The Entry into Holy and Great Lent

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My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE.

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THE ENTRY INTO HOLY AND GREAT LENT

The Monday that follows Cheese-fare Sunday is the first day of Great Lent itself. We have now begun on this succession of forty days which prepare us for the time of the Passion and for the time of Pascha. But before going into the details of these weeks of Holy Lent, let us give a little time to the consideration of some of its general characteristics.

The first of these characteristics is, of course, the fast. One cannot ignore or treat the question of fasting from food lightly, and we have devoted a special note to this. The Holy Fathers of the Church and the collective conscience of the faithful have discerned clearly the spiritual value -- a value which is both penitential and purifying -- of abstention from certain foods. It would, however, be a serious mistake to think that this abstention constituted the only observance necessary to Holy Lent. Bodily fasting must be accompanied by another fast. In the first centuries, the discipline of the Church prescribed conjugal abstinence during Holy Lent; it forbade participation in feasts and attendance at public festivals. This discipline has perhaps become weakened and is not presented to believe quite as forcefully as in the times of the Holy Fathers. All the same, it remains as a precious indication of the spirit, the intention of the Church. But most surely, this intention is that during Holy Lent we exercise much stricter control over our thoughts, our words, and actions, and concentrate our attention on the Person of the Savior and what He requires of us. Almsgiving (charity) is also one of the forms of Lenten observance that the Holy Fathers recommended most highly. A fast that is pleasing to God is, therefore, a 'whole' which cannot be separated into inner and outward aspects; of the two the former is certainly the most important.

The second feature of Holy and Great Lent lies in certain characteristics of ritual, and we will now say a few words about these.

First of all, there is there the reciting of 'Great Compline' (Megan Apotheipnon). We know that the Office of Compline (that which comes after supper), is the last, of the daily offices. Ordinary Compline, or 'Little Compline', is a fairly short office. But on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays of Holy and Great Lent, it is replaced by 'Great Compline', with a fairly long reading of psalms and troparia, amongst which will be noticed a long Biblical prayer: Manasseh, king of Judah's, the prayer of penitence.

Furthermore, the Divine Liturgy which is celebrated on Sundays during Holy and Great Lent is not the usual Divine Liturgy attributed to Saint John Chrysostom. It is the Divine Liturgy attributed to Saint Basil the Great, Archbishop of Caesarea, in the 4th century. This Divine Liturgy is longer than that of Saint John Chrysostom and the text is sometimes slightly different. In certain passages, it has an archaic and moving quality, for example when prayers are offered for those of our brothers who are in the house of Caesar and for those who are condemned to hard labor in the mines (here we can think of the concentration camps).

On Wednesday and Friday during Holy and Great Lent, the liturgy called the 'Presanctified' is celebrated, that is to say, the liturgy for which the Holy Gifts have been consecrated in advance. It is not a Eucharistic liturgy in the full sense, as there is no consecration. It is a Communion service in which the priest and congregation take Holy Communion with the elements which were consecrated during the previous Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great or Saint John Chrysostom, and which have been reserved since then. The Liturgy of the Presanctified is added on to Vespers. That is why, in principle, it should be celebrated in the evening. It includes certain psalms, certain special Biblical readings, and certain prayers borrowed from the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom. The latter is celebrated every Saturday morning.

On Friday evening during Holy and Great Lent the hymn called the 'Akathist' (Not sitting) is chanted. It is a long poem of praise to the Most Holy Virgin and Mother of God. It comprises twenty-four stanzas set out in alphabetical order and broken up into four portions. These portions are read one after another -- one each Friday -- during the First Four Fridays of Holy Lent. On the Fifth Friday, the Akathistos is read in its entirety.

The 'Great Canon' of Saint Andrew of Crete is read in its entirety during the evenings of the first week of Holy and Great Lent. It is an enormous composition of two hundred and fifty stanzas. These are divided up into nine series of Odes that express the longings of a guilty and penitent soul; they contrast human frailty with the goodness and mercy of God.

Finally -- and perhaps above all -- the admirable prayer attributed to Saint Ephraim the Syrian must be mentioned. In this, neither poetry nor rhetoric (which are not lacking in the compositions we have just spoken of) plays any part. We are here faced with a pure upsurge of the soul -- short, sober and full of ardor. This prayer, accompanied by prostrations (metanoias), is said for the first time on the evening of the Sunday which immediately precedes Lent (the evening service being counted as already belonging to Monday, the first day of Holy Lent). It is repeated during most of the Lenten services, especially in the Liturgy of the Presanctified. The Prayer of Saint Ephraim is widely known by Orthodox Christian believers; this is its text:

'O Lord and Master of my life, give me not a spirit of sloth, vain curiosity, lust for power, and idle talk.  But give to me, Thy servant, a spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love. O Lord and King, grant me to see my own faults and not to judge my brother (and sister); for blessed art Thou unto the ages of ages. Amen.'

This prayer sums up all that is essential in spiritual life. A Christian who used it constantly, who nourished himself from it during Holy and Great Lent, would be at the simplest and best school. Even someone who restricted himself to repeating and meditating on these words, "Lord and Master of my life", would enter deeply into the reality of the relationship between God and the soul, the soul, and its God. (Source: The Year of Grace of the Lord by a Monk of the Eastern Orthodox Church)

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"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"-- Saint John Chrysostomos

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With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George