Holy Lent

By His Holiness the Late Pope Shenouda III

Lent comprises three fasts: The sacred forty days which Christ fasted, is preceded by a week considered either as an introductory week for the sacred forty days or as compensation for the Saturdays when abstention from food is not allowed. These are followed by the Passion Week which constituted a separate fast independent of Lent at the beginning of the Apostolic Era.

Lent is the holiest of all the annual fasts and its days are the holiest of all the days of the year. It correlates to Christ’s fast and is therefore very significant. The Church also considers is as a fast of the first degree.

It is a period of spiritual reserve up for the whole year.

He who does not benefit spiritually from it, will hardly benefit from the other less spiritual days. He who spends the days of Lent indifferently will find it hard to be particular about the rest of the year.

Try to benefit from this fast, its hymns, reading, rites, spirituality, and the afternoon Liturgies.

Our Fathers used Lent as an opportunity for preaching.

During this time people were more spiritual and were ready to accept it. Indeed, preaching is set for the whole year but the sermons of Lent have a more profound effect. That is why many of Saint John Chrysostom’s books were sermons that he delivered during Lent. In the same way the books of Saint Augustine. Even the Church made these days of Lent a period for preparation of those accepting the Faith.

It prepared them through preaching to accept the grace of baptism.

Classes for those new to the faith were held during the fast and sermons were delivered to teach and confirm them in the principles of Faith. They were then baptized on Christening Sunday, the faithful for the following week’s Palm Sunday, in the Passion Week prayers, and in the Easter celebrations.

Saint Cyril of Jerusalem for example, held sermons to prepare those attending to accept the Faith and explain to them the Creed and the principle of faith on the days of Lent.

The Church considers Lent of such importance that it has laid doe it special rites.

It has its own special tunes, longer period of abstention, special readings and responses, a special rite of burning the Morning incense, and special prostration in the Liturgy before absolving the deacons.

During Lent, a special Katamaris of Biblical readings is used and contains readings from the Old Testament to create a special ritual atmosphere all of its own.

In order that the faithful are prepared for the sacred forty days of Lent, the Church set the preparatory week so that people may not start the sacred periods unprepared. It is also a way to make up for Saturday when abstinence period is allowed.

Furthermore, the Church established the fast of Jonah also in preparation for Lent.

The fast of Jonah or Nineveh occurs two weeks before Lent and has the same rite and tunes. It heralds the coming of Lent and prepares the congregation to repentance which is the essence of the fast of Nineveh.

In the same way the Church has taken pains to prepare its offspring for Lent. We should do our part by receiving it with the same concern. If Jesus Christ observed this fast for us, though He did not need to, we should therefore fast it for ourselves since we are in great need of fasting to fulfill all righteousness, in the same way as Christ did.

The Church allocates so much importance to this fast that It calls it Lent which means the “Great” fast.

It is “Great” because of its duration and sanctity.

It is the longest of all fasts as it extends for fifty-five days, and it is the greatest in its sanctity as it is Christ’s fast and commemorates His sacred sufferings.

That is why a sin committed during Lent is most offensive.

It is true that a sin is a sin, but it is more horrible during Lent than during normal days because he who sins during any fast in general, and during Lent in particular, is actually committing a double sin. The offense of the sin itself, and in addition the contempt shown for the holiness of those days. Therefore they are two sin, not just one.

Carelessness for the sanctity of those days is indicative of the heart’s cruelty, for a heart that is not affected by the spirituality of those sacred days is undoubtedly a cruel one from a spiritual point of view. He who sins during this fast is subject to the Lord Jesus Christ’s words who said, “If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matt. 6:23).

If those sacred and inspiring days are a period of darkness, then how much more are the normal days?

Saintly monks beheld the Great Lent.

Their whole lives were days of fasting, but the days of Lent were of special sanctity for the first generation of monks who used to leave the monasteries during the sacred forty days and live in isolation on the mountains. An example is found in the story of Saint Zosima and his encounter with Saint Mary the Copt.

The same zeal was found in the monasticism of Saint Shenouda, chief of hermits, and in many Ethiopian monasteries.

Let us also be fervent during these sacred days. If we are unable to fast the days in abstinence as did the Lord Jesus Christ, glory be to Him, at least let us try to be as serious ad as pious as we can and add to the limit of our endurance.

If we cannot reproach and forcefully defeat the devil as did the Lord, let us be ready to resist him. Let us remember what the Apostle Saint Paul said, “You have not yet resisted to bloodshed against sin.” (Heb. 12:4)