Orthodox Christians around the world are preparing for the time known as “Great Lent.” This is the season designed to prepare the soul, mind and body for resurrection Sunday, Easter. The 40 day period prior to Easter is observed by a great fast.
In the West, Easter in 2016 will be celebrated on 27 March. In most of the Eastern world the 2016 date for Easter will be 01 May. This article is written using the Eastern dates.
Meatfare Sunday, 06 March, is the last day before Easter for eating meat. Orthodox Christians observe a fast from meat and meat products during this week, but all other foods are allowed during meatfare. That marks the final week in which consumption of dairy products and eggs is permitted until the celebration of Easter.
On Monday, 07 March, the week begins with Maslenitsa (Масленица) a tradition from earlier Slavic times celebrating the onset of Spring. In Russian culture the predominate food on most tables will be pancakes. For Orthodox Christians it is commonly referred to as “Pancake week” (Масленичная неделя). In Russian you may also hear the phrase сыропустная неделя, translated as “Cheesefare week.”
Strictly defined, Russian pancakes are not really pancakes, but thin crepes known as blini (блины). Blini are cooked on a round surface or pan, and folded over several times with delicious fillings inside. Popular fillings include all sorts of fish – especially salmon (лосось/семга), caviar (икра), mushrooms (грибы), sour cream (сметана), honey (мед), fruit jam (фруктовым джемом), and even ice cream (мороженное).
Sunday, 13 March, is termed “Forgiveness Sunday” (Прощеное воскресенье) and also called “Cheesefare Sunday.” This date observes the event in which Adam and Eve, having disobeyed God, were banished from the Garden of Eden. It is the last day to consume dairy and egg products before beginning the six week fast of Great Lent.
The theme of “Forgiveness Sunday” sets the tone for Christians to remember that to be forgiven, it is necessary to forgive others. It is common to greet others with the plea to “forgive me.” This sets the tone for remembering that forgiveness is an act of humility and charity for not just one day, but the entire year.
Great Lent is observed by prayers, reading of Scriptures, and confession of sins. It includes fasting from meat, meat products, fish, eggs, dairy, wine and oil. Great Lent begins on Monday, 14 March. This fasting period will continue until the celebration of Easter.
Paskha (Пасха in Russian), the Greek word for Easter, is celebrated in 2016 on the first day of May. The word for Sunday in Russian, Воскресенье, is related to the word for resurrection, воскрешение and thus every Sunday is a “little Easter,” a reminder of the resurrection.