Today, Orthodox Christians around the world entered into Lent. Western Christians have been in Lent for some time. Most years, Western Christian Easter does not align with Eastern Christian Easter (called Pascha, the Greek word for Passover). This year is one such year and so the Lents do not align either. This year, in fact, the East and the West are quite far apart. There are historical, theological reasons for the different calendars, which could be summarized as: the Orthodox still calculate Pascha/Easter in keeping with how Jews calculate Passover and Pope Gregory XII changed to the modern “Gregorian” calendar, which Protestants also accepted.
Eastern Christian practice begins Lent in the evening with Forgiveness Vespers (at some parishes, observed in the afternoon), because liturgically, the day begins in the evening. Those familiar with Ash Wednesday might be surprised to learn that Orthodox do not hold that service but instead a Forgiveness Vespers. This vespers contains a penitential feel and during the service, the liturgical colors are changed from gold to a dark purple. At the conclusion of the service, those present ask forgiveness of one another, individually. This includes the clergy asking forgiveness from each and every parishioner present. Some traditional Paschal/Easter hymns are then sung as well, as a foretaste of what’s to come at the end of Lent.
Although Orthodox Christians may be known for the restrictive fasting they are called to do during Lent, forgiveness is at the heart of Lent. May God forgive us all!
Normally at this time of year, if the Red River Valley hears of anything regarding Orthodox Christianity and blessing water, it is a report from some faraway place like Russia or Greece. What many might not know is that right here in Fargo, our small community has been blessing the Red River for the past few years. Here is are a few photos from this event. We blessing near the dike, where the current runs quickly enough that there is open water even in sub-zero temperatures. No jumps in after the cross here, though, both because of temperatures and because of the current. I toss and retrieve the cross myself. Here are a few photos, courtesy Erik Hjelle:
In my last post, I mentioned that discussions concerning religious freedom were taking place across America right now. There is one event I should have also mentioned, but forgot. So, I wish to highlight it now.
Recently, an inter-faith conference on religious freedom was televised on C-Span. Fr. Chad Hatfield, the Dean and CEO of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary (www.svots.edu) gave a very nice talk as part of this (in session three, starting about 39 minutes in):
Although I have highlighted Fr. Chad’s speech here, I would recommend that we listen to each of the speakers and the Q and A session. In America, it IS possible to have a robust religious freedom without descending into a situation wherein one religion dominates all others and disallows freedom. Furthermore, I’d say, it is possible to have real, true religious freedom of religion and real, true, freedom from religion. It’s not an easy balance, to be sure, but protecting religious freedom as a fundamental legal right does not mean forcing religion upon those who are not religious (as recent, philosophically errant TV ads against Measure 3 imply).