The Beginning of Great Lent

Jesus Christ, the “Land of the Living”1

Today is Clean Monday, the day on which we begin the Lenten Fast. (In the Eastern Church, unlike in the Western, Sundays are included in the count of the 40 days, which therefore end on the Friday before Palm Sunday; at that point, we enter Passion Week, which in turn leads us to the radiant feast of the Resurrection of Christ.) Great Lent is officially inaugurated with the celebration of Forgiveness Vespers on the evening of Sunday, at the end of which all present ask forgiveness from one another as Paschal hymns are sung. The day that follows, and by extension the entire Fast, is “clean” not only because we have rid our homes of meat and other animal products that are not eaten during the Fast, but also (and indeed chiefly) because we have set out on the journey to Lord’s Pascha having sought forgiveness of those closest to us, who are therefore also those we offend the most (and with the least remorse!). Since I interact with some of you nearly as much as I interact with those physically closest to me, I would like to take this chance at the beginning of the Fast to say to each and all:

Forgive me for all the ways in which
I have undoubtedly grieved and offended you.

I. On the Great and Holy Fast:

II. Biblical lessons and other spiritual reading:

  • The Lenten Prophetologion, a wonderful resource that features the full text of the three daily Old Testament lessons (comprising almost the entirety of Genesis, Isaiah and Proverbs) which are appointed to be read at weekday Lenten services. It should be noted that this is a translation of the Church’s text of these biblical books, which sets it apart from any other English text currently available. The translation is by Archimandrite Ephrem (Lash), who also has these readings available in HTML format on his website.
  • Saint Ephrem the Syrian’s Homilies on Fasting (partial translation), and some Ascetical and Other Writings Extant only in Greek. As Father Ephrem Lash reminds us in his introduction to the latter collection, the writings of St Ephrem are appointed to be read at Matins every weekday during Lent, and as such, “they should form [part of] the regular diet of non-biblical spiritual reading for Orthodox Christians.”

“Let us joyfully begin the season of the Fast, preparing ourselves for spiritual combats; let us purify our souls and cleanse our flesh. Let us fast from every passion as we fast from foods, delighting in the virtues of the Spirit and persevering with love; that, rejoicing in spirit, we all may be counted worthy to see the most sacred Passion of Christ God and His holy Pascha.” (Third sticheron from the Tridion at Forgiveness Vespers)

“Let us joyfully begin the most sacred abstinence, shining with the bright radiance of the holy commandments of Christ our God, with the brightness of love and the splendor of prayer, with the purity of holiness and the strength of good courage. And so, clothed in light, let us hasten to the holy Resurrection on the third day, which irradiates immortality upon the world.” (Third sessional hymn at Matins, Clean Monday)



1A mosaic from the Church of the Savior in Chora (now a museum), in the western district of Constantinople. The inscription reads, Ἰησοῦς Χριστός, ἡ χώρα τῶν ζώντων (cf. Psalm 114:9, LXX).


8 responses to “The Beginning of Great Lent

  1. Peter, God forgives!

    Actually, the situation is not quite as you describe it, in spite of any 2010 calendars you might have seen floating around. Our Typikon clearly directs for the feast to be moved to Sunday, as the standard handbook by Nikolajevic also emphasizes. So, we too celebrated the feast with great joy yesterday, and entered the Fast today.


  2. God forgives! Forgive me a sinner.

    Thank you for clearing up the confusion about the Meeting of the Lord. I had noticed it on my home calendar too, despite having obviously celebrated it yesterday.


  3. If I can think of anything, you are certainly forgiven. Please forgive me also whether obvious or inadvertent.

    Could you tell me why the three daily Old Testament lessons comprise mainly Genesis, Isaiah and Proverbs?


  4. Aaron> God forgives!

    Now the home calendars are not exactly wrong on this point, as the Greek Menaion evidently expects the Feast to be observed on Clean Monday without transfers of any kind. This is not the practice of the Slavic churches, however, and behind this difference stand the various Slavonic recensions of the Sabbaite Typikon.

    Nick> If there were anything to address between us (and there isn’t), God forgives!

    Steve> You keep getting this wrong, man. You all are the snowflakes.

    Jeff> God forgives, my friend!

    And why the weekday Lenten readings come from these books is not explicitly spelled out anywhere, but a little reflection suggests that Genesis as the foundational narrative of redemptive history, Isaiah as the chief prophet who foretold Christ in his oracles, and Proverbs as a model of instruction in the fear and admonition of the Lord are precisely adequate for Lenten season, which marks a return to our Old Testament roots, points us to Christ’s passion, and requires of both catechumens and the faithful lives of obedience to God’s will. Also, as each one of these comes from a different section of the Old Testament, such an arrangement may hint at the basic Christian intuition that the entire Old Testament speaks about Christ. But please bear in mind that these are only thoughts that have occurred to me as I’ve followed these readings, and lack any substance when it comes to explaining the shape of the Lenten lectionary in historical perspective.


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