Tomorrow will be Forgiveness Sunday – the last day for dairy and fish until Pascha.
Why do we Orthodox abstain from animal products during Great Lent? The answer is surprisingly practical. First, we make ourselves hungry so that we will become hungry for God. Secondly, we will be less governed by the “passions,” because we are abstaining from foods that feed the passions.
Although not well known among non-Orthodox, we Orthodox have found through centuries of experience that a diet without animal products leads to a more prayerful, more peaceful frame of mind. We do eat shellfish (mussels, clams, shrimp, crab, etc) and are able thereby to obtain sufficient protein – even for small children – to maintain adequate growth of cells and maintenance of body processes. Don’t laugh until you try it!
During the fast, we are to pray more intensely and more frequently, to attend services more frequently (there are extra services during the week to help sustain us), to give more alms. This year, for instance, many of us will contribute more to the various Haiti relief efforts through our Church. We study the Church Fathers more. We read spiritually supportive works – some of which may have been written recently, but most written well into the past, having passed the “test of time.”
Last year, Fr. Stephen Freeman wrote an excellent post on the Difficulty of Lent.
Another article by Archpriest Victor Potopov, The Great Lent – Fasting is also very explanatory. Father Victor says, in part, “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.” [–MORE–]
Next week, I’ll post a list of books that are helpful during Great Lent.