Lent is a season of intense prayer, fasting and alms giving concern for those in need. It offers all Christians an opportunity to prepare for Easter by serious discernment about their lives, with particular attention to the word of God which enlightens the daily journey of all who believe. It is a time during which we remember our sinful condition and our need for a Savior to die for our sins and rise to offer us new life. It is a time of renewed devotion. It is also a time of repentance, a real renewal of our minds, hearts and deeds in conformity with Christ and his teachings. It is the time, most of all, of our return to the great commandments of loving God and our neighbors.
Lent offer us a chance for transformation - a time to radically open ourselves to the power of God. During the season of Lent, we have the chance to re-center our lives, to check and see if we are living according to God's will or simply following our own wants and desires. These holy days are our new year - here is the time for resolutions - ones that will be kept, not only during lent but throughout our entire lives.
We have been given three ways of re-centering our lives - fasting, prayer and alms giving. Fasting means letting go of the unnecessary so as to better concentrate on the necessary. Perhaps we need not just to fast from food, but perhaps from buying things, perhaps from television or the Internet! Perhaps we need to fast from some of the things we have chosen to do that are less necessary than the basics: prayer, family, sleep, play, work, friendship. What should we let go of that we "want" to do, so that the things we "need" to do get done? This is our chance to re-order our lives so that our day-to-day existence reflects what we say is important. This is the time to see what activities we can cut back on, as individuals and families, so as to have more time for God, for each other and for service.
Alms giving is giving out of our riches to those who need enough just to live. And this giving isn't giving from our surplus, but giving until it "hurts" so others have enough clothing, food, shelter, education, work. We have been given so much - it's our privilege to share the riches. And alms giving is more than simply giving to those in need - it's also being responsible for their welfare. Alms giving is a lot more than reaching into our pockets for spare change.
Prayer, of course, is the center of every Christians' life - communal prayer and individual prayer. During Lent, we take extra time to pray, to sit in God's presence and be still. Here's our chance to deepen and strengthen our prayer life: Lent is also a time to experience new communal prayer experiences which will deepen our relationship with God AND with one another, for as Christians we are a community of believers, not just one believer on our own.
This Lent is a holy time, a precious time, a time for learning and growth, for renewal and reconciliation. What a great gift given to us by the Church and by our ancestors in the faith! Let us not lose one moment of these 40 days, but live them fully open to God's transforming love.
Lent is considered one of the richest periods of wholehearted devotion demonstrated by practical offerings to the poor and the needy. Believers undertake this in obedience to the Scripture: "Is not this the fast that I have chosen? Is it not to deal by bread to the hungry, and that you bring the poor that are cast out to your house? " Is. 5 8:3 -7.
In the first centuries of Christianity, praying and fasting (the direct love of God) were integrated with alms giving (our love to God interpreted by our love to our neighbors). This is explained in the book "The Shepherd" of Hermes, urging believers to offer their savings resulting from fasting to widows and orphans, Origen blesses those who fast and feed the poor, and St. Augustine has written a whole book on fasting, as he feels that a person, who fasts without offering his savings to the poor, has in fact practiced "greed" rather than fasting.
The Great Lent or "Tessaracoste (forty days fasting) is set to achieve a dual purpose: first, to be prepared to experience the joyful resurrection of the crucified Lord. Secondly, to prepare catechumens through teaching and guidance to practice worship together with practical repentance, so that they might receive the sacrament of baptism on Easter eve.
It is necessary to stop and reflect upon these two objectives. Although we celebrate the resurrection weekly on every Sunday, and practice the "resurrected life" every day through continuous renewal and unceasing repentance, yet we are in need of the fasting period of forty days (Great Lent) besides the Holy Week in order to become ready for the joy of the resurrection and the power it gives. Within this period we practice "mortification" in the Lord, that His resurrection may be transfigured in us, and to be able to say with the Apostle Paul: "If so be that we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together" Rom. 8:17.
Actually the observance of "Great Lent" dates back to the age of the apostles:
a. In the writings of St. Irenaeus in the second century - mention is made of believers who fasted for a day, besides others who fasted for two days before Easter, as well as others who fasted for longer periods. There is reference to some who counted forty hours in a day. This does not mean that St. Irenaeus negates fasting during Lent or the Holy Week, but he indicates the complete abstention from food which precedes the Easter Liturgy of Eucharist. For while some are satisfied to fast on Holy Saturday (and that is the only time when the Coptic Church fasts on a Saturday in the form of complete abstention), others abstain for two successive days: Good Friday and Holy Saturday. Concerning the calculation of forty hours in a day, this probably refers to a custom practiced in the second century, and which some Copts follow, wherein fasting starts on Good Friday and continues until sunrise on Easter Sunday i.e., until the celebration of the Easter Liturgy. This is equivalent to forty hours.
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