On Lent

The season of Lent as preparation for Easter began in the third century, with St. Iranaeus; it was probably established as a fast of a day or more in local churches. The word “Lent” that we use is from the Anglo-Saxon word for spring. The churches kept Lent as a time of increased prayer and scripture reading. it was the last phase of catechism for those wishing to be baptized at Easter.

Lent is now the forty days before Easter, or Pascha. In the eastern churches Lent ends with the Vigil of Pascha, which starts at midnight on the Saturday preceding Easter, the end of Holy Week. While Lent is a time of fasting, Holy Week is a time of concentrated preparation for Easter, with special prayer services and scripture readings.

Must a Christian fast before Easter? Traditionally, and by church law or canon, the answer is yes. Most Protestants do not keep the fast, however, reflecting the scriptural passage that the guests do not fast while the bridegroom is with them. Most of the “Jerusalem” or high churches would disagree, saying that Jesus meant only while He was physically on earth were the disciples exempt from fasting.

Certainly, fasting from foods was an expectation in the apostolic church at the proper seasons, or for reasons of prayer. The forty days of Lent were not established until the fourth century, and may have arisen from a misreading of the historian Eusebius, who was commenting on a forty hour fast. Nonetheless, the forty day fast became established, to remember the forty day fast of Jesus in the wilderness.

Christians are never expected to abstain from all nourishment for extended periods of time, and water is allowed in all periods of fasting or abstention.

In our century, fasting from food is less common; some churches interpret or allow fasting from activities if that is more practical. Families might abstain from watching television or going to movies. (In centuries past, the theatres were closed in Lent.) Others may use the time of Lent to give up a bad habit such as smoking or gambling. Any fast or abstention must be accomplished with prayer, scripture and the support of the church community. One should at least confide in one’s minister or priest as to the form of abstention one wishes to undertake.

Fasting is not atonement for our sins; it is discipline so that we may strnegthen our souls, bodies, minds and spirits against the onslaught of evil and temptation. it is for our benefit, not God’s.

Please let me know if you need support and prayers in your Lenten journey. I will keep confidentiality if you request.

Enjoy a blessed Lent! Christ is coming!

6 thoughts on “On Lent

  1. Magdelaina,

    I am going to try to observe Lent this year, leaving off all processed and empty calory ‘food’ (anything the generations wouldn’t have eaten 50 years ago, around the world…) being married to a fine man who is nonetheless not observing the fast, he would bauk at the no meat, no dairy, no oil fast being imposed upon him also.. so I am going to try for no meat (though if out with family and friends I’m not going to make a song and dance about it). I guess you’d call what I’m going to try and stick by a ‘Mediteranian’ diet.

    WE’ve also got a bit in our freezer, so it would be better stewardship of our resources to use it up…Lent came up quickly this year – I admit it would have been better if we had gone through it beforehand… Also, there has been no mention of it in our Church – the Sydney Diocese does all it can to let it slip under the radar; its even a rare treat if we have Maundy thursday services and there’s nothing on Easter Saturday.

    I want to stick to this – we’re all so used to instant gratification and having all our wants in easy reach. I want to actually make a go of it. I also wish to much better observe the daily fixed hour prayer as in the 1979 BCP for individuals and families (though I’m the only one praying it).

    I know little to nothing of the liturgical year; it was not stressed in my childhood as an Anglican and certainly never mentioned at all as an SDA from the age of 14-35. So, i still have a lot to learn.

    Feel free to email me off blog if you wish.



    • No mention of Lent or no mention of fasting? One Protestant church here decided, locally, that they weren’t interested in Lent this year! Boom, suddenly, it’s Easter, and who is ready? Watch, for you know not what hour the master returns.

    • I had a look at this Orthodox site, and it is really good. I used to keep the Orthodox fasts and it was sometimes hard to sort out the local from the general rules. Orthodox readers: always check with your priest about your typikon! Anglican readers: Your fasting habits are up to you, with reference to the Anglican calendar. Roman Catholic readers: Best to find out from your priest or your bishop’s office what is expected. Protestant readers: Fasting and observances of holy days are a matter of personal conviction, but always talk to your minister or spiritual director before undertaking a discipline.

  2. thanks for this history. My last church had fasts, but primarily for local needs only. It’s interesting to read about a season of sacrifice. My new strict Biblical church doesn’t have Lent, but does Maundy Thrusday and other Holy week celebrations. I agree that just to have Easter with no other lead up’s (Biblical or not) is rather sudden for such an amazing date. I’m disappointed but not surprised at how consumerist Easter has gotten recently, even in many churches.

    • I am pleased to hear that your church keeps Holy Week – for some traditions Lent is foreign, but Holy Week is not to be missed! I know of other Biblical churches who use fasts in support of local needs, along with prayer. I think it’s a wonderful practice, and maybe more churches need to do that.

      The Western church has always had trouble separating Easter (Oestre -the spring goddess) from Pascha (the Christian Passover.) We certainly need to be more diligent about it. Of course, the Easter feast makes sense, after the fast (even if it is just Holy Week or Triiduum – the three days before Easter.) And I’m not completely willing to give up Peeps or Cadbury eggs.

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