Clean Monday: Orthodox Christians kick off Lent with kites, seafood and lagana

Round flatbread with seeds on top, torn in half with brown sauce on side in cup

Greek lagana bread, baked only for Clean Monday. Photo by Sofia Gk, courtesy of Flickr

MONDAY, MARCH 11: The flavors of shellfish and soft lagana bread are associated with the start of the Lenten season in Greece. Outside, colorful kites fly above the fields as Orthodox Christians mark Clean Monday.

Western Christian Lent began last week with Ash Wednesday.

The centuries-old tradition of observing Lent as a season of reflection and self-denial is intended to prepare Christians for the greatest festival in their religious calendar: Easter. However, the ever-changing date of Easter—and the method of counting 40 days in Lent—is one of the centuries-old differences among Christians East and West.

“Western Christians count Lent’s 40 days as starting with Ash Wednesday but excluding Sundays. Eastern Christians, those generally called Orthodox, start their 40 days on a Monday, counting Sundays, but excluding the week leading up to Easter.” That’s one of the intriguing details in the book, Our Lent: Things We Carry, by ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm. “Some Christians fast; some don’t. Millions of Western Christians retain a custom of limited fasting; millions of Eastern Christians prayerfully make significant sacrifices during this season.”

Eight days ago, Eastern Christians observed Meatfare Sunday, the last time observant Christians will eat meat until Pascha (Easter). One day ago was Cheesefare Sunday, when Eastern Christians consume dairy products for the last time. Today, Orthodox families begin the fast of Great Lent with “clean” foods and a cleansed state of mind.

CLEAN MONDAY IN GREECE

Rather than begin Lent in a solemn manner, Clean Monday is celebrated as a public holiday in Greece and Cyprus: outdoor activities, zany local traditions, kite flying and plenty of Lenten-friendly food is par for the course. As shellfish is permitted in these cultures throughout Lent, a spread of extravagant dishes—based on the bounty of the sea—is common on Clean Monday in Greece.

Customs and traditions vary by locality in Greece on the first day the Lenten season, with colored flour being thrown into crowds in Glaxidi, on the northern coast of the Corinth Gulf; on the Greek island of Chios, a man dresses up as “Aga,” or “Ayas” (the tax collector), then he and his followers grab local villagers to put them into a mock trial. The “criminals” found guilty must suffer punishment or pay a fine that funds the village’s cultural association.

KITES AND CULINARY DELIGHTS

The flying of kites across Greece welcomes spring in a colorful and festive manner, and many traditional kite makers pride themselves on decades of experience. When out and about, picnic baskets are often filled with lagana, an unleavened bread baked only for Clean Monday, and taramosalata, a dip made of salted and cured roe mixed with olive oil, lemon juice and bread crumbs. (Wikipedia has details.) Feasts of bean soup, shellfish dishes, octopus platters, shrimp dishes and more are carefully prepared for a Clean Monday extravaganza.

Interested in baking lagana? Find a recipe at the blog Lemon & Olives, or at The Greek Vegan.

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Meatfare and Cheesefare Sundays: Orthodox Christians prepare for Great Lent

If you know someone from the Orthodox Christian tradition, perhaps at work or in your neighborhood, use this icebreaker: Do you observe Meatfare Sunday or Cheesefare Sunday? How does your family prepare for Lent?

 

Cheeseburger, open, with fries on white plate

Orthodox Christians indulge in meat and cheese for the final time before Pascha (Easter) on the Sundays leading up to Great Lent. Photo courtesy of Pxhere.

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 11 and SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 18: Lent is quickly approaching for the world’s 2 billion Christians, and on February 11, Eastern Orthodox churches take the first steps steps toward their traditional Lenten fast with Meatfare Sunday. After Meatfare Sunday, no meat may be consumed until Pascha (Easter); one week later, Cheesefare Sunday will discontinue the partaking of dairy products until Pascha. For Orthodox Christians, Great Lent begins on Clean Monday—this year, on February 19.

MEATFARE (LAST JUDGMENT) SUNDAY

Though popularly referred to as Meatfare Sunday, this day is more formally known as the Sunday of the Last Judgment. In services, emphasis is placed on the Second Coming and Last Judgment—a time when Christ, in Matthew, refers to coming in glory with the angels to judge the living and the dead. The parable of the Last Judgment points out that Christ will judge on love: How well God’s love has been shared, and how deeply each person has cared for others.

Interested in cooking up a delicious meat dish?  Find recipes at Allrecipes, Woman’s Day and Food Network.

CHEESEFARE SUNDAY (AND FORGIVENESS)

Great Lent commences for Eastern Christians on the day following Cheesefare Sunday, but the faithful already are cleaning their slates (and their plates) today, by asking forgiveness and eliminating dairy from their diets until Pascha. In the Orthodox church, this year, February 18 is Forgiveness Sunday (also known as Cheesefare Sunday).

