Orthodox Great Lent begins with Clean Monday

LAGANA, a bread that is baked and eaten in Greek communities to mark Clean Monday.MONDAY, FEBRUARY 27: The Lenten season that leads to Easter begins today for hundreds of millions of Eastern Christians, also known as Orthodox Christians. (See our Ash Wednesday story for a closer look at this historic East-West division in Christianity.) Of course, in the United States, Eastern Christians are a minority, so the majority of Amerian news publications are overlooking this milestone. In Greece, Clean Monday is a holiday—punctuated with kites, family picnics and a flavorful sesame-topped bread.


Greek Orthodox Archbishop Demetrios of America already has issued his pastoral letter to the faithful, encouraging families to follow the church’s ancient traditions in this season. That’s a major challenge for Eastern Christians, because Great Lent is a strict fasting period in which many foods are forbidden throughout the 40 days. Demetrios wrote, in part:

In the midst of daily life and during this sacred and solemn season, we must remind ourselves through prayer and reflection that we do not make this journey alone. The services we attend are beautiful and holy times of worship in the presence of Christ and in the company of our brothers and sisters. The disciplines of fasting and giving are disciplines of grace that connect us to the love of God and allow that love to transform us and be offered through us to others. Thus, our resolve and commitment in Great Lent should be strengthened by knowing that His presence and His grace are always with us. We make this journey in Christ. He is the source of the spiritual power we need to remain focused on the meaning of this season. He is also our destination.”

The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America’s Lenten website is packed with regularly updated prayers, inspirational readings and other helpful materials for the season. If you look around the site, you’ll also find other cool opportunities—like icon-themed e-cards you can send to friends.

The Orthodox Church in America, another major branch of the Eastern Christian church in the United States, also has a website with inspirational readings.


FROM THE EAST: The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese wants to equip busy men and women with the appropriate daily readings for the season. This Mobile App page within the Archdiocese’s website leads to links for iPhones, iPods, Android-based devices and even the new Kindle Fire.

FROM THE WEST: Pope Benedict XVI, the head of the world’s largest single Christian denomination, has jumped onto Twitter for the Western Lenten season that began on Ash Wednesday. If you have a Twitter account, here is Benedict’s Twitter portal with everything you need to get the daily Lenten Tweets from the Vatican in a wide range of languages. For example, Benedict’s first Tweet in Italian was: “Benedetto XVI ti invita a celebrare con lui il tempo di Quaresima. Il Messaggio del Santo Padre verrà diffuso attraverso Twitter.” And in Spanish, he wrote: “Benedicto XVI te invita a celebrar el tiempo de cuaresma con él. El mensaje del Santo Padre será transmitido a través de Twitter #cuaresma”

The English translation was: “Benedict XVI invites you to celebrate the season of Lent with him. The message of the Holy Father will be shared through Twitter” That hash tag at the end of the Spanish post? Cuaresma means Lent. In the French Twitter feed, the hash tag is: Carême. That word means both Lent and Fast.


Considering that observant Orthdox families commit themselves to give up meat, eggs and dairy products for Lent—that’s right, for 40 days—the cheery celebration of Clean Monday  may seem jarring. Congregations are reminded, however, that it is important to remain outwardly pleasant during the fasting period. The passage of Matthew 6, verses 14-21, is read to drive home this spiritual lesson. It says, in part: “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting.”

The most common Clean Monday vista in Greece is a blue sky full of colorful kites. Families pack up traditional Lenten foods for a picnic. It’s a national holiday, so most workers and students have the day free. The most common bread is called Lagana, a traditional shape and style of bread that is long and flat and baked with sesame seeds. Want a recipe? There are many online, but this overview on a Greek food site includes some yummy photos of Lagana.


Of course, ReadTheSpirit is recommending our own new book, the 2nd Edition of Our Lent: Things We Carry, which now is available for all e-reading devices—as well as in a brightly colored new paperback edition as well. Click this link or click the book cover, at right, to read more about this inspiring guide to this ancient season of reflection.

Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

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