What’s the Spiritual Season this week? Lent … plus International Women’s Day, Mothering Sunday and 40 Martyrs, too


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What’s the Spiritual Season?
(March 8 to 14, 2010)
By Stephanie Fenton

THIS WEEK, Lent continues for Christians—and
Orthodox Christians mark a mid-season feast with the Forty Holy Martyrs
of Sebaste. Also this week, celebrate International Women’s Day and
Mothering Sunday! Saturday, Scientologists engage in community service
in honor of L. Ron Hubbard’s birthday, and on Sunday, don’t forget to
turn your clocks one hour ahead! Read all about these events and
observances below

ALL WEEK, Lent continues for 2 billion Christians around the world. We’re publishing a FREE daily Lenten series, called “Our Lent: Things We Carry,” for the 40 days leading to Easter.
    ALSO, we’re expanding our Lenten Resources Page—with suggestions readers are Emailing us at [email protected].

MONDAY, learn about both the potential power and continuing struggle of women on International Women’s Day.
Today, women around the globe gather to promote world peace and greater awareness of gender inequality. (The
photo at left shows an Afghan woman teaching girls at a school in Afghanistan—a major step forward from the Taliban era
    Did you
know that 70 percent of the world’s poor are women? Are you aware that
it isn’t uncommon for Afghan women to attempt suicide to escape a life
of domestic abuse? (BBC reported on this in 2009.)
    Hundreds of women’s groups are hosting awareness events on March 8. Women for Women International,
an organization that provides resources to female war survivors, will
play its part this year by hosting a global campaign entitled “Join Me
on the Bridge” to honor the millions of women who are survivors of war.
Well-known bridges like the Brooklyn Bridge in New York and Millennium
Bridge in London are among the high-profile sites. This year, a major spotlight from these events will focus on the plight of women in Rwanda and Congo. War has been ravaging these countries
for years, and there have been hundreds of thousands of rape cases
during that time. (Is there a participating bridge near you? Find out.)
This organization has so far served about 40,000 women in Rwanda and
Congo and hopes to draw more attention to this cause through the annual observance.
International Women’s Day was inaugurated 99 years ago—and
today hundreds of events draw attention to the economic, political and
social accomplishments of women as well as continuing patriarchal obstacles. (Watch a video about IWD here, and read a detailed history.)
International Women’s Day is now an official holiday in countries including China, Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria and Kazakhstan. (More is at Wikipedia.)

Orthodox Christians remember the Forty Holy Martyrs of Sebaste, soldiers in Armenia who were persecuted in 320 CE. (A general history is at Wikipedia.) This commemoration was first marked by St. Basil, Bishop of Caesarea, in a homily. (Read details from the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America.)
As St. Basil related these miraculous events: 40 Christian soldiers were persecuted by pagan authorities who ordered them to remain in a nearly frozen pond throughout a cold winter night. Eventually, one near-frozen soldier raced from the water toward bonfires the guards had set as a temptation—but, he fell dead before reaching the fire. (Here is the Byzantine Catholic perspective on this event and the third week of Lent.) The story doesn’t end there. Tradition holds that one of the pagan guards saw a brilliant light shine upon the Christian soldiers—and 39 crowns descend to the heads of these martyrs. Moved by this apparent miracle, the guard took the
place of the one fallen soldier and hailed Christianity himself. According to
tradition, the brilliant light also brought warmth to the soldiers so
that they would all survive the night.
    (For facts about cold water and hypothermia, check out this PDF from the Department of Natural Resources. Did you know that cold-water survival depends on the specifics of each
individual’s body, but the average human body loses heat up to 25 times
faster in cold water than in cold air?)
    Eastern Christians
believe that the soldiers lived through the night but, come daybreak,
their stiff bodies were burned by the pagans. (Check out this page on it, from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.)
Numerous Christians collected the remains of the soldiers and carried
the relics to cities far and wide. Many churches were built
in honor of the 40 martyrs, including the church at which St. Basil
gave his homily on them years later. Centuries-old discourses on the 40
martyrs are preserved, as is an eyewitness account and some of the
    Here’s a contemporary connection: During an Orthodox Christian
wedding, a priest reads a prayer that states “Remember them (the bride
and groom), O Lord, as thou didst thy Forty Martyrs, sending down upon
them crowns from Heaven.”

SATURDAY, it’s the birthday of L. Ron Hubbard, the creator of Scientology (this is the official site).
After composing a self-help system he called Dianetics (first published
in 1950), Hubbard developed doctrines and rituals that would become the
guidelines for Scientology, which was founded in 1953. (Here is the Wikipedia page on Hubbard.) Prior to his death in 1986, Hubbard asked that his birthday be
celebrated by Scientologists with community service. Hubbard once wrote
that “a being is only as valuable as he can serve others,” and each
year on March 13, thousands of volunteer hours are donated
by Scientologists in honor of Hubbard.
    Scientology is most famous in the U.S. for the celebrities it attracts. Here’s the latest celebrity item: Katie Holmes
reportedly is undergoing a fresh Scientology auditing
process in preparation for another pregnancy
    And, on Sunday, the New York Times published a major investigation into alleged abuse among some of the organization’s leadership. (You may need a free Times Web registration to see the story.)

SUNDAY at 2 a.m., it’s time to turn your clocks ahead by one hour. Celebrate spring with Daylight Savings Time! (Wikipedia has a page on DST.)
Daylight Savings Time has a rocky history: It was repealed in the U.S.
in 1919, re-established at the beginning of WWII, and was observed on
and off by different states after the war. Standard dates for Daylight
Savings were established in 1966, and then the dates were moved again
in 1975—only to be moved more throughout the ’80s, ’90s and in the new
millennium. The most recent change was made in 2007, when Daylight
Savings was set to start on the second Sunday in March and end on the
first Sunday in November. (Read more U.S. history from the U.S. Naval Observatory.)
    Opinions vary on the value of Daylight Savings Time: While
some argue that electricity is conserved with DST, others report on its
averse affect on workers. (An article on this was published at the WPTV News Web site.) Now, a large portion of the world observes DST, but many places do
not—such as the state of Arizona, the state of Hawaii and a few U.S.
    Modern DST was proposed by George Vernon Hudson, an
entomologist from New Zealand, in 1895. He actually proposed a two-hour
time shift during the spring and fall equinoxes.

Also on SUNDAY, sink your teeth into a Simnel cake (pictured at left) and spend some time with your mother; today is Mothering Sunday, an old festival celebrated throughout Europe. (The BBC has a great page on Mothering Sunday.)
Not to be confused with the American Mother’s Day, Mothering Sunday
originated as a Roman religious festival in honor
of the mother goddess, Cybele. When Christianity spread through Europe,
this mid-March festival became a time to honor the Virgin Mary and the
time when people would visit their “mother church.” (Wikipedia’s page has more.)
    Because so many Christian families
have long gathered on Mothering Sunday, it has become tradition to
celebrate with a Simnel cake—a fruit cake made of marzipan and
decorated with 11 marzipan balls, to symbolize  the 12 apostles sans
Judas. (Try it yourself with a recipe from RecipeZaar.)
    Or, learn more about Simnels in this text, from the Church Literature Association.
    As was written in 1648 by author Robert Herrick:
    I’ll to thee a Simnell bring
    ‘Gainst thou go’st a mothering,
    So that, when she blesseth thee,
    Half that blessing thou’lt give to me.


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