Rather than paraphrase, I looked for some easy text to understand and talk about the observance of Great Lent. We participant in this process for the full 40 days or so. We do not eat meat but we do have some dairy in our fast in our house, it's a very individual process in the church.
While there are major guidelines and there are certainly several "degrees" of fasting, we generally choose a fast that we can live with in our daily lives. Some folks want to see how much they can bend the fast with meat substitutes or other items. I see that a lot of us become so food focused we kind of miss the whole point, myself included. I have to provide meals for my family but elaborate preparation of "gourmet" meals is kind of the opposite of fasting, we tend to get caught up in the whole process. This year I am looking for simpler recipes that get the job done, leave me a little hungry and remind me of why I am doing this.
We had a sermon on Sunday kind of about fasting but mostly about not chastising those who don't participate. I am not sure who that sermon was directed at but I did look again at my personal attitude. I am not sure I talk so much to others about the fast. I do try to make it clear that whether you participate or not, any church sponsored event should follow the rules to the letter. I am not a popular guy.
Frankly I am thinking that people want more information about fasting which we don't seem to get at church. Not so much to beat each other up with but more for some guidelines and reminders. There are so many ways to honor the season besides beans and rice after sundown. That does not work well for most of us. And let's face it, we sponsor a Fish Fry each Friday and serve fish. We eat fish a lot during Lent but we are not supposed to. I know it. Just on feast days. Well, perhaps this article will put some perpective on things.
So about Great Lent:
The purpose of Great Lent is to prepare the faithful to not only commemorate, but to enter into the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus. The totality of the Orthodox life centers around the Resurrection. Great Lent is intended to be a "workshop". Through spending more time than usual in prayer and meditation on the Holy Scripture and the Holy Traditions of the Church, the believer in Christ becomes through the grace of God more godlike.
Self-disciplineObservance of Great Lent is characterized by abstinence from certain foods, intensified private and public prayer, self-examination, confession, personal improvement, repentance and restitution for sins committed, and almsgiving. The foods traditionally abstained from are meat and dairy products, wine and oil. (According to some traditions, only olive oil is abstained from; in others, all vegetable oils.) Since strict fasting is canonically forbidden on the Sabbath and the Lord's Day, wine and oil are permitted on Saturdays and Sundays. If the Great Feast of the Annunciation falls during Great Lent, then fish, wine and oil are permitted on that day.
Besides the additional liturgical celebrations described below, Orthodox Christians are expected to pay closer attention to and increase their private prayer. According to Orthodox theology, when asceticism is increased, prayer must be increased also. The Church Fathers have referred to fasting without prayer as "the fast of the demons" since the demons do not eat according to their incorporeal nature, but neither do they pray.
Liturgical observancesGreat Lent is unique in that, liturgically, the weeks do not run from Sunday to Saturday, but rather begin on Monday and end on Sunday, and most weeks are named for the lesson from the Gospel which will be read at the Divine Liturgy on its concluding Sunday. This is to illustrate that the entire season is anticipatory, leading up to the greatest Sunday of all: Pascha.
During the Great Fast, a special service book is used, known as the Lenten Triodion, which contains the Lenten texts for the Daily Office (Canonical Hours) and Liturgies. The Triodion begins during the Pre-Lenten period to supplement or replace portions of the regular services. This replacement begins gradually, initially affecting only the Epistle and Gospel readings, and gradually increases until Holy Week when it entirely replaces all other liturgical material (during the Triduum even the Psalter is eliminated, and all texts are taken exclusively from the Triodion). The Triodion is used until the lights are extinguished before midnight at the Paschal Vigil, at which time it is replaced by the Pentecostarion, which begins by replacing the normal services entirely (during Bright Week) and gradually diminishes until the normal services resume following the Afterfeast of Pentecost.
Divine Liturgy is not celebrated, because the joy of the Eucharist (literally "Thanksgiving") is contrary to the attitude of repentance which predominates on these days. However, since it is considered especially important to receive the Holy Mysteries (Holy Communion) during this season, the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts—also called the Liturgy of St. Gregory the Dialogist— may be celebrated on weekdays. Technically, this is not actually a Divine Liturgy, but rather a Vespers service at which a portion of the Body and Blood of Christ, which was reserved the previous Sunday, are distributed to the faithful. Most parishes and monasteries celebrate this Liturgy only on Wednesdays, Fridays and feast days, but it may be celebrated on any weekday of Great Lent. Because the Divine Liturgy is not celebrated on weekdays, it is replaced with the Typica, even on days when the Presanctified Liturgy is celebrated. On Saturday and Sunday the Divine Liturgy may be celebrated as usual. On Saturdays, the usual St. John Chrysostom is celebrated; on Sundays the more solemn and penitential Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great is used.
The services of the Canonical Hours are much longer during Great Lent. In addition to doubling the number of Psalms read, the structure of the services is different on weekdays. In the evening, instead of the normal Compline (the final service before retiring at night), the much longer service of Great Compline is chanted. In the Greek practice, ordinary Compline is chanted on Friday night together with the Akathist to the Theotokos (Mother of God). The Akathist is divided into four sections and one section is chanted on each of the first four Friday nights of Great Lent. Then the Akathist is chanted in its entirety at Matins in the Fifth Saturday. In the Slavic usage, Great Compline is chanted on Friday night—though some parts are read rather than sung as they are on other weeknights, and some Lenten material is replaced by non-Lenten hymns—and the Akathist is not chanted until Matins of the fifth Saturday.
An interesting difference between the Eastern and Western observances is that while in the West the chanting of Alleluia ceases during Lent, in the East its use is increased. This is because for the Orthodox, fasting should be joyous (cf. Matthew 6:16), and the sense of unworthiness must always be tempered with hope in God's forgiveness. In fact, days which follow the Lenten pattern of services are referred to as "days with Alleluia". This theme of "Lenten joy" is also found in many of the hymns of the Triodion, such as the stichera which begin with the words: "The Lenten Spring has dawned!..." (Vespers Aposticha, Wednesday of Cheesefare Week) and "Now is the season of repentance; let us begin it joyfully, O brethren..." (Matins, Second Canon, Ode 8, Monday of Cheesefare Week).
The making of prostrations during the services increases as well. The one prayer that typifies the Lenten services is the Prayer of Saint Ephrem, which is said at each service on weekdays, accompanied by full prostrations. One translation of it reads:
The public reading of Scripture is increased during Great Lent. The Psalter (Book of Psalms) is normally read through once a week during the course of the Daily Office; however, during Great Lent, the number of Psalms is increased so that the entire Psalter is read through twice during each of the Six Weeks (during Holy Week it is read through once). Readings from the Old Testament are also increased, with the Books of Genesis, Proverbs and Isaiah being read through almost in their entirety at the Sixth Hour and Vespers (during Cheesefare Week, the readings at these services are taken from Joel and Zechariah, while during Holy Week they are from Exodus, Ezekiel and Job). Uniquely, on weekdays of Great Lent there is no public reading of the Epistles or Gospels. This is because the readings are particular to the Divine Liturgy, which is not celebrated on weekdays of Great Lent. There are, however, Epistles and Gospels appointed for each Saturday and Sunday.O Lord and master of my life! a spirit of idleness, despondency, ambition and idle-talking, give me not.
But rather, a spirit of chastity, humble-mindedness, patience and charity, bestow upon me Thy servant.
Yea, my king and Lord, grant me to see my own failings and refrain from judging others: For blessed art Thou unto ages of ages. Amen.