The Great (Orthodox) Lent

While I have written about Lent in general in a previous article, because I am an Orthodox, I thought I would also write an article mentioning that today is the first day of the Great Lent, the Eastern-Orthodox Lent for 2019.

One of the most important Orthodox holidays (alongside Christmas), and probably the most sacred one, Easter is celebrated by Eastern Orthodox believers by means of several movable feasts that commemorate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, from the dead following His crucifixion and burial.

The Orthodox Easter in 2019 falls on Sunday, April 28. Eastern Orthodox churches follow the practice of early Jewish Christians and have first observed Easter on the fourteenth day of Nisan, or the first day of Passover. According to the Gospels, it was during this time of the year (the Passover season) that Jesus Christ died and rose from the dead. Through the connection between Easter and Passover, the origin of another ancient name for Easter can be explained: Pascha. This Greek term is derived from the Hebrew name for the festival. In Romanian Easter is called “Paşte”.

Because it is a movable feast, the date of Orthodox Easter changes every year. To this day, Eastern Orthodox Churches use a different system than Western Churches to calculate the day of the observance, which means Eastern Orthodox churches often celebrate Easter on a different day than Western churches.

In Eastern Orthodox Christianity, the Easter season starts with Great Lent, the period of 40 days of self-examination and fasting (the 40 days include Sundays). Great Lent starts on Clean Monday (today) and ends on Lazarus Saturday.

Falling seven weeks before Easter Sunday, “Clean Monday” signifies the cleansing from sinful attitudes that will take place in the hearts of believers heart throughout the Lenten fast. Lazarus Saturday, which falls eight days before Easter Sunday, signals the end of Great Lent.

Palm Sunday follows after Lazarus Saturday, exactly one week before Easter, and it commemorates the triumphal entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem. Palm Sunday ushers in Holy Week, which ends on Easter Sunday, or Pascha.

It is customary for Easter celebrants to partake in a fast throughout Holy Week. Many Orthodox churches observe a Paschal Vigil, which ends on the evening before Easter. To be more specific, the Paschal Virgil ends just before midnight on Holy Saturday (also called Great Saturday), the last day of Holy Week. Commemorating the placing of Jesus Christ’s body in the tomb, Holy Saturday also has a Vigil, which typically begins with a candlelight procession outside the church. As worshipers enter the church in procession, there is a pealing of bells that marks the beginning of the Easter morning prayers.

Easter services begin with Paschal Matins, Paschal Hours, and the Paschal Divine Liturgy, immediately after the Vigil. Paschal Matins may consist of either an early morning prayer service or an all-night prayer vigil. Paschal Hours is a brief, chanted prayer service reflecting the joy of Easter, and Paschal Divine Liturgy is a communion or Eucharist service. These solemn celebrations of Jesus Christ’s resurrection are considered the most holy and significant services of the ecclesiastical year in Orthodox Christianity.

After the Eucharist service, the fast ends, and the feasting of Easter begins.

Eastern Orthodox believers greet one another on Easter (usually starting at midnight, after Holy Saturday ends) with these words: “Christ is risen!” (“Christos Anesti!” / “Cristos a înviat!”). The traditional response is, “He is risen indeed!” (“Alithos Anesti!” / “Adevărat a înviat!”). This greeting echoes the words of the angel to the women who found the tomb of Jesus Christ empty on the first Easter morning, according to Matthew 28:5–7.

I wish you all a peaceful Great Lent season. May God bless you!

Article based on information from:

(Great) Lent 2019

Lent is the annual six-week period of Christian observance that precedes Easter. The dates of Lent are defined by the date of Easter, which is a movable feast, meaning that it falls on a different date each year. From its start on Ash Wednesday until its conclusion on Easter Sunday, Lent has been a traditional time for fasting (or giving something up) or abstinence. Its observance (although not its liturgical period, as Sundays are not considered fasting days and are therefore not counted) lasts for 40 days. In a way, it is thought that they mirror the 40 days that Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness before starting his ministry. On a deeper level, the number “40” can also be seen to mirror the 40 hours that Jesus spent in the tomb prior to His resurrection.

A penitential period, Lent involves the dual disciplines of abstinence and fasting. During Lent many Christians commit to fasting or to giving up certain foods, habits or luxuries (the money saved being often donated afterwards to charity). This is done both as a form of penitence and as a spiritual tool to tame the body and ‘sharpen the spirit’ for prayer, reflection and contemplation in preparation for the celebration of Easter.

The Lenten Fast (which is the period that most people consider to be ‘Lent’) starts on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday (not to be confused with Easter Saturday, the Saturday after Easter). This is a period of 46 days. However, the six Sundays within the period are not fast days (Sundays are always feast days in the Christian calendar) and therefore not counted in the 40 days of Lent.

The liturgical period of Lent also begins on Ash Wednesday, however it ends on the evening of Holy Thursday (Maundy Thursday). In addition, Palm Sunday (or alternatively the day before Palm Sunday) is sometimes considered to be the last day of Lent. This is incorrect and based on a misunderstanding about the liturgical periods of Lent and Holy Week. They are not exclusive of each other, and Lent in fact continues into Holy Week (see above), meaning that the liturgical season of Lent ends on Holy Thursday.

The color most associated with Lent, purple (during this period purple church vestments are used) is symbolic in two ways: it is the traditional color of mourning (recalling Jesus’ death) and also symbolic of royalty (celebrating Christ’s coming as King).

In Eastern Orthodox Christianity Lent is called ‘Great Lent’ and is the most important fasting period of the year, in preparation for the most important celebration of the year, Pascha (Orthodox Easter Sunday). As in Western Christianity, the period of Lent differs in its dates from year to year, with the dates defined by the date of Pascha, which is a moveable feast. Great Lent begins on Clean Monday (the beginning of the 7th week before Pascha) and runs for 40 days (including Sundays) until Lazarus Saturday (the day before Palm Sunday). Fasting continues until the morning of Pascha.

Lent 2019 starts on Wednesday, March 6, 2019 and ends on Saturday, April 20th 2019 for Roman-Catholics, and on Monday, March 11, 2019 and ends on April 27th 2019 for Eastern-Orthodox.

Further reading: Lent on Calendarpedia and Wikipedia.