How Do the Eastern Orthodox Celebrate Lent?

by Christina Strynatka

While Catholics all over the world acknowledge Lent in anticipation of Easter, there are key differences in the way Eastern Orthodox Catholics and Western Christians practice the ritual. While both branches of Catholicism use fasting as one of the biggest Lent markers, the biggest difference is the date used to calculate when the Lenten season will occur, as there can be over a month's gap between the two celebrations.

Date of Lent

Orthodox Catholics begin the Lenten season on Clean Monday, the day that is seven weeks before Easter, or pascha (the Eastern Orthodox word for Easter), and continue for 40 days until the Friday of the sixth week. Ash Wednesday is not noted (it is for Roman Catholics), and Sundays are included in counting the Lenten days (Roman Catholics do not). Followers will continue to practice abstinence from foods like meat, eggs and dairy products as they had been doing previously until early Easter morning.

Fasting

Abstinence from food is a key tenet for Eastern Orthodox Catholics who partake in Lent as they believe that it helps aid in reliving how Jesus suffered in the days before he died. While the traditional notion has been to fast from eating meat, eggs and dairy products, the concept has now been extended to giving up something for 40 days that it would be otherwise difficult to go without, and isn't necessarily restricted to food.

Sundays

Weeks are marked as beginning on Monday and ending on Sunday so that the end-of-the-week liturgical celebration is more greatly emphasized; each Lenten week has a specific theme associated with it. As well, liturgies are not held during the week -- only on Sundays -- as it is believed that the taking of the body and blood of Christ is an event of thanksgiving and in opposition to the spirit of abstinence of Lent. Finally, chanting Alleluia -- something which is not during the Western Lenten season -- is increased during the Eastern Orthodox Lenten season with the belief that fasting should be joyous.

Paschal Sunday

After the commencement of the seventh week ("Holy Week", and not technically part of Lent), Eastern Orthodox Catholics celebrate "Pascha", or Easter, on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the March equinox. Followers will gather in the church at 11:00 p.m. on the Saturday before Easter and partake in liturgy. Just before midnight, all the church lights are turned off and everyone waits in silence until midnight when the priest will light a candle and lead a procession three times around the church.

About the Author

Based primarily in Toronto, Christina Strynatka has been writing culture-related articles since 2003 with her work appearing in "Excalibur," "BallnRoll"and "Addicted Magazine." She holds a Bachelor of Arts with Honours in Cognitive Science from York University.

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