Great Lent is considered the holiest fast since our Lord Jesus Christ Himself had fasted it. Therefore, during Great Lent we follow the example set by our Lord Jesus Christ, Who fasted on our behalf forty days and forty nights (Matt. 4: 2). Also during Holy Week, which comes after the 40 days, we live the Passion of Christ day by day and hour by hour. Because of the significance and holiness of Great Lent, the Church designated a week of preparation to precede the 40 days.
How we get prepared for Great Lent?
- The preparatory week. The Church is teaching us to prepare for Great Lent in a spiritual manner by fasting for the preparatory week.
- Nineveh’s Fast. Two weeks prior to Great Lent there is Jonah’s Fast, also known as Nineveh’s Fast. It is a short fast, only three days, and it is a fast of repentance. During this fast, we live with Jonah his fasting and repentance in the whale’s belly.
Why we should fast the great lent?
1) Great Lent is an Apostolic Fast:
It is mentioned in the Diskalia (chapter 18) the following: “who does not fast Great Lent or Wednesdays and Fridays shall be excommunicated from church, unless he has a physical reason”.
2) Great Lent is an Ascetical Fast:
The Church teaches us to fast until sunset. Fish is not allowed during this period. We would like to emphasize the importance of the period of strict abstention during fasting. It is refraining from eating and drinking for a period of time, followed by eating vegetarian food.
3) Great Lent is a time of Prayer:
The period of Great Lent is distinctive for its many Liturgies. They become the spiritual treasure for the fasting person to help him throughout the rest of the year. In addition to the Divine Liturgy on Sundays, which have specific readings, hymns, and tunes, the Church also arranged special readings for the daily Liturgies during Great Lent. Also, during the weekdays, there are special hymns. The Church celebrates the Divine Liturgy almost daily during Great Lent. It is preferred that these Liturgies start late in the day to offer those fasting the opportunity to practice strict abstinence.
4) Great Lent is a time of Repentance:
Fasting without repentance and changing one’s life becomes useless. Unless the fasting person changes his life during fasting, he will only be hungry and exhausted without gaining anything else. Therefore, the Church constantly reminds us of the importance of repentance during fasting. Before Great Lent, we fast Jonah’s Fast and we live the story of Jonah and the Ninevites’ repentance. During the third Sunday of Lent, the Holy Church offers us the Gospel reading of the Prodigal Son as a model of repentance, which requires an awakening, confession of sins, leaving the place of sin, and returning to the Heavenly Fr. with confidence in His mercies and acceptance. This parable reveals to us the depth of God’s love for sinners and how He accepts them no matter how horrendous their sin is. Our Lord Jesus Christ said, “the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.” (John 6: 37) Christ “has come to save that which was lost.” (Matt. 18:11)
Repentance is a result of divine action; it is the Spirit of God, Who moves the hearts of sinners to repent. God’s pleasure is in the return of a sinner so that he will not die in his sin. When God sees his sinful child returning to Him, He has compassion and goes to him, kissing him, and welcomes his return by saying, “It is right that we should make merry and be glad.” (Luke 15: 32) The return of a sinner and his repentance results in joy to God, as well as all those in heaven, because, “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.” (Luke 15: 7)
During Great Lent, we praise God for His many mercies. The Doxology of Great Lent presents to us a magnificent hymn in praising God on His mercies, as well as asking for His mercies. The first Doxology of the Sundays of Great Lent starts with the following:
I will praise you, O Lord, for your mercies are forever.
From generation to generation, my mouth shall declare your truth.In this beautiful doxology, we praise God for His mercies. Then the chanter remembers his many sins and transgressions by saying, “My sins are heavy over my head.” As his sins are revealed in front of him, he then remembers the stories of those who repented and were accepted by God, so he won’t lose hope.
5) Great Lent is a Period for Doing Mercy:
The Church reminds us of the importance of doing merciful acts during fasting. Therefore, during Great Lent we chant together praising those who have mercy on the poor. The Holy Bible teaches us that the fasting which is accepted by God is the one in which we do acts of mercy to others. “Is this not the fast that I have chosen: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; when you see the naked, that you cover him, and not hide yourself from you own flesh?” Isaiah 58:6
Fasting is a beautiful period to do good deeds by helping the poor, feeding the hungry and the homeless, visiting the sick, and taking care of the needs of others. The person who fasts by not yielding to the needs of the flesh, will feel the needs of others and his heart will be moved to serve them. Also, the asceticism of fasting teaches us to care for the heavenly and not be concerned with the earthly. Thus it becomes easy to forsake our material possessions and offer them to the needy.
6) Great Lent is a Period of Reconciliation with Others:
Fasting is an act of worship presented to God, and God does not accept the offering and worship of a person who quarrels with others. Instead, He asks him to go and make peace with his brother before coming to worship and present offerings in front of God’ altar. Fasting is an appropriate time to evaluate our relationship with others. As we ask God to forgive us our sins, we must also forgive those who have sinned against us.