It’s Καθαρή Δεύτερα – Clean Monday. It’s the first day of Great Lent. Let’s look at some Clean Monday traditions, and reflect on the Lenten journey.
On the first day of Great Lent, called Καθαρή Δεύτερα – Clean Monday, we begin a journey. This season, with its fasting, traditions, and added church services, offers time for prayer and reflection. This journey isn’t about what we give up; rather, it’s about what we will gain.
Clean Monday Traditions
The first day of Great Lent is called Clean Monday, referring to the foods we will leave behind for the fast, and the activities of which we will also refrain — a cleaning of the slate, so to speak. We’ll discuss fasting later.
Clean Monday is ushered in the night before, with Forgiveness Vespers. We bow down and ask each other for forgiveness, going forward into Lent with a renewed Christian love. This effectively ends the carnival festivities of the preceding weeks.
In Greece and Cyprus, the first day of Lent is a public holiday, meaning schools and businesses are closed, so all may enjoy the festivities.
Typically, families will take to the countryside, as spring-like weather beckons us outside. with a picnic basket of Lenten fare, including lagana bread — a special unleavened bread baked only on this day. There will also be foods like taramosalata, halva, olives, meatless dolmadakia, baked beans, and shellfish. Some may wash it down with a glass of tsipouro. Kids fly kites.
While it might seem like a party and not very “Lenten”, this is actually part of the Orthodox approach to the fast, as written in the Matthew 6:14-21, which is read on the morning prior.
“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Think of the picnic and time outside as a respite from daily routines, and an opportunity to reconnect with nature.
There are church services on the evening of Clean Monday, and many parishes will host a Koulouma – community Lenten dinner.
Greek children mark the passing of the Lenten season with a paper doll, called Kyra Sarakosti — Lady Lent. Typically a paper doll, some make Kyra Sarakosti cookies. On Clean Monday, Kyra Sarakosti “appears” to help us track the time, and teaches kids about Great Lent. Kyra Sarakosti is a nun. She doesn’t have a mouth: she doesn’t eat because she’s fasting, and she doesn’t talk since she is engaged in prayer. Kyra Sarakosti has seven legs — one for each week of Lent. Each week, kids bend back or cut off one leg, indicating how many weeks of Lent remain.
Fasting and the Lenten Journey
Fasting is about more than just abstaining from certain foods. It’s a commitment between you and God, that involves prayer and reflection. To me, it’s more about what comes out of your mouth than what goes in: if we continue to gossip, speak badly of others, and harbor sinful thoughts, but fasted from foods, we’ve canceled out your efforts. To be truly meaningful, fasting must be also about words, thoughts, and deeds.
Giving up meat, fish, oil and dairy is difficult, but this is a great challenge — physically, mentally, and spiritually — which results in tremendous growth. Be sure to do it with your whole heart.
Technically, fasting begins on “Meatfare Sunday”, which is actually 8 days before Clean Monday. “Meatfare Sunday,” is the last day to consume meat, poultry, and fish. The following is “Cheesefare Sunday,” which is the last day for consumption of eggs, butter, milk, and other dairy products. This allows us a gradual denial of foods, hence, by Clean Monday, we’re already geared up for the fast.
The 40 days of Lent begin on Clean Monday, and end at Lazarus Saturday, prior to Holy Week. Factor in the period from Meatfare Sunday, plus Holy Week, and in effect, the fasting period lasts a total of 54 days.
How much should you fast? Pray on it and discuss it with your spiritual father.
Approved Lenten foods include: fruits and vegetables, corn oil, vegetable (non-olive) oil, nuts, grains, breads, pasta, honey, margarine, shellfish (i.e. shrimp, clams, lobster, oyster, scallops, crab, etc), and tofu. Think vegan – no animal products, other than shellfish are allowed.
Wine and olive oil are permitted on weekends only. Do not consume oil on Holy Saturday. Fish, wine, and olive oil are allowed on the Feast of the Annunciation (March 25) and Palm Sunday.
Remember, fasting is more about our actions and not just the absence of foods. No one can tell you what you “must” do; that’s between you and God. Pray on it.
Lent is Renewal
There are many beautiful Lenten services; make it a point to attend them this year. Spend more time in prayer, read the Bible, and reflect on your blessings. This is a time to work on being a better person. None of us are perfect, and we could all use some work. This is the perfect time to strengthen your relationship with the Lord. Meet with your spiritual father to discuss this and any other matters in question. Ask him what Bible passages to read and any books he might recommend to guide you on this Lenten journey. Also, when was the last time you went to confession? Consider it.
I pray that your Lenten journey is a beautiful and uplifting experience. Καλή Σαρακοστή!
Portions of this article were originally published in 2009.