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On Monday, English home cook, author and former food journalist Mary Berry — star of The Great British Bake-Off and her own television shows (BBC) — introduced the British public to the traditions behind Good Friday and Easter foods.
The first of two episodes of Mary Berry’s Easter Feast on BBC2 saw her explore traditions in England, Jamaica, Russia and Poland. I highly recommend it. Below is a synopsis of the first programme with additional information from other sources.
Berry, an Anglican, told us that she is a regular churchgoer. She said she goes to Sunday services because ‘it is important to give thanks’. Easter is her favourite religious feast. (Finally, there’s someone who loves Easter as much as I do.)
Easter is the Church’s greatest feast. It has always been celebrated, from the earliest days after Christ’s death and resurrection. Christmas celebrations did not come about until much later.
Hot cross buns
Berry went to St Albans Cathedral to find out more about hot cross buns.
The cathedral’s historian explained that, in England, the precursor of this bun was the Alban bun. In 1361, Brother Thomas Rocliffe, a monk at St Albans Abbey, made highly spiced buns which the monks gave to the poor who appeared at the refectory door on Good Friday. The historian added that Brother Thomas was likely making peace with the locