Arguably the holiest week of the year, known simply as “Holy Week” or maybe more preferably “Pascha (aka Passover) Week” is upon us, with the Pascha Feast (the more traditional term rather than Easter) marking the end of the week, but a beginning for all of humanity. As I had written in my previous post about the History of the Great Fast, it is not enough for us to know about or simply participate in religious observances, but we must understand the “why” in order to make it all relevant to us today. Here is a summary of what I could surmise as being the current practice as well as history of the Holy Week, with a particular emphasis on the Coptic Church. (Further below you will also find a PowerPoint presentation that I used to teach about this subject that you may download and use as desired.)
We are about to embark on the Great Fast (a.k.a. Lent), but as with all worship and rites, it is preferable that we not only understand the what and how of our religion, but also understand why, in order to make it all relevant to us today. The fruit of my research on this topic was intriguing (e.g., there was no “Great Fast” for the first few hundred years), but also at one point I felt embarrassed as I learned the original reason behind what we now refer to as “Preparation Week.” Here is a summary of the current practice and history of the Great Fast, with a particular emphasis on the Coptic Church. Further below you will also find a PowerPoint presentation that I used to teach about this subject that you may download and use as desired.
Are you serious! We’re fasting again already!? That’s the somber realization that most of us have after being spoiled with no fasting for a single day for 50 days straight after the resurrection feast, considering especially that most of us toiled so much in fasting for so long during the Great Lent and Holy Week. This time of year, here is a typical dialogue among friends:
“Why are we fasting again?”
“I’m not going to fast it. We have too many fasts as it is.”
“But you should, at least out of obedience to your mother, the Church, and for the sake of joining the rest of your brothers and sisters in this fast.”
“No. Just can’t do it. Maybe I’ll fast near the end of it. My parents don’t even fast this fast. Lots of people skip it. Besides, this fast is something new that the Church put together more recently than not. It wasn’t around in the early Church.”
“Actually, not only is it a very ancient fast, fasting in general has proven to be of great value beyond even just the spiritual aspect; it can actually increase your lifespan.”
As Americans approach the Thanksgiving holiday, many Orthodox Christians openly or secretly grumble about how the Nativity (a.k.a. Christmas/Advent) fast interferes with their holiday eating plans. So let’s take a moment to understand why and how we (should) fast before celebrating the incarnation of our divine Lord, taking flesh and living among us.
How many days do we fast before Christmas?
(and if you are Coptic Orthodox, add an additional 3 days [reason explained below])
Spiritual basis for length of fast
The Coptic Church as well as the Eastern Orthodox agree regarding the spiritual basis for the length of the fast. Continue reading →