The Great Fast or Lent is the period of preparation leading up to Holy Week and Pascha. The Lenten Triodion governs the divine services of Great Lent as well as those of the Weeks of Preparation preceding Great Lent. Lent is a Middle English word meaning "spring." The Great Fast has come to be called Lent by association; it is called "great" to distinguish it from the other fasts.
Following Meatfare Sunday, meats are removed from the diet. Following Cheesefare Sunday (also known as Forgiveness Sunday), dairy is removed, initiating the strict fasting of Great Lent. During Great Lent, the weekday readings are taken only from the Old Testament, focusing on Genesis, Proverbs, Isaiah, and Job.
Structure of Great Lent
- Monday following Forgiveness Sunday (also called Cheesefare Sunday)
- 1. Sunday of Orthodoxy (John 1:43-51),
- 2. Sunday of St. Gregory Palamas,
- 3. Sunday of the Holy Cross,
- 4. Sunday of St. John Climacus, and
- 5. Sunday of St. Mary of Egypt.
Purpose of Great Lent
The original purpose of the pre-Pascha fast (now known as Great Lent) was the fasting of catechumens who were being prepared for baptism and entry into the Church. However, it quickly became a time for those who were already Christian to prepare for the feast of the Resurrection of Christ. It is the living symbol of man's entire life which is to be fulfilled in his own resurrection from the dead with Christ. It is a time of renewed devotion: of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. It is a time of repentance, a real renewal of minds, hearts and deeds in conformity with Christ and his teachings. It is the time, most of all, of return to the great commandments of loving God and neighbors.