03/14/2016, 10.16
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Russia begins the Great Fast in preparation for Easter

by Nina Achmatova

Week of celebrations for Maslenitsa, a sort of carnival, which leads to Lent ended yesterday. The Patriarch of Moscow this week celebrates liturgies twice a day; according to opinion polls, a growing number of Russians observe the fast.


Moscow (AsiaNews) - After Maslenitsa, a week of celebrations similar to the West’s Carnival, Russian-Orthodox Christians have started the 'Holy Lent' or even the so-called 'Great Fast' (Veliky post), established in the early centuries of Christianity in memory of the 40-day fast of Jesus in the desert. It is their version of Catholicism’s seven weeks of prayer, repentance and abstinence. It is the most stringent regime for the faithful throughout the liturgical year: meat, eggs, fish, dairy products and alcohol are prohibited.

Tradition has it that the monastic orders are the strictest observant of fasting. This is why, over time, their monasteries have become the cradle of some of the best recipes for soups and vegetable dishes with mushrooms, vegetables and berries. As per tradition, the Patriarch of Moscow Kirill in the first week of Lent will lead church services every morning and every evening.

According to a recent survey by the official polling center VTsIOM, the number of Russians willing to comply to varying degrees of rigor to the fasting is increasing. According to the study, published by Interfax, 27% of Russians will observe Lent, compared with 18% in 2005. 71% of the Russians, however, declare that they will not change diet.  Nevertheless, restaurants and bars in big cities have all already begun offering a special menu for the period of the great fast.

The period of abstinence culminates with Passion Week (the Catholic Holy Week). The Orthodox rite does not provide for a Way of the Cross or Eucharistic adoration. In the former Soviet countries on Good Friday the typical Easter cake, the pashk or kulich, is blessed in Church. It is very similar to Italian panettone, an anise flavored sweet bread, but without candied fruits and raisins. The long period of preparation of the body and soul for the Resurrection culminates with Easter Sunday, the central feast in the Christian calendar, which this year, for the Orthodox Church,  falls on May 1.

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