April 2 - Holy Friday
April 3 - Holy Saturday
April 4 - Great and Holy Pascha
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The Great Fast or Great 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.
Observance of Great Lent is characterized by abstention from many foods, intensified private and public prayer, personal improvement, and almsgiving. The foods traditionally abstained from are meat and dairy products, fish, 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 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 their private prayers and to say more of them more often. The 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.
During the weekdays of Great Lent, there is a liturgical fast when the eucharistic Divine Liturgy is not celebrated. However, since it is considered especially important to receive the Holy Mysteries during this season the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, also called the Liturgy of St. Gregory the Dialogist, may be celebrated on Wednesdays and Fridays. At this vesperal service some of the Body and Blood of Christ reserved the previous Sunday is distributed. On Saturday and Sunday the Divine Liturgy may be celebrated as usual, although on Sundays the more solemn Liturgy of St. Basil the Great is used in place of that of St. John Chrysostom.
Like the observation of Lent in the West, Great Lent itself lasts for forty days, but unlike the West, Sundays are included in the count. It officially begins on Monday seven weeks before Pascha and concludes on the eve of Lazarus Saturday, the day before Palm Sunday. However, fasting continues for the following week, known as Passion Week, Great Week or Holy Week, up until Pascha.
The Orthodox Church observes four major Lenten periods each year. Of these, the most important and significant is Great Lent preceding Easter and lasting for seven weeks. A Lenten period comes before any of the major feasts of the Church as an opportunity to come into the fullness of the feast and to appreciate the significance of the feast.
THE PREPARATION FOR GREAT LENT:
Great Lent is preceded by a special period of preparation known as the Triodion. During this four-week period, we are constantly informed of the approach of Great Lent. We are instructed to expect its coming and accept its teachings and message. Through special moving prayers, hymns, services and Biblical readings and through a gradual elimination of rich and fancy foods, we are prepared to welcome Great Lent.
During the Triodion, Meat Fare Sunday is the last day that we are allowed to eat meat, and Cheese Fare Sunday is the last day we are allowed to have milk, cheese, and other dairy products.
Monday after Cheese Fare Sunday is the first day of Great Lent. It is known as Pure Monday or Clean Monday because it marks the official beginning of the Lenten period and is a day of strict fasting from foods and of exerting spiritual exercise through good works, reading the writings of the Church Teachers and scripture and by attending the Sacrament of Confession.
PURPOSE OF GREAT LENT:
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, and Isaiah. Great Lent is followed by Holy Week, the week beginning with Palm Sunday and preceding Pascha.
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.
During Great Lent, Orthodox Christians primarily fast mentally and spiritually by reviewing their personal life with all its sins, faults, evil habits and shortcomings. They make every effort to abolish these things from their lives by instituting genuine changes for the better. They deny themselves pleasures and make many profound and sincere sacrifices. They bear their hardships in patience and faith and are watchful in their words, deeds, thoughts and actions. They live in strict discipline, as Jesus did during His fast of forty days before His Crucifixion And they ask forgiveness from those whom they have hurt or wronged.
During Great Lent, Orthodox Christians give consideration to acts of charity and mercy, by visiting the sick, consoling the unfortunate and giving assistance to the poor and needy.
Orthodox Christians fast physically during Great Lent. They refrain from rich and fancy foods. They deny themselves physical pleasures so that they may strengthen their willpower, cleanse their bodies and be assisted in their endeavor to improve themselves combating sin, evil and the devil.