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!

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