Malankara World


Great Lent in Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch

by Rev. Dr. V Kurian Thomas, Valiyaparambil

What Is Lent?

This 50-day period of Lent is a time of abstinence from foods, primarily and most importantly with a purified mind and heart. Abstinence from certain foods alone is a way of achieving virtue, because God is requesting the heart of the man (Joel 2:12,13). During the period of the Great Lent and other periods of fasting throughout the year, an individual makes a special attempt or connection to reach our God, and evaluate his calling as a Christian, to listen to the voice of the Gospels and heed its commandments.

It is very important to note that fasting is an essential element of the Christian life. Our Lord Jesus Christ fasted and taught men to fast. Blessed fasting is done in secret, without showiness or accusation of others (Mt 6:16; Romans 14). One has to enter the Lenten period with great devotion and love. Lent has a goal of purifying our lives, the strengthening of our human powers of love for God and man, informing us of our entire being for communion with the Holy Trinity.

Another purpose of fasting is to remind us of the Scriptural teaching. One important verse is found in Deuteronomy, Chapter 8 verse 3, Man does not live by bread alone. This verse implies that physical nourishment is not sufficient for a healthy life, man also is in need of spiritual nourishment. The needs of the body are nothing compared to the needs of the soul. We are always in need of God. It is He who provides everything for both the body and the soul. So it is through fasting that we learn to depend on God more fully.

Fasting in the Old Testament

God Almighty, enforced fasting on the first man when He commanded Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden saying "Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die." (Gen. 2:16,17).

Adam did not listen to God's command and disobeyed Him, dam doubted Gods word, and that is why he believed Satan and obeyed him. Therefore, by eating the forbidden fruit Adam and Eve were sent from the Garden of Eden to the land of suffering and torment. It is important to say that the food of the first man was free of meat and limited to cereals, beans and fruits in the Garden of Eden. This is supported by God's address to Adam and Eve: "Behold I have given you every herb bearing seed, to you it shall be for meat." (Gen. 1:29). It was only after the flood that God permitted man, represented by Noah, to eat meat. (Gen. 9:3).

Fasting in the New Testament

In the New Testament, it was the Lord Jesus Who set the law of fasting in Christianity when He fasted forty days and forty nights (Matt. 4:2). "He did eat nothing, and when they were ended, he afterward hungered." (Luke 4:2). The Lord Jesus was not in need of fasting but fasted as an example for us. He imposed fasting to show us its powerful spiritual impact especially when coupled with prayer.

When the Lord replied to the question of John's disciples, who wondered why His disciples did not fast. Our Lord said, "Can the children of the bride chamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom shall be taken from them and then shall they fast in those days." (Matt.9:14&15. Luke 5:35) The Lord's words were deemed as an authorization. He vested his disciples to set dates for fasting. Accordingly, the Holy Apostles and the righteous disciples started fasting ten days after the Lord's Ascension to heaven, when they accept the Holy Spirit from heaven. They fasted on diverse occasions and in different ways.

How it was determined when Easter would be Celebrated

Every Sunday's worship is a celebration of the risen Lord, but a special day for the Resurrection has been part of the life of the church from its early days. When Constantine became emperor and Christianity was no longer illegal, it was possible to consider more carefully the date of Easter. One of the purposes of the Council of Nicea in 325 AD was to settle that date.

Constantine wanted Christianity to be totally separated from Judaism and did not want Easter to be celebrated on the Jewish Passover. The Council of Nicea accordingly required the feast of the resurrection to be celebrated on a Sunday that falls after and never on the Jewish Passover. Easter was to be the Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox.

Our Faith

We all know that prayer and fasting are two of the basic Christian and Lenten necessities. However, many young adults often realize they cannot keep the strictest Lenten regulations of the Church. An individual can sometimes feel frustrated, lost and without guidance when he/she cannot follow the Lenten regulations.

As mentioned earlier, one must enter the Lent with devotion and love. If you cannot follow the Lent regulations then practical guidance and advice would be: to do what you can. Knowing that the essentials are prayer and fasting, an individual can pray more often, try to fast as fully as possible, and giving to others when asking nothing in return. Again, know that all of your fasting, prayer, and giving to others in need must be exercised in secret. A deeper love for God and for those around us is the only real goal and purpose of Great Lent.

His Holiness Mor Ignatius Zakka I, in his 2010 Lenten Encyclical stated: "The apostles commanded the faithful to fast. The church abided by it and organized all fasts. The history of the church shows that from the dawn of Christianity, Christians fasted the Forty Days Great Lent, the week of Passion, and Wednesdays and Fridays of every week. The church imposed severe penalties on clergy and laity who broke the fasting commandment. Elders, children, babies, sick, nursing, pregnant women, were exempted out of necessity. Saturdays and Sundays during which the holy Eucharist is celebrated, are excluded. After service the faithful will have fasting food. Our Syriac church doesnt start any fast on Sundays in honor of the Day of the Lord. We start Monday morning thus the number of days that year is one day shorter.

During lent, the holy church does not forbid eating foods out of having lawful or unlawful foods, but it aims at subjecting the will of the faithful to God Almighty by sanctifying and by practicing esteemed virtues specially the virtue of obedience to Gods commandments issued by His servants, the Metropolitans of the church which they were given by Him to bind and loose, and legislate the rules and regulations for the benefit of the faithful and the glory of Gods holy name. Since the church is a compassionate mother and righteous teacher, she does not want to lay heavy burdens remembering the Lord, saying, Woe to you also, lawyers! For you load men with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers (Luke 11:46).

For this, his holiness the late Patriarch Elias the Third - God bless his soul - (+1932), allowed the eating of fish during the Great Lent and also allowed the faithful in America to fast the first and the last week of the Lent in addition to Wednesdays and Fridays.

