Today is known as Clean Monday and starts the first day of Great Lent, falling 7 weeks before the feast of Holy Pasxa (Easter). It is also known as Pure Monday, Monday of Lent or even sometimes referred to as Green Monday. You might also hear it called “Ash Monday” like “Ash Wednesday” celebrated in the West, but we don’t use ashes.
We actually start preparing for this season of preparation for Pasxa a few weeks before with Judgement (Meatfare) and Forgiveness (Cheesefare) Sundays, focusing on the judgement and forgiveness of Christ, also the last days to have meat and cheese respectively. We call today’s holiday ‘Clean Monday‘, and this week – Clean Week – referring to the start of this purification period where we abstain from sinful attitudes, behaviors and non-fasting foods like meat, dairy, eggs, fish, oil & wine.
The season officially starts the Sunday evening before Clean Monday with Forgiveness Vespers on Forgiveness Sunday where we ask forgiveness not only from God, but from each other so we start this season with a clean mind and with the love and forgiveness of Christ in our hearts – how beautiful is that? The entire week is dedicated to cleaning our diets, our homes and most of all, especially our hearts – setting the tone for the next 7 weeks. The period of the 40 days & 40 nights of Great and Holy Lent is called ‘Sarakosti‘, meaning “40”, however the entire duration of the Lenten period is inclusive of the 40 days + Holy Week (the week of Palm Sunday through Easter), which makes it a little longer at about 49 days.
To wish each other a good Lent, we say “Kali Sarakosti”, the tables are full of fasting foods like lagana bread and taramasalata, and many people fly kites in celebration! The kites are said to represent the connection of the human soul to Heaven, the Resurrection of Christ or the journey of purification we are about to embark, whatever the reason, it is rooted in the deep spirituality of Orthodox Christians. This season is very much one of spiritual renewal, restoration, and ends with revival, and Resurrection – there is little coincidence that this feels like spring festival than it does the start of Lent. Orthodox Christians strive to live our lives according to Scripture, reading Matthew 6:14-21 as the Gospel reading on Forgiveness Sunday, as a reminder to enter this time with reverence but also celebration:
When you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly I say you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that you do not appear to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.”Matthew 6:16-18
Kali Sarakosti and Happy Springtime, friends!