiers, as well as those who are engaged in heavy physical labour are exempt from abstinence from food. However, all these groups are ordered to repent for breaking the fast. Relaxation lasts three days – Annunciation, Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday. On the Annunciation, fish dishes can be added to the diet if they fall on Lent and Palm Sunday. If the Annunciation falls on Holy Week, adding vegetable oil to food is permitted. On the eve of Palm Sunday, you can not eat fish. Still, you can eat caviar. Vegetable oil is also allowed to be consumed on the days of especially revered martyrs and saints, such as, for example, the forty Martyrs of Sebaste. In the villages on this day, unique products were baked from dough shaped like larks as a symbol of the imminent arrival of spring.

The most challenging period of fasting falls on the last Holy Week, dedicated to the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. Each of her days is called Great or Passionate. Thursday, Friday and Saturday are of particular importance. On Holy Thursday, the church remembers the Last Supper; on this day, the “History of the Sufferings of Christ” is read in churches – from Judas’s betrayal to death and burial. During the service, parishioners stand with lighted candles, from which it is customary to light a fire in household lamps and store them until Easter. On Holy Thursday, they clean the house, bake cakes, start painting eggs, and prepare for Bright Sunday. On Good Friday, the shroud (a cloth with the image of Jesus lying in the coffin) is taken out of the church, and the so-called rite of Christ’s burial is performed and no one is supposed to eat anything on this day, just like Holy Saturday.

After the Vespers service and liturgy, eggs and cakes are lit in churches, and the clergy change their dark vestments to white Easter ones on Saturday. On Sunday comes the main Christian holiday – Easter, established in memory of the resurrection of Christ.

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