The Prayer of Lent
The Prayer of Saint Ephraim the Syrian is traditionally said many times throughout each day during Great Lent, in addition to our daily prayers.
O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, faintheartedness, lust of power, and idle talk. (+)
But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love to your servant. (+)
Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own sin and not to judge my brother, for You are blessed from all ages to all ages. Amen. (+)
(+) indicates that those praying make a deep bow or prostration at this point.)
The four pre-Lenten Sunday Gospel readings before Great Lent begins, prepare us for the Fast. Humility is the theme of the first Sunday, called the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee. The Lord’s parable in Luke 18:10-14 teaches that fasting with pride is rejected by God. For this reason, there is no fasting the week following this Sunday. This includes no fasting on Wednesday and Friday that week. (Wednesdays and Fridays are usually fast days throughout the year—Wednesday’s Fast recalls the betrayal of Christ by Judas; Friday’s Fast commemorates the Lord’s Crucifixion.)
Repentance is the theme of the second Pre-Lenten Sunday, called the Sunday of the Prodigal Son. Before we can return to God, we need to recognize that we are far from God because of sin. Like the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), we are in a self-imposed exile. Will we come to our senses as did the Prodigal Son and return to our Father?
The third Sunday is called both Meatfare Sunday and the Sunday of the Last Judgment. The second name refers to the Gospel lesson (Matthew 25:31-4 6) read on this day. The Lord tells us we will be judged at the end according to the love we have shown for our brother. “I was hungry..thirsty..naked…a stranger…in prison…sick… Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine you did for Me.” Almsgiving goes hand in hand with fasting. This Sunday is called Meatfare because it is the last day meat, fish or poultry is eaten before Easter, for those keeping the Lenten Fast.
The last, fourth, Pre-Lenten Sunday is called both Cheesefare Sunday and the Sunday of Forgiveness. This is the last day dairy products are eaten before the Fast. The Gospel lesson (Matthew 6:14-21 ) read on this day tells us that our fast must not be hypocritical or “for show.” Our work and our appearance are to continue as usual and our extra efforts are to be known only by God. The Gospel reading also reminds us that God the Father will forgive us in the same manner as we forgive our brother. With this promise of forgiveness, Great Lent begins on the next day, which is called Clean Monday. Clean Monday is a total fast day, except for a little water. No other beverages or food are taken.
The Lenten Fast rules that we observe today were established within the monasteries of the Orthodox Church during the sixth through eleventh centuries. These rules are intended for all Orthodox Christians, not just monks and nuns. The first week of Lent is especially strict. On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, a total fast is kept. In practice, very few people are able to do this. Some find it necessary to eat a little each day after sunset. Many Faithful do fast completely on Monday and then eat only uncooked food (bread, fruit, nuts) on Tuesday evening. On Wednesday, the fast is kept until after the Presanctified Liturgy.
From the second through the sixth weeks of Lent, the general rules for fasting are practiced. Meat, animal products (cheese, milk, butter, eggs, lard), fish (meaning fish with backbones), olive oil and wine (all alcoholic drinks) are not consumed during the weekdays of Great Lent. Octopus and shell-fish are allowed, as is vegetable oil. On weekends, olive oil and wine are permitted. According to what was done in the monasteries, one meal a day is eaten on weekdays and two meals on weekends of Great Lent. No restriction is placed on the amount of food during the meal, though moderation is always encouraged in all areas of one’s life at all times. Fish, oil and wine are allowed on the Feast of the Annunciation (March 25) and on Palm Sunday (one week before Easter). On other feast days, such as the First and Second Finding of the Head of Saint John the Baptist (February 24) , the Holy Forty Martyrs of Sebaste (March 9), the Forefeast of the Annunciation (March 24) and the Synaxis of the Archangel Gabriel (March 26), wine and oil are permitted.
“So why do this?”
“What’s the point?”
The ethos of Lent is told to us by St. Dorotheus of Gaza. He likened it to a wake up call, ‘a coming to one’s self’ (like the Prodigal Son) to find meaning for the entire year. The “great and saving forty days” are to wake us up to all times and seasons of all year.
St. Dorotheus means more than this year only because each and every year are ‘God’s times.’ God created and redeemed the world. We “tithe” in thanksgiving to God not merely for these forty days but for all times.
Lent is to help us bring to mind the entire year and all our lives. Lent is not meant for God, but Lent is made for mankind. Once again God gives Himself to us.
“You see, God gave us these holy days so that by diligence in abstinence, in the spirit of humility and repentance, a man may be cleansed of the sins of the whole year and the soul relieved of its burden. Purified he goes forward to the holy day of the resurrection, and being made a new man through the change of heart induced by the fast..” – St. Dorotheus