Ask Greeks when is their favourite time of year and the answer for many will be a resolute “Easter.”
Whether it is experienced in the fragrant Springtime of Greece with all its vibrant flowers and laden with the traditions that may vary slightly from village to village, or the cold Autumn air that sees Greeks in Australia attending evening church services wrapped in their best winter coats and praying there’s no rain on the Good Friday Epitaphio service, it’s a meaningful time which brings families together and enables us all to reconnect within ourselves and with our faith.
Although Greek Orthodox Easter can be associated with red eggs, koulouria and taking home the “Agio Fos” with candles after Holy Saturday, the most important aspect in the lead up to Easter is fasting, which officially starts today, on Kathari Deftera (Clean Monday), ends after midnight on Holy Saturday and is known as Sarakosti (signifying the 40 days of fasting) or Great Lent. It is the most important fasting period of the Church calendar year and leads to the greatest feast of the year, Pascha (Easter).
It is a time of going to church, fasting from foods that contain red blood (meats, poultry) and their products (milk, cheese, eggs etc) as well as fish and seafood with backbones. On some days even olive oil and wine is restricted, while on some feast days, such as Palm Sunday (which is the Sunday before Easter) fish is permitted.
Jesus Christ Himself fasted and preached about the significance of fasting, teaching that it must be done with a joyful spirit, with humility and without casting judgment or inspection on others. He also taught His followers that fasting was to be done privately, not making it publicly known so that they draw attention to themselves, and must always be accompanied with prayer.
While the purpose of Sarakosti is most commonly considered to be the cleansing of body and spirit, it also highlights self-discipline in the preparation for the acceptance of the Resurrection of Christ, increased prayer and mindfulness as we reflect and repent on our thoughts and actions, forgiveness as we are reminded of the forgiveness and sacrifice Christ showed on the Cross, gratitude for all that we have, and feeling a closer connection to God.
In an era where everything is instant, information is saturated and all we could want for is at our disposal, Great Lent serves as an opportunity to scale everything back in our busy lives, achieve some inner peace and balance, focus on what is truly important and be mindful of what we say to others, what we do, and how we want to be.