Did I get your attention? Did you know...
The Great Fast starts at sundown today for Byzantine Catholics. So yes- while the majority of the Christian world is enjoying their Mardi Gras, we are deep into the thick of things. We start two days early so that Annunciation and the Saturday of Lazarus (day before Palm Sunday) are not calculated into the Fast. This year, Annunciation of Mary falls on a Friday, so I am not sure what that means for the fast. More news on that later.
Sunday Liturgies are even longer during the Great Fast. Depending on your priest, you won't know what is holding him up. He is just really slow during Lent. No- he is praying the Divine Liturgy of St Basil instead of the usual St John Chrysostom.This Divine Liturgy has longer silent prayers. Some priests might decide to pray them aloud or the cantor might extend the singing with the people. The Divine Liturgy of St Basil prepares the people for the weekdays' 'Presanctified Liturgy.'
Weekday masses are long during Lent. This Liturgy is called "presanctified,' so the priest already has consecrated the bread and the Body of Christ has been reserved. The Presanctified Liturgy is a long communion service that we use only during the Great Fast. Only a priest (and perhaps a deacon) can celebrate this Liturgy.
Byzantines sing Alleluia during Lent. Don't be shocked if you happen to visit. Any Sunday is a day that celebrates the Resurrection. This means that we don't have to fast and that we will sing as usual.
Different believers fast from food in different ways. Monks and nuns will most likely fast from all animal products during the season, but people in the world will fast to differing degrees. Depending on the Eparchy, the 'bare minimum' would be to fast from meat every Wednesday and Friday during the season. Most Byzantines see that as a beginning, and many Byzantines do that during ordinary time. Lay people are encouraged to discuss the issue with their priest. And of course, any small child, pregnant or nursing woman and a person with specific medical needs do not need to fast.
My family fasts from meat every day except Sunday and uses no animal products on Wednesdays and Fridays during fasting seasons. I gauge my children and will give them meat at lunchtime if they need it. We have soy no more than twice a week because of potential health side effects.
Byzantines can get a little proud about their fasting exploits. And any pride drives away the graces received through fasting. I know a few mixed Orthodox/Roman Catholic marriages where the Orthodox spouse makes a point of how liberal the fasting guidelines for the Catholics are and insists that the small children eat vegan during every fasting season- even on Sundays. Charity should rule everything.
Remember Eastern Christians- we don't start the Great Fast with ashes on our foreheads; we start with 'forgiveness vespers'- all should be done with humility and love for Christ crucified and risen! We are reminded to wash our faces and not let people know we are fasting. If we are guests in someone's home, we should not turn up our noses at any food- like an old calendar Christian loudly refusing to eat something with cheese on what was Christmas for us.
a bonus shocker for any time of the year
The priest uses leavened bread and cuts the center (the 'lamb') for consecration during the Divine Liturgy. The sides that are blessed but not consecrated (so it does NOT become the Body of Christ) are cut into strips and placed to the side and then offered at the end of Liturgy. Any person can come up to kiss the cross, be anointed with holy oil (depending on the feast day), and take a piece of blessed bread.