Tonight, Great Lent begins. In Orthodox tradition, it always begins with forgiveness vespers. It is one of the most formative services of the entire Church calendar. During the service, the tone of the calendar shifts. The altar cloth is changed from blue to purple, the lights are halved and the priests change into black vestments ushering us into the Lenten season of repentance. And for 7 weeks, we begin the period of bright-sadness, the march to Great and Holy Pascha, the celebration of the Resurrection. This is our 4th Lenten as Orthodox and every year it is more reflective and by God’s help, more transformative. The joy at Pascha every year is compounded and greater than the years prior combined; it is better than literally anything. It is better than a wedding or a child being born or any comparable, significant life event. It is better than the best meal you’ve ever had or any other pleasurable experience. Nothing even comes close to touching it.
And so we begin, and the priest come forth from the altar and ask our forgiveness of them. And then we come to them and ask their forgiveness of us and a line is formed and every parishioner present asks forgiveness of each other until it is complete. We go out into the cold late-winter’s night and the fast begins: no meat, dairy or alcohol until Pascha. No tv or other entertainments either. Why these severe behaviours? If we do not fast, we cannot deny ourselves as Christ commanded; fasting is the beginning of self-denial. We fast, we pray, we give alms all for the sake of being united to Christ and the more we do these, the more we become one with Him and hope to attain our salvation.
The most wonderful time of the year is here. Let it begin!