First Day of Lent

Let us joyfully begin the all-hallowed season of abstinence; and let us shine with the bright radiance of the holy commandments of Christ our God, with the brightness of love and the splendour of prayer, with the purity of holiness and the strength of good courage. So, clothed in raiment of light, let us hasten to the Holy Resurrection on the third day, that shines upon the world with the glory of eternal life.

Seasonal Hymn, Tone Two, by Theodore. From Matins for Monday of the First Week of Lent, page 190 in The Lenten Triodion, Mother Mary and Archimandrite [now Bishop] Kallistos Ware. St Tikhon’s Seminary Press, 2001.

Lent for Orthodox Christianity begins today. This is a period for us of fasting from the physical in order to feast on the spiritual. It’s a time in which we reflect both personally and collectively on the reasons for which God became man, suffered and died: we are the cause. We are the cause, not just “our sins,” saying which would distance us from our collusion with them, for we have all shamefully been happy collaborators in the death of God. Repentance, like Lent, is not just about “giving something up,” but about conversion, μετανοια, a change of the very self from one who loves sin to one who loves God and His law of life, rather than the lawlessness of death.

It’s during this season that the most affecting prayers and hymns are utilized in all the various liturgies that occur throughout this span of time, culminating in Holy Week and especially the services Holy Saturday night. These are treasures of Early Christianity and Late Antiquity in even a purely artistic and cultural sense. I’ll be presenting excerpts of these works here during this Lent because I know there are quite a few readers of this blog who are unfamiliar with Lent in Orthodoxy, and there are those who at the very least will appreciate the artistic quality, if not indeed the spiritual power, of these works.

During Lent in the Orthodox Church are to be found most of the liturgical readings of the Old Testament, as today, when you will no doubt find it interesting to know that on this First Monday of Lent, the Song of the Sea, Exodus 15.1-19, the first of the Biblical Canticles as found among the Odai in the Rahlfs Septuagint, is sung.