Looking for some tasty dairy recipes? Check out Eating Well and Food Network.

Meat hasn’t been consumed since last Sunday, but dairy products will be consumed for the final time today. 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.

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. If you have Orthodox friends and colleagues, this is a moving liturgy to attend, as the process of forgiveness often is deeply personal for the faithful.

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Timkat: Ethiopian Christians reenact baptism of Jesus with vibrant festival

Close-up of three dark-skinned men in elaborate religious robes and carrying ornate cloth umbrellas under sunny skies

Priests celebrate Timkat in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Photo by Andrew Heavens, courtesy of Flickr

FRIDAY, JANUARY 19: Rich, deep hues and velvet fabrics dot the landscape in Ethiopia during one of the grandest festivals of the year: Timkat, the Ethiopian Orthodox Christian ceremony commemorating the baptism of Jesus. As the countryside’s rolling hills are blooming with yellow spring flowers, pilgrims and priests dress in their finest clothing and form a procession that weaves through the rock-hewn churches and age-old passageways of Ethiopia. Central to the processions are models of the Ark of the Covenant (called tabots), carried by priests with caution and pride. To Ethiopian Christians, the tabot signifies the manifestation of Jesus as the Savior, when he came to the Jordan River to be baptized.

Did you know? Ethiopia is home to more UNESCO sites than any other country in Africa. In December 2013, the Demera festival of the Meskel holiday was registered as world intangible heritage by UNESCO; Ethiopia has since submitted study findings of three intangible cultural heritages to UNESCO for registration, one of which is Timket (Timkat).

Timkat events begin on Timkat eve, when the tabots are ceremoniously wrapped in cloth and carried by priests in a procession. In the earliest morning hours, while the sky is still dark, crowds gather near bodies of water to witness a blessing of the waters—a reenactment of the baptism of Christ. Crowds are sprinkled with water, and baptismal vows are renewed. When all rituals are complete, pilgrims return home for feasts and continued celebrations.

News organizations in the U.S. rarely cover Timkat, but reporters from the UK, India and Africa usually file stories. This year, the India-based Economic Times advises readers on the best spots in Ethiopia to visit for Timkat celebrations:


The Timkat Festival, an Orthodox Christian celebration of Epiphany, remembers the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. While Timkat is celebrated across the nation, the best place to attend the event is Lalibela, Gonder or Addis Ababa. The festival kick starts with a procession, during which the Tabots, models of the Ark of the Covenant, present on every Ethiopian altar are brought in from churches around Gondar. The Tabots are borne in procession, on the head of the priest, parading through the streets. The priests, escorted by drums and worshippers making merry, hold an overnight vigil until dawn. The services the following morning culminate in the priests blessing the waters of the historic Fasilides Bath. In Addis Ababa many tents are pitched in the grassy field at Jan Meda, to the northeast of the city centre.

Care to learn more?

If you have the Smithsonian channel available in your home, an episode of the Secrets series focuses on the Ark of the Covenant and includes a section on Ethiopia. Here is a link to watch an excerpt of that episode.

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Nativity Fast: Orthodox Christians begin joyous fasting period for Jesus’s birth

Candles lit interior of Orthodox Christian church

Photo by Mr.TinDC, courtesy of Flickr

Nativity Orthodox iconWEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 15: Even before the American Thanksgiving, millions of Orthodox Christians around the world are looking toward Jesus’s birth, which they refer to formally as the Nativity. Of course, in Western Christian culture, we know this as the period leading up to Christmas. For many centuries, Eastern Christians have prepared with a 40-day Nativity Fast.

By Western standards, this is a daunting spiritual and physical challenge. Traditional Orthodox fasting means giving up meat and dairy in addition to fish, wine and oil; fish, wine and oil are, however, permitted on specific days. (Learn more from the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America.) Throughout the Nativity Fast, several other holidays take place, such as St. Andrew’s Day, St. Nicholas Day and recognition of those prophets regarded by Eastern Christians as having prepared the way for the Incarnation: Obadiah, Nahum, Habbakuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Daniel and the Three Holy Youths.

Two periods comprise the Nativity Fast: Nov. 15-Dec. 19, and Dec. 20-24. December 20 launches the Forefeast of the Nativity, with chanting of Nativity hymns each day through the Dec. 24 (Paramony). On Paramony, no solid food is consumed until the first star is observed in the evening sky, and afterward, the fast is joyously broken.

Orthodox teaching instructs that fasting be undertaken with gladness and in a sense of earnest anticipation—in the promise that these devout preparations will deepen reflections on the moment when God became human. (OCA.org has more.) Fasting for Orthodox Christians includes abstinence from foods, negative emotions and greed; prayer and almsgiving complement the fasting period.

