Monday, February 19, 2007

Great Lent

Today is the beginning of the Great Lent within the Orthodox Christian faith. It is the greatest fasting period in the church year in Eastern Christianity, which prepares Christians for the greatest feast of the church year, Easter. Observance of Great Lent is characterized by abstention from many foods, intensified private and public prayer, personal improvement and almsgiving. The foods traditionally abstained from are meat and dairy products, fish, wine and oil. (According to some traditions, only olive oil is abstained from; in others, all vegetable oils.) Since strict fasting is canonically forbidden on the Sabbath and the Lord's Day, wine and oil are permitted on Saturdays and Sundays.

Living near and around many Catholics, I am often asked how Orthodox Lent differs from Lent in the Roman Church. While I am no Biblical scholar, and am in no position to really go into depth about the theological differences, Wikipedia gives a basic explanation.

Although it is in many ways similar to Lent in Western Christianity, there are important differences in the timing of Lent (besides calculating the date of Easter), the underlying theology, and how it is practiced, both liturgically in the church and personally. Like Western Lent, Great Lent itself lasts for forty days, but unlike the West, Sundays are included in the count.

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