Eastern Orthodox: Clean Monday begins Great Lent

Kite flying is just one of the many activities popular in Greece on Clean MondayMONDAY, MARCH 7: Lent officially begins with Clean Monday for millions of Eastern Orthodox Christians! This year, we’re welcoming Eastern and Western Christians to our special Lenten series, “Our Lent: Things We Carry.”

Why “Clean”? Eastern Christians have been perparing for weeks for the arrival of Great Lent. Now, they make a major effort to leave behind sinful attitudes and non-fasting foods. Clean Monday leads into Clean Week: Ror this first week of Lent, Eastern Christians “get clean” by going to Confession, fasting appropriately and cleaning their homes, too.

Cross-cultural question: It’s easy to see how this “Clean” process is similar to pre-Passover cleansing of Jewish homes. But, how is Clean Monday in Greece similar to the Hindu festival of Holi? Keep reading to find out the answer!

One of the most important cleansing acts happens on Sunday night March 6—at a special service called Forgiveness Vespers—when the faithful bow before one another and asked forgiveness. As the faithful enter the first full day of Lent today, they rejoice in spiritual cleanliness and in the joyous perspective that Orthodox Christians take toward fasting. (Get a detailed, week-by-week guide to Lent at the site of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.)

The merry atmosphere of Clean Monday fills the air in Greece today, as citizens enjoy elaborate, traditional dishes of seafood and vegetables, enter creative kite competitions, take fasting foods to parks for picnics and barbecues and generally spend the day reveling in the beginning of spring. (Getting hungry? Click here for a traditional Greek Clean Monday menu—recipes included!) In Galaxidi, a city about 100 miles from Athens, it’s customary on this day to cover everyone in sight with colored flour! Ironically, residents must drape historic buildings in plastic to protect them from the colorful bombardment on this “clean” day. And hat’s our Holi connection—the tossing of colored powders; you can read about the Hindu holiday in this column soon.

While it may seem contradictory that a major period of fasting would be approached with such feasting and joy, Orthodox Christians view the day as the first on a journey to the Resurrection (Pascha/Easter: Wikipedia has details). As the fast unfolds, Eastern Christians try to follow Gospel instructions to keep the strains of fasting to themselves—a personal spiritual discipline shared with God and not an occasion for pride in relation to the world.

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