Soccer and ashes. Fat or Shrove Tuesday is celebrated by liturgical Western Christians tonight. Tomorrow with less sackcloth but still with ashes they begin their Lenten journey. The Eastern half of Christianity begins Lent at sundown (or after Vespers) Sunday night this weekend as the Julian calendrical calculation this year puts Lent a week later than the Gregorian.
For those who do partake of the Lent tradition, I’d like to offer an invitation from the East. This Monday through Thursday many of the Eastern churches will be offering the The Great Canon: The Work of Saint Andrew of Crete as an evening Lenten meditation and prayer. I’d invite any who are interested in a meditative liturgical very repentant service to search out and find an Orthodox parish near them (for Americans this may serve as one place to look but other ethnic Orthodox churches may be closer, their web site should give a time when the Canon is being offered and directions.) and this coming Monday to partake of the Canon. For those Western visitors, please be aware the Orthodox perform prostrations during this service. It serves to heighten the sense of repentance for those taking part. But, as a note to visitors, there is no stigma in not taking part. If you do not feel this movement is part of your worship vocabulary … that is perfectly fine. Depending on where you go, the music (a capella voice) might be a little, uhm, shaky. But the Canon is primarily not a musical experience, listen to the words and think on their meaning and connection to you. This is an extended walk through Scripture connecting events through repentance to your life. A microcosm of Lent in four days. A jumping off point for the rest of the journey to Pascha (Easter).
Failing that invitation, two books might be of interest. Orthodox liturgist Alexander Schmeman’s Great Lent: Journey to Pascha and Khouria Frederica Matthews Green’s First Fruits of Prayer: A Forty-Day Journey Through the Canon of St. Andrew both are books which can provide background and perhaps a gentler introduction to the Great Canon and are both well recommended reading for the season.