03/10/2011, 00.00
RUSSIA
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Patriarch Kirill and the Russian Orthodox start the ‘Great Fast’

by Nina Achmatova
In the first week of Lent, Patriarch Kirill urges the faithful to remember “the Christian value of work” against the idleness of body and mind that “lead to gloom”. This year, Orthodox and Catholic Easter fall on the same day.

Moscow (AsiaNews) – After Maslenitsa, the great week of celebrations that include eating bliny (pancakes), Russian Orthodox began Lent, the so-called Great Fast. As is the case for Catholics, they spend seven weeks in prayer, repentance and abstinence, the most demanding period on the liturgical calendar: no meat, eggs, fish, milk products and alcohol. According to tradition, monastic orders are the most observant in upholding the fast. For this reason, they have come up in time with the best vegetable-based recipes, with mushrooms, greens and berries.

The Great Fast commemorates Jesus’ 40 days in desert, right after his baptism. The period of abstinence reaches its peak in Passion Week (Holy Week for Catholics). However, the Way of the Cross is not part of the Orthodox tradition, nor is the adoration of the cross.

In former Soviet states, the traditional Easter bread, paska, which is made with aniseed but without fruit candy and raisins, is blessed in church on Holy Friday. The long period of preparation for body and soul ahead of the resurrection reaches its apex on Easter Sunday, the central festivity on the Orthodox calendar, which this year will fall on the same day as in the Catholic calendar, on 24 April that is.

During the great service that started the Great Fast, last Monday, the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill urged the faithful to work and not fall into idleness, which leads to gloom.

“Let us not replace work with idleness, which does not refresh the soul,” he said during the celebrations held in the Holiest Trinity of Saint Daniel Monastery.

“Idleness is an empty pastime,” he noted, whilst “The soul of an idle man is something dangerous for his physical and spiritual life”.

Idleness often leads to hatred towards human kind, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church explained. By contrast, “work is one of the greatest Christian virtues. [. . .] It is a tool to use on oneself as well. An idle person is instead someone without the means to fight evil.”

Speaking the same day in Christ Saviour Cathedral, the Patriarch emphasised the importance of “hope, the greatest fruit of faith”.

“Hope in God does not release from our responsibilities,” Kirill warned. “Faith gives strength to solve every problem, whereas those who would deny faith and hope tend towards discouragement, which is a negative force that destroys human life.”

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