THE GREAT FAST WILL SOON BEGIN
Rev George Worschak
The Great Fast or Lent for the Eastern Christians who follow the Gregorian calendar begins this year on Monday, February 15th. The Great Fast is a time of intense prayer and fasting. Throughout the entire year, we are to pray and fast, but more so in preparation for the joyous celebration of Pascha – the Resurrection of Our Lord, God and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Not only on the Fridays of the Great Fast are we to abstain from meat, but also our Church asks the faithful to not to partake of milk and dairy products. This is called by some a “strict fast.” This is to be observed on the First Day of the Great Fast as well as Good and Great Friday. Those who are already in their senior years and those who are employed in hard labor, pregnant or nursing mothers are exempt. Nonetheless, all the faithful who are healthy and able to do so keep a tradition long ago practiced by our people.
The two Sundays just prior to the start of the Great Fast (Lent) remind us of how some, especially those in monastic life, had for more than forty days fasted both from meat and dairy products throughout the entire Lenten season. The second Sunday prior to the Great Fast (February 7th this year) is called “Meat-fare Sunday.” It was the last day to eat meat products until Pascha, the Resurrection of Our Lord (Easter). The Sunday right before the Great Fast is called “Cheese-fare Sunday” because it was the last day to eat milk and dairy products until Pascha, the Resurrection of Our Lord (Easter). The practice of fasting during the Great Fast are indeed more relaxed: abstinence from meat on the Fridays of the Great Fast (Lent) and Great and Good Saturday and from dairy products on the first day and Great and Good Friday.
These two Sundays prior to the start of the Great Fast (Lent) are also referred to by the Gospel of the day. On Meat-fare Sunday, the Gospel account of the Last Judgment (Matthew 25:31-46), Thus, it is called “Last Judgment Sunday” or the “Sunday of the Sheep and Goats.” The Lord at the Last Judgment will separate the nations and us individually as a shepherd separate the sheep from the goats. The Gospel for Cheesefare Sunday is Matthew 6:14-21, which reminds us that if we want our Heavenly Father to forgive us our trespasses, we must forgive those who trespass against us.
Thus, we also refer to Cheesefare Sunday as “Forgiveness Sunday.” On this Sunday, in our parishes we celebrate a “Forgiveness Service” whereby we ask one another for forgiveness of our sins, faults and shortcomings, both voluntary and involuntary. This we each ask of one another and reply may God forgive you and so do I forgive you. This Forgiveness Service reminds us all of our human frailty and how much we are to rely on God for His help, His graces and blessings. This keeps us all humble and helps create a prayerful, God-centered atmosp[here that we are to maintain through the Lenten season.
The Great Fast (Lent) is to be a time of spiritual renewal. It is a time of prayer, communicating with God. The Christian life, we are reminded, is to be one of a lived faith through the performance of good works. We are reminded that how can we say we love God Whom we don’t see unless we love our neighbor, whom we do see. The corporeal and spiritual works of mercy are to be done in charity to our less fortunate neighbor, brother or sister in Christ. And indeed, our eternity depends on this: If you helped your brother or sister in Christ in their time of need, your good deed will not go unnoticed. But rather, the Lord will say to such an individual: “Come, enter into the Kingdom (Heaven) prepared for you from the beginning of time, from the creation of the world.
The Great Fast (Lent) is a time of repentance and forgiveness. WE seek to rid ourselves of evil and seek God’s forgiveness and forgiveness also of our neighbor, even our so-called “enemy”, the one who may not like us or whom we dislike. By seeking to spiritually renew oneself, one is ready to celebrate the great triumph over the powers of sin, death and evil – the Celebration of Pascha, Resurrection of our Lord.