Also his holiness the late Patriarch Ephraim the First Barsom - God bless his soul - (+1957) allowed the same for the faithful in India in addition to softening other fasts for all in 1946.

His holiness the late Patriarch Jacob the Third - God bless his soul - (+1980) also allowed fasting the first and last week of the Great Lent only, in addition to Wednesdays and Fridays for the clergy and laity during which he allowed them to have all kinds of foods in 1966 and also allowed celebrations, weddings, baptisms, Eucharist, and memorials during days in between.

Our fathers, Patriarchs of the holy church permitted this out of mercy and compassion to avoid breaking the commandment and be exposed to the wrath of God. God forbid, He who abides by these exceptions does not commit sin but will be considered among those who didn't break the rules. But whoever fasts the whole period his reward will be multiplied."

The Passion Week can be set aside for a greater and more concentrated Lenten effort. You can attend the Liturgy that week and be faithful in Christ's gospel in every word, action, and thought.

Great Lent in the Syriac Orthodox Church

The Lent period is the third cycle in the Liturgical year. This cycle is known as the cycle of forgiveness and it consists of eight Sundays the same as all other cycles. During six consecutive Sundays the church discusses or celebrates Jesus miracles, beginning with the wedding feast in Cana and ending with the healing of the blind man, and Raising Lazarus from the Dead on Saturday prior to Palm Sunday. The seventh Sunday is Palm Sunday and the eighth is Easter. Sundays Melodies of this cycle are as usual eight: the wedding feast in Cana is Qadmoyo (the first) and it continues on until the Palm Sunday, which is Shbioyo (the seventh). Easters melody starts on Saturday evening with Tminoyo (the eighth) and morning with is Qadmoyo (the first) and not Tminoyo (the eighth) because of its nature. The rest of the Lents days have a special tune of repentance called Gushmo. It was decided that the melodies of bigger holidays have to be Qadmoyo (the first), which are joyful type of tunes. And the Passion Week has special tune of grief.

During this cycle we will discuss the content and the theme of each Sunday which are arranged as follow:

1. The wedding feast in Cana

2. The healing of the Leper

3. Healing the paralyzed man

4. Healing the Canaanite's daughter

5. The parable of the Good Samaritan

6. Healing the blind man, and Raising Lazarus from the Dead.

7. Palm Sunday

8. Easter

The first Saturday of Lent is designated for the memory of St. Ephraim (for his repentance life). The twenty-fourth day of Lent, which is always a Wednesday, (the middle of Lent) is designated for the Lifting the Cross on the mid of the church, and memory of King Abgar IX (Abgar Oukomo) who converted to Christianity at Edessa in the second century A.D. as a first kingdom became a Christian.

In this Period, it is noteworthy to list three special events:

1- Before the celebrant steps the altars step to start the Divine Liturgy. The choir sings a special hymn called Ho Edono La-sloutho (it is time to pray). This hymn calls the believers to forgive each other and elevate their heart and thoughts with the celebrant to celebrate the Divine Liturgy and before exchanging the sign (or Kiss) of peace in the Liturgy. It is sung during the masses of the six Sundays of the Lent cycle, after saying the last sentence of Abo Ahid (The Creed), and before the deacon declaration which is the Stowmen Qalous Qoury Layson (Let us stand well, Lord have mercy) in obedience and ask for mercy. You may mention that the priest doesn't go up to the higher step of the altar until the verse of the hymn, which says It is the moment where priest go up to the higher stair to present offers for our forgiveness. This hymn has been assigned specially to this period to emphasize the element of forgiveness.

2- A special ceremony which takes place on Sunday evening is a collection of wonderful texts of forgiveness written by St. Jacob and St. Ephraim and other church fathers. This ceremony is repeated during these six Sundays.

The daily afternoon prayers are substituted by the forgiveness prayers of St. Ephrem.

This will be a good period to recount ones sins and try to forgive during this period of forgiveness.

Here we will look at the Parables and Miracles we observe on Sundays during the Great Lent:

The Holy Lent is a season of renewal and reformation: "do not be conformed to this world," St. Paul said, "but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." (Romans 12:2) It is a time for the casting out of devils, the unmasking of the perversions of our spirits, a time for the nurturing of our souls by the word of God revealed in Christ our Lord. The Holy Lent is a time of death and resurrection with Christ our Lord.

This is a brief knowledge about the Holy Lent Sundays in General in our Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch. The Sundays in the Holy Lent are noteworthy for the readings prescribed by the Antiochean fathers.

Source: "Kothanae Sunday and the Great Lent" published in 'Syriac Orthodox Resources' of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch.

See Also:

Life in Christ - Message of Great Lent from Holy Father (2011)
Apostolic Bull for Great Lent -2011
The holy gospel is a reliable record of the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ in words and deeds during His divine economy in the flesh. It does not impose on us orders. It does not give us commandments to blindly hold to. It does not list prohibitions. Rather, it presents to us Jesus Christ as a living paradigm to longue for and a model to pursue carrying His cross. We shall follow Him so that we obtain eternal life through Him.

Great Lent: A Season of Renewal for All
Prophet Isaiah was emphatic in arguing that lent and fasting are not just pious "obligatory Observances" for the people of God, but a tremendous transforming force. Being mortal and feeble, humans need periodic renewal of body, mind and soul. How is this possible?

The essence of Lent: Learning and struggling to bend our knees, mend our hearts, and lend our hands
The prayers during lent remind us that there is no use of observing lent if we do not change inside. No amount of abstinence from food and other things will help us in any way if we do not bring about a renewal inside us.

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