The onset of spring this year marked the beginning of the blessed Great Lent. This 2023 Great Lent in the Orthodox Church began on February 27. According to the ancient charter, and the tradition of the Orthodox Church, Great Lent will continue for exactly 48 days, or 7 weeks, until the coming of the Resurrection.
This year, 2023, Easter in the Orthodox Church is celebrated on April 16. This date is easy to remember since it falls on exactly half of the second spring month and half of spring.
It is important to remember that Great Lent consists of two separate parts. These are Forty Days of repentance and prayer, and Holy Week - the memory of the Passion of the Lord Jesus Christ.
This division within the framework of a single Great Lent is extremely important. The Forty Holy Days and Holy Week have very different lengths. They are fundamentally different in meaning. Like the divine and human nature of Christ the Savior, they are the two seasons of Great Lent.
In the dialogues preserved in the memory of the Church under the name of Saint Caesarius Nazianzen (330-368), brother of Gregory the Theologian, the idea is contained that the permanence of Adam and Eve in Paradise, before their fall and exile, lasted exactly forty days. Figuratively speaking, it turns out that the time of heavenly bliss of the ancestors turned out to be for their descendants, the entire human race a time of repentance, forty days of prayer and fasting.
In turn, Holy Week is the time of the words and deeds of Christ. “The words of the wise are like hammered nails,” it is written in the Book of Ecclesiastes (Ecclesiastes 12:11). Every word of the Lord is precious. Due to the enmity of the enemies of truth and the hatred of the forces of malice, the totality of the words and deeds of the Lord turned into the tree and the nails of the Holy Cross. The Messiah was crucified, and the nails pierced the flesh of God. “They denied the Holy and Righteous One, they killed the Head of Life” (Acts 3:14-15).
If the earthly life of the Lord ended with His death on the Cross, then this would be the greatest triumph of the forces of evil in history. But God raised up His Son (Acts 3:15). Blood and water from His rib made humans drink (John 19:34). The work of Christ has been fulfilled.
Unfortunately, in everyday practice, there is a noticeable desire to sort of solder the two parts of Great Lent into a single monolith. Thus, the remembrance of the Saving Sufferings of the Lord, as it were, extends to the forty-day period of repentance. For example, the Akathist to the Passion of Christ, the so-called Liturgy Passion, is sometimes read on Lenten Sundays. Or, on the contrary, during the days of Passion Week, attention and time are devoted with special effort to confession, repentance and fasting, in order to somehow make up for what was lost during the period of Forty. But the property of time is irreversibility. And “the time for every thing and every deed under the sun,” Ecclesiastes wrote about this in the image of the Lord (1:1).
It is important to remember that the liturgy is not a personal initiative of the believer, but a common prayer of the whole Church, as it is said during the Eucharist, “it’s time for God to act”, the moment in which God himself acts. And the meanings of the worship of the Church by the Holy Spirit are also established by Himself.
The Forty Days is the time of preparation for Holy Week, at whose threshold the personal ascetic effort must be suspended, stopped for a while. Then everything personal stops, and human efforts no longer exist. "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not from yourselves, but is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2:8).
After all, the refusal of food and drink during Holy Week is not a manifestation of the zeal of asceticism, but a living personification of sorrow on the Sorrowful Days of the Lord Jesus Christ. The moments of Passion Week are the tears of God, the Sorrow of Him Who gave His Son (Rom. 8:32). The two times of Great Lent are like the divine and human nature of the Lord Jesus.