Great Lent is the greatest fasting period in the church year in Eastern Christianity, which prepares Christians for the greatest feast of the church year, Easter (or “Holy Pascha”). 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.
Before Great Lent itself, there is a three-week Pre-Lent season, often referred to as the “Triodion”, to prepare for Lent. (Ash Wednesday is not observed in Eastern Christianity.) On three successive Sundays, Zacchaeus, the Publican and Pharisee, and the Prodigal Son are commemorated. Next comes Meatfare Sunday (its proper name in the typikon is Sunday of the Last Judgement), the last day to eat meat before Pascha. It is followed by Cheesefare Sunday (its proper name is Sunday of Forgiveness), the last day to eat dairy products before Pascha; on this Sunday, Eastern Christians identify with Adam and Eve, and forgive each other in order to obtain forgiveness from God, typically in a Forgiveness Vespers service that Sunday evening. It is during Forgiveness Vespers that the decor of the church is changed to reflect a penitential mood.
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. If the Feast of the Annunciation falls during Great Lent, then fish, wine and oil are permitted on that day.
Besides the additional liturgical celebrations described below, Orthodox Christians are expected to pay closer attention to their private prayers and to say more of them more often. The Fathers have referred to fasting without prayer as “the fast of the demons” since the demons do not eat according to their incorporeal nature, but neither do they pray.
Each of the five Sundays of Great Lent has its own special commemoration. The first Sunday is the Feast of the Triumph of Orthodoxy, which commemorates the restoration of the veneration of icons after the Iconoclast controversy. The second Sunday is kept in memory of Gregory Palamas. The Veneration of the Cross is celebrated on the third Sunday. John Climacus is remembered on the fourth Sunday, and Mary of Egypt on the fifth Sunday.
During the weekdays of Great Lent, there is a liturgical fast when the eucharistic Divine Liturgy is not celebrated. However, since it is considered especially important to receive the Holy Mysteries during this season the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, also called the Liturgy of St. Gregory the Dialogist, may be celebrated on Wednesdays and Fridays. At this vesperal service some of the Body and Blood of Christ reserved the previous Sunday is distributed. On Saturday and Sunday the Divine Liturgy may be celebrated as usual, although on Sundays the more solemn Liturgy of St. Basil the Great is used in place of that of St. John Chrysostom.
One prayer that is said often, accompanied by great reverences, is the Prayer of Saint Ephrem. One translation of it is:
O Lord and master of my life! Take me the spirit of sloth, despair, lush of power and idle talk!
But  give rather the spirit chastity, humility, patience and love to thy servant..
Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions and not to judge my brother: For blessed are You unto ages of ages.  Amen.
One book commonly read during Great Lent, particularly by monastics, is The Ladder of Divine Ascent, which was written in about the seventh century by St. John of the Ladder at St. Catherine’s monastery on Mt. Sinai.
Like Western Lent, Great Lent itself lasts for forty days; but unlike the West, Sundays are included in the count. It officially begins on Monday seven weeks before Easter and concludes on the eve of Lazarus Saturday, the day before Palm Sunday. However, fasting continues for the following week, known as Passion Week or Holy Week, up until Pascha or Easter Sunday.

CONFESSION is the sacrament of repentance – a change of heart leading to forgiveness and healing.  It is based on Christ’s promise to His disciples.  “If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven” (John 20:22) and His saying:  “If your brother repents, forgive him” (Luke 17:1).  True repentance means a movement towards healing.  The penitent turns away from a side track and towards the goal of the Kingdom of God.
The sacrament involves examining relationships with God and with other people, and seeking ways to improve.  It is more than a dialogue between priest and parishioner:  the Holy Spirit and Christ are present in a mysterious way.
Confession takes place before an icon, with the Gospel book and cross.  Confession is made to Christ with the priest as a witness.  It begins with prayers of preparation by the penitent, after which the penitent confesses his or her sins and may speak about the things which are troubling him or her.  The priest gives whatever advice he feels may be appropriate.  The penitent is kneeling during his or her confessions, except for times when kneeling is not appropriate.  The priest places his stole over the person’s head, and says the prayers of absolution by which they are released from their sins.  Finally, the penitent kisses the Gospel book and the Cross, and asks the priest for a blessing.
Great Lent is a time for us to realize that it is necessary to shake off that condition of numbness, those cobwebs of everyday life which suggest to us that the life of this world–which is in us and around us–is the only possible way of life.  It is a time to yearn for another form of existence–the one revealed to us in the Gospel and in the experience of the saints and ascetics-a time to confess and commune with that radiant sorrow which is the beginning of spiritual renewal.  Make every attempt to attend the liturgical services and partake of the Blessed Sacraments as often as you can during this Great Lent period.  The reward of spiritual renewal is beyond words.


Those people who belong to the Church merely out of habit or out of obedience to tradition usually view Great Lent only as a time of self-restriction. Theoretically, such an attitude toward Great Lent could be called negative. One must refrain from meat and dairy products, from dances and other forms of entertainment, and at some point during Great Lent one must go to Confession and Communion.

We encounter a different attitude toward Great Lent in those who belong to the Church not through pious inertia, but who seek a faith that is conscious and aware. Such people cannot but notice that during Great Lent, first and foremost, the very style of the Church’s liturgical self-expression changes. It would be a mistake to see in this style merely an appeal addressed to us for repentance and correction, although without a doubt this enters into the thematic of the divine services during the time of Great Lent.

But the mission of the Church in the world does not consist of convicting people and calling them to  correction. In principle, any one of the numerous systems of moral philosophy would be equal to such a task. Rather, the Church again and again reveals to us the fundamental truth of the New Testament revelation, which is contained in the following: To be a Christian means to experience the miracle of birth into a new life, and already here on earth to feel oneself to be a citizen of God’s Kingdom, revealed to us by Christ. In accordance with this, Great Lent is for the Orthodox Christian, on the one hand, a time of radiant sorrow, and simultaneously with this, it is a difficult journey, marked by struggle, to the shining and beautiful goal of the feast of the Resurrection of Christ–Holy Pascha.

Why have we called the time of Great Lent a time of radiant sorrow? We experience sorrow because we are conscious that we have departed from the Father’s house into a far country, that in our vain and distracted life we have not preserved the purity of our baptismal garment, in which we were clothed when we entered the Church. It is necessary to shake off that condition of numbness, those cobwebs of everyday life which suggest to us that the life of this world–which is in us and around us–is the only possible way of life. To yearn for another form of existence–the one revealed to us in the Gospel and in the experience of the saints and ascetics-means to commune with that radiant sorrow which is the beginning of spiritual renewal.

This sorrow is radiant because we know that God accepts us who return to Him with the very same love and readiness to forgive with which the father accepted and forgave the prodigal son of the Gospel parable. Therefore, this mystical union of sorrow and hope, darkness and light, becomes the central theme of the whole period of Great Lent. God made me His temple; but the temple needs cleansing and renewal, and I believe and hope that God will help me in this.

In the Vespers of Forgiveness Sunday, with which Great Lent begins, we hear the words of the Great Prokeimenon–words simultaneously of sorrow and hope. “Turn not Thy countenance away from Thy servant, for I am afflicted. Quickly hearken unto me, attend unto my soul and deliver it.” Great Lent lasts for forty days. The journey of the chosen people from Egyptian slavery to the promised land lasted for forty years. Christ fasted in the wilderness for forty days before He went out to His service of the Word and Sacrifice. Being sinless Himself, he gave us an example of renewal through fasting. And, for us, this is a forty-day journey to the light of Holy Pascha, for the feast of the Resurrection of Christ is not simply a great feast or even the greatest of all the feasts of the Church year, but is the very essence and core of our Faith.

With absolute faith in Christ we are victors, not only over sin but also over the all-powerfulness of death. Each word of the Christian Good Tidings lives and breathes by the miracle of the Resurrection which is revealed to us through the exercise of faith, and the light of the approaching Pascha illumines the days of Great Lent.


The Great Canon of St Andrew is read each year as part of the ascetic labor of the Great Fast (Lent). Divided into four portions, these are read during the services of Great Compline on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings of the First Week (‘Pure/Clean Week’) of the Fast. The whole Canon is then read in its entirety on Thursday of the Fifth Week (actually read ‘in anticipation’ on Wednesday evening). The Great Canon is one of the great works, if not the greatest work, of the Church’s hymnography of repentance. It is steeped in biblical imagery, yet it is not simply a condensation of biblical themes. In the Canon, all the human events of scripture—creation, fall, exile, return, longing, redemption—all are made personal. They become my events: my creation, my fall, my redemption. Their story is my story, and I am made intensely aware of all its depth. The Canon begins: ‘Where shall I begin to weep over the cursed deeds of my life?  What foundation shall I lay, O Christ, for this lamentation?’ The Canon brings each of us into the story of scripture; stirs us with moving imagery to realize the depths of our sin. We begin to see our exile, our distance from Christ; and from that distance, we begin to repent.

After the penitential fasting of the first five days of Lent, Saturday and Sunday are kept as feasts of joyful thanksgiving. On Saturday we commemorate the Great Martyr Theodore the Recruit, a Roman soldier in Asia Minor, martyred in the fourth century under Emperor Maximian.  Here may be seen at work a rule applied by the Church since the fourth century: as the full Liturgy cannot be offered on weekdays in Lent, saints’ memorials which in fixed calendar, occur during the week are transferred to Saturday or Sunday.  So the memorial of St. Theodore, whose feast falls on February 17th /March 2nd , has been transferred to the first Saturday which this year is March 8th.
There is a specific reason why St. Theodore has come to be associated with the first week of Lent. According to the tradition recorded in the Synaxarion, the Emperor Julian the Apostate (reigned 361-363), as part of his campaign against the Christians, attempted to defile their observance of the first week of lent by ordering all the food for sale in the market of Constantinople to be sprinkled with the blood of the pagan sacrifices.  St Theodore then appeared in a dream to Eudoxios, Archbishop of the city, ordering him to warn his flock against buying anything from the market; instead, so the Saint told him, they should boil wheat (kolyva) and eat this alone.  In memory of this event, after the Presanctified Liturgy on the first Friday, a Canon of intercession is sung to St. Theodore and a dish of kolyva is blessed in his honor.

Source: St. John’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.