Cheesefare week, the last full week before Great Lent begins, is an “in between” week liturgically in the Orthodox Church. Each day is “kind of like” Great Lent and “kind of like” outside of Great Lent. This is to provide a transition into Great Lent. Everything we do is better if we are prepared and in the proper state of mind. This week, if we read the readings and attend the services, gets us ready for Great Lent.
How is the week “kind of like” being in Great Lent?
– We fast all week, but in the most unique way of the entire year, fasting from meat only, with all other foods being allowed. We are fasting every day, but only “partially” and we even eat cheese and other milk products on days we normally would not throughout the year, such as Wednesday and Friday.
– We are using the Triodion in Vespers and Matins at all services, and its content definitely is Lenten in tone.
– On Wednesday and Friday, we do not celebrate the Divine Liturgy, just as in Great Lent we do not celebrate it on most weekdays. The readings on Wednesday and Friday are of a Lenten character; we do not read the usual Epistle and Gospel, but instead read from the Old Testament (on Wednesday, all the selections are from Joel, and on Friday, from Zechariah). We follow the Lenten format of having a reading during the Sixth Hour and Vespers.
– Daily Vespers on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday begin in a “non-Lenten” way just as during the rest of the year, but the end of Vespers is ”Lenten” with the usual prayers with bows after the Aposticha, and the prayer of St Ephrem.
– Wednesday and Friday Vespers are Lenten in tone, with an Old Testament Reading, and the prayer of St Ephrem, but the ending is non-Lenten in tone.
– The quintessential prayer of Great Lent, the “Prayer of St Ephrem”, is said at every weekday Vespers beginning on Tuesday evening.
How is the week “kind of like” being outside of Great Lent?
– Sunday and Monday evening Vespers are just like in “regular time”, but there are selections from the Triodion for Vespers and Matins, which definitely point us toward Great Lent.
– All days except Wednesday and Friday we can serve Divine Liturgy, with its usual Epistle and Gospel readings.
– As noted above, we are “kind of” fasting, and “kind of” not fasting.
Another aspect of the week that makes it seem more “Lenten” is the content of the Gospel readings. They are all concerning the day of the Lord’s passion. We will return to these readings during Holy week. I always think of the weeks preceding Great Lent, and especially the last two weeks, as a foreboding of Holy Week and Pascha.
If you want to be ready for Great Lent, follow the fasting rules for this week (cheese pizza is allowed on Wednesday and Friday!) and attend the “kind of” Lenten Vespers on Wednesday night.