SUNDAY, MARCH 17: Great Lent commences for Eastern Christians with tomorrow’s observance of Clean Monday—but the faithful already are cleaning their slates by asking forgiveness today, on Forgiveness Sunday—also known as Cheesefare Sunday.
Western Christians have all but given up on the ancient traditions of a Lenten fast, so the Eastern Church is a fascinating community to watch in this season each year. These Christians take fasting very seriously!
Meat hasn’t been consumed since last Sunday, called Meatfare Sunday, but dairy products will be consumed for the final time today. (Get tasty dairy recipes from National Dairy Council, cheese recipes from Country Living and yogurt recipes from Stonyfield.) Throughout Great Lent and until Pascha (Easter), Eastern Christians will observe these fasting customs with only occasional exemptions for oil and wine—but never meat or dairy. (Get details from Orthodox Wiki.)
Starting tonight, the Vespers of Forgiveness will signal the first liturgy of Great Lent; the service will end when attendees ask forgiveness from both fellow congregation members and the priest. (The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America has more.) If you have Orthodox friends and colleagues, this is a moving liturgy to attend each year. The process of forgiveness often is deeply personal for the faithful.
EASTERN CHRISTIANS GRATEFUL TO BENEDICT
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I—the chief hierarch of the Eastern Orthodox Church—recently honored His Holiness Benedict XVI, now Pope Emeritus. Before Benedict stepped down, Bartholomew issued a statement that expressed his immense respect for and appreciation of Benedict’s friendship. (Read more from the Catholic World Report.) While the Eastern and Western Christian Churches have been in disagreement for many centuries, Benedict and Bartholomew signed a commitment to unity in 2006; their work began in 2007. When news of his retirement circulated, the Russian Orthodox Church publicly thanked Benedict for his efforts—in hopes that his successor will follow in his footsteps.