GetReligion has an interesting article on media treatments of Ash Wednesday and lenten practices in general. “[One article] explains that not all Christians observe Lent and why. She also gives a mention to Orthodox Christians …for whom Lent began earlier and is a much more austere season.”
Technically, Christians east of the Bosphorus are still in the season of Pre-lent. Though we had a farewell to flesh last Sunday (known as Meatfare), the Great Fast does not fully begin until this Monday. This Sunday — Cheesefare or Forgiveness Sunday — marks the climax of our preparations for Lent. Clean Monday marks the beginning of the lenten period. In theory, one uses Meatfare to clean the home of meats and Cheesefare to clean the home of dairy.
In Russian tradition, Forgiveness Sunday (the same as Cheesefare, this Sunday) is so called because there is a rite of forgiveness which follows the Sunday vespers service. In parish use, vespers is often served immediately after the divine liturgy. During this rite, the members of the community each come before one another, one at a time, and ask forgiveness for any wrong they may have committed against their brothers and sisters.
So, having cleaned our homes of non-fasting food and cleaned our consciences, we come to Clean Monday. Clean Week is the beginning of the Great Fast. Services are ramped up to a pace nearly rivalling that of the Holy and Great Week of the Passion, and we shift into overdrive spiritually. We take a radical look at our faults and begin to concentrate on our conversion — repentance or metanoia — the focus of the season.
A note on English usage for Orthodox Christians: Lent is a word that means “spring” in Middle English. Thus, it is not synonymous with “fast.” It is the name of a particular fast, what we call the Great Fast: the spring fast of forty days that precedes the Pasch of Our Lord. “Great Lent,” though very common, is not really proper English usage, since there is no other Lent to which to compare the Great Fast.
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