Note: The Nativity Fast is observed November 15-December 24 in the Gregorian calendar. Some Orthodox follow other traditional calendars. For example, many Armenian Christians begin their fast later and focus on January 6 as the Feast of the Nativity.

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Trinity Sunday: Western Christians revere Trinity, Orthodox mark Pentecost

Stained glass window of symbols of holy Trinity

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNDAY, JUNE 11: White banners are draped and vestments shine as a sign of purity as Western Christian churches worldwide celebrate Trinity Sunday. Note: In the Eastern Christian Church, Trinity Sunday is observed on the Sunday of Pentecost. A culmination of the Nativity, Epiphany, Resurrection, Ascension and Pentecost, Trinity Sunday calls to mind the role that each member of the Holy Trinity—the Father, Son and Holy Spirit—play in Christianity.

Many Christians are surprised to learn that the original writers of the New Testament did not use the term “Trinity” as it appears in mainline Christianity today. While the three elements of divinity, God and Christ and Holy Spirit, were a part of the faith from its early years, the famous theologian Tertullian (who lived and wrote in Africa) is widely credited as introducing the first full analysis of the Trinity in the early 3rd century. The doctrine wasn’t formalized among Christian leaders until the fourth century.

For centuries, church leaders argued that the Trinity was honored every Sunday. But, in the 12th century, Thomas Becket declared that the day of his consecration should be an annual festival in honor of the Holy Trinity. The observance spread through Western Christianity, and was placed in the general calendar in the 14th century.

There is, perhaps, nothing more central to the creed of the Christian faith—and yet, so elusive, in comprehension of it—than the Holy Trinity. Through the centuries, countless saints have attempted to teach about the Trinity. Among the most famous was a three-leaf clover that tradition says was used by St. Patrick.

CUSTOMS & THE ATHANASIAN CREED

On this one Sunday each year, many Christians around the world recite the Athanasian Creed (read it here). Some bake cloverleaf rolls to reflect the Trinity, or set the table with a centerpiece of triple-leaf flowers. For a Catholic perspective or to read Pope John Paul II’s writings on the Holy Trinity, go to CatholicCulture.com.

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Meatfare Sunday, Cheesefare Sunday: Orthodox Christians prepare for Lent

Bowl of wings and dairy dip on wooden table

Orthodox Christians consume meat and dairy for the last time on the final two Sundays before Great Lent, and will not resume consumption until after Pascha (Easter). Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 19 and SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 26: Lent is approaching fast for the world’s 2 billion Christians, and on February 19, Eastern Orthodox churches take initial steps toward their traditional Lenten fast with Meatfare Sunday. After Meatfare Sunday, no meat may be consumed until Pascha (Easter); in one week, Cheesefare Sunday will discontinue the partaking of dairy products until Pascha. For Orthodox Christians, Great Lent begins on Clean Monday—this year, on February 27.

MEATFARE SUNDAY (AND THE LAST JUDGMENT )

Though commonly referred to as Meatfare Sunday, this day is more formally known as the Sunday of the Last Judgment. In services, emphasis is placed on the Second Coming and Last Judgment—a time when Christ, in Matthew, refers to coming in glory with the angels to judge the living and the dead. While the opportunity exists, the faithful are encouraged to repent. The parable of the Last Judgment points out that Christ will judge on love: How well one has shared God’s love, and how deeply one has cared for others.

Looking to cook up a mouthwatering meat dish (or two) today?  Find recipes at Allrecipes, Southern Living and Food Network.

CHEESEFARE SUNDAY (AND FORGIVENESS)

Great Lent commences for Eastern Christians on the day following Cheesefare Sunday, on Clean Monday—but the faithful already are cleaning their slates (and their plates) today, by asking forgiveness and eliminating dairy from their diets until Pascha. In the Orthodox church, this year, February 26 is Forgiveness Sunday (also known as Cheesefare Sunday).

On the search for a few tasty dairy recipes? Find recipes for all courses from Eating Well, Food Network and Dairy Goodness, a recipe collection from the Dairy Farmers of Canada.

Meat hasn’t been consumed since last Sunday, on Meatfare sunday, but dairy products will be consumed for the final time today. 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.

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. If you have Orthodox friends and colleagues, this is a moving liturgy to attend, as the process of forgiveness often is deeply personal for the faithful.

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Christmas: 2 billion Christians celebrate Jesus’s birth

“Fear not for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior; which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: You shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”
Luke 2:11-12

Interior of ornate cathedral softly lit, crowd before towering Christmas tree and star and altar

Christmas service in Hamburg, Germany. Photo by Andi Graf, courtesy of Pixabay

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 25: Today is celebrated as Christmas by the vast majority of the world’s 2 billion Christians—including many Orthodox Christians in the U.S. who refer to the holiday as the Nativity. However, some Christians around the world still mark Christmas according to earlier versions of global calendars, pushing many Russian, Ukrainian and Serbian churches to a January 7 celebration. Latest of all, each year, there’s even an ancient Armenian Christmas liturgy in the town of Bethlehem as late as January 18 and 19.

While the birth year of Jesus is only speculated, December 25 is embraced by a multitude of Christians worldwide as the day Mary and Joseph knelt beside their newborn son in a manger. On Christmas Day in most of the Church, the season of Advent closes for Western Christians; the Nativity Fast ends for Eastern Christians; and the 12 days of Christmastide begin. In many countries, Christmas Day is a public holiday.

ORTHODOX CUSTOMS

About half of Eastern Orthodox churches celebrate Christmas with Western Christians on December 25. That list includes the Orthodox churches in Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, Antioch, Constantinople, Alexandria, Albania, Cyprus and Finland—as well as the Orthodox Church in America.

Celebrating in January—for a variety of traditional reasons—are Orthodox churches in Russia, Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova, Serbia, Armenia, Egypt and Ethiopia. Mainly this variance involves the older Julian calendar, which pushes Christmas to January 7, but further wrinkles in the tradition affect some Armenians, Copts and Ethiopians. The very last Eastern Christmas will be celebrated by the Armenians living in Jerusalem, who travel to Bethlehem for an hours-long, centuries-old liturgy in the Church of the Nativity.

CHRISTMAS HISTORY

The Chronography of 354 AD is the oldest surviving reference to a Roman celebration for the birth of Jesus on December 25; in the East, the birth of Jesus was already observed with the Epiphany, on January 6. In the Early Middle Ages, Christmas Day was outshone by Epiphany, though by the later medieval period, Christmas-related holidays were starting to become more popular.

From the formative years of the Church’s celebrations to the Nativity noted today, a multitude of customs have become associated with Christmas: displaying manger scenes, caroling, sending greetings and hanging stockings by a fireplace, to name just a few. Certain saints have been responsible for creating some of the customs—namely, St. Francis of Assisi for the nativity scene, and St. Nicholas for stockings and candy canes—while others are secular or even pre-Christian.

Christmas encountered turbulence through the 17th and 18th centuries, but by the 19th century, writers such as Charles Dickens were creating the “heartfelt goodwill” that morphed Christmas into a more secular holiday based on goodwill, family and jollity. (Wikipedia has details.) For billions around the globe, Christmas today includes cookies, gift giving, shared feasts, cherished stories and songs and festive decorations.

Illustration of manger scene with light from above shining on baby Jesus

Photo by Travis, courtesy of Flickr

JESUS:
THE BIRTH OF A SAVIOR

Christians believe the birth of Jesus to Mary fulfills an ancient Messianic prophesy. Two canonical gospels record Jesus as having been born to Mary and her husband, Joseph, in the city of Bethlehem. Tradition tells that the birth took place in a stable, because “there was no room for them in the inn.” Nearby shepherds, told of the birth by angels, came to see the baby; magi came later, bearing gifts for the baby Jesus. (Find answers for Orthodox Christian questions at the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America; access Catholic answers at American Catholic.) The Star of Bethlehem is believed to have led the magi to Jesus, and the visit of the magi is celebrated as Epiphany, on January 6.

RECIPES & MORE

The Christmas pudding cooked on Stir-up Sunday is still traditionally served in some countries, but for others, Christmas today is more about cookies and peppermint sweets than old-fashioned fruitcakes and puddings. Interested to learn more?

From Martha Stewart, try baking something beautiful.

From Rachael Ray or Food Network, find an array of professional recipes.

From AllRecipes, gather favored suggestions for dinner, breakfast and dessert.

From Food & Wine, cook up something fancy or unique.

IN THE NEWS

ROCCA ON DICKENS—CBS correspondent Mo Rocca takes us to England for a “tour” of Charles Dickens’ famous tale,  A Christmas Carol. It’s a fun overview for Dickens fans.

NO WHITE CHRISTMAS—Forecasters are united in predicting that the majority of the continental United States won’t see snow on the holiday. Here’s an NBC version of that report.

POPE FRANCIS—Displaying his now world-famous optimism, Pope Francis is making headlines for insisting that he make all of his Christmas-season appearances, despite threats of terrorism. In a talk on December 20, he reminded the world that the Christmas story includes God’s call to compassion for the world’s poorest families. He wasn’t alone. “Jesus himself was a refugee,” Cokie and Steve Roberts reminded readers in this news story.

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