The Season of Lent and the Lenten Disciplines: Almsgiving, Prayer and Fasting (Part 1)

Venerable Gershinen Paul Dajur, PhD

INTRODUCTION

The season of lent is one of the many seasons in the liturgical calendar of the church. Other seasons within the liturgical calendar include Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, Pentecost, and Trinity to mention just the major ones. This paper focused on the season of Lent and the lenten disciplines of almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. In the beginning, it is crucial to note that there is no mention of the word ‘Lent’ in the Bible, yet Lent and Lenten disciplines are rooted in the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. Since the word lent is not found in the Scriptures, not all Christians observe it; therefore, they have not sinned by not observing it. Some of the churches that observe lent include Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Eastern Orthodox. Although some churches do not observe Lent, they observe the lenten disciplines of almsgiving, prayer, and fasting which are found in the Scriptures. Scriptural passages about almsgiving, prayer, and fasting were not written for the purpose of lending, but for the purpose of fulfilling God’s purpose; yet all of them are good scriptural passages to be presented in Lenten discussions (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
As a disclaimer, permit that I underscore that the discussion will make every effort to avoid proof text, even though it is almost impossible to avoid, in a discussion like this. In the long run, the purpose of Lenten disciplines which is to encourage persistence and perseverance in these areas of Christian discipleship is expected to be achieved to that extent which everyone of us will take Lent and its disciplines serious and practice them; for, orthodoxy must lead to orthopraxis. In this light, the discussion will begin with the definition of the concept of lent and thereafter engage the disciplines as they have been presented by Jesus in Matthew 6:1-18 and then conclude the discussion.

WHAT IS LENT?
According to Aristotle the Greek philosopher, the beginning of every discussion should be the definition of terms; therefore, it is incumbent at this point to define what the word lent means. While there are differences between writers on the etymology of the word lent, whether Teutonic/German or Anglo-Saxo (lencten), almost all writers agreed to its meaning which simply means ‘spring.’ Lent, therefore, means ‘springtime’; the time to come alive again. Its ‘lenten’ because during this period of spring the days are lengthened (lengthening days).
There are different accounts of the origin of lent each one having its own angle of view. A source has it that lent was adopted into the Christian religion from the babylonian religion’s 40 days mourning of the death of Tammuz, the son of Nimrod and his wife Semeramis, who was killed by a wild boar. It was believed that after 40 days of mourning, Tammuz came back to life (See Ezek. 8). But, lent as a season probably got its root into the church during the days of emperor Constantine who gave Christianity its status of legal religion in the empire.
Liturgically, lent is a 40 days period within the church year (liturgical) calender which begins on Ash Wednesday until Easter. Usually, there are 46 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter, but the day for the observance of lenten discipline of abstinence is reduced by the 6 Sundays within the period. That is, although Sundays within this season are marked Lent 1, 2, 3, 4 (Mothering Sunday), 5 (Passion Sunday), and 6 (Palm Sunday), such Sundays are days of celebration not fasting (Neh. 8:10). Another source on the 40 days of lent says it first started as a 40 hours (of Jesus being in the tomb) to 6 days around the 3rd century then to the present 40 days around 800AD. It is however, concievable to state that the idea of 40 days lent came from the different episodes of 40 days experiences of some Bible characters including Jesus Christ – Noah ( Gen. 7:4); Moses (Exod. 34:28); Isreal in the wilderness (Num. 14:33); Elijah (1 Kings 19:8); Jonah (Jonah 3:4); Jesus Christ (Matt. 4:1-2; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-2). Both the Western and Eastern churches observed 40 days of lent. Nonetheless, it is pertinent to note that eventhough the both churches observe lent they observe it differently. While the Western Church observes lent 6 weeks before Easter, obmits Sundays in counting the 40 days of lent and starts it on Ash Wedneday; the Eastern Orthodox observes it 7 weeks before Easter, does not obmit Sundays and starts it on Holy Monday to Friday before Palm Sunday. Formerly, the period before Easter was a period of preparation of the catechumens of the catechumenate to be baptized at Easter. Also, during this period those who wish to join or rejoin the church are formally prepared to be admitted at Easter. Therefore, during this time of catechism (teaching), the catechumens are engaged in the discipline of prayer, fasting (abstinence), almsgiving, Bible reading and other disciplines that promotes the Christian life.


According to Aristotle the Greek philosopher, the beginning of every discussion should be the definition of terms; therefore, it is incumbent at this point to define what the word lent means. While there are differences between writers on the etymology of the word lent, whether Teutonic/German or Anglo-Saxo (lencten), almost all writers agreed to its meaning which simply means ‘spring.’ Lent, therefore, means ‘springtime’; the time to come alive again. It’s ‘lenten’ because during this period of spring the days are lengthened (lengthening days).
There are different accounts of the origin of lent each one having its own angle of view. A source has it that lent was adopted into the Christian religion from the Babylonian religion’s 40 days mourning of the death of Tammuz, the son of Nimrod and his wife Semiramis, who was killed by a wild boar. It was believed that after 40 days of mourning, Tammuz came back to life (See Ezek. 8). But, lent as a season probably got its root in the church during the days of Emperor Constantine who gave Christianity its status of legal religion in the empire.
Liturgically, lent is a 40 days period within the church year (liturgical) calendar which begins on Ash Wednesday until Easter. Usually, there are 46 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter, but the day for the observance of Lenten discipline of abstinence is reduced by the 6 Sundays within the period. That is, although Sundays within this season are marked Lent 1, 2, 3, 4 (Mothering Sunday), 5 (Passion Sunday), and 6 (Palm Sunday), such Sundays are days of celebration not fasting (Neh. 8:10). Another source on the 40 days of lent says it first started as 40 hours (of Jesus being in the tomb) to 6 days around the 3rd century then to the present 40 days around 800AD. It is, however, conceivable to state that the idea of 40 days lent came from the different episodes of 40 days experiences of some Bible characters including Jesus Christ – Noah ( Gen. 7:4); Moses (Exod. 34:28); Isreal in the wilderness (Num. 14:33); Elijah (1 Kings 19:8); Jonah (Jonah 3:4); Jesus Christ (Matt. 4:1-2; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-2). Both the Western and Eastern churches observed 40 days of lent. Nonetheless, it is pertinent to note that even though both churches observe lent they observe it differently. While the Western Church observes lent 6 weeks before Easter, omits Sundays in counting the 40 days of lent and starts it on Ash Wednesday; the Eastern Orthodox observes it 7 weeks before Easter, does not omit Sundays, and starts it on Holy Monday to Friday before Palm Sunday. Formerly, the period before Easter was a period of preparation of the catechumens of the catechumenate to be baptized at Easter. Also, during this period those who wish to join or rejoin the church are formally prepared to be admitted at Easter. Therefore, during this time of catechism (teaching), the catechumens are engaged in the discipline of prayer, fasting (abstinence), almsgiving, Bible reading, and other disciplines that promote the Christian life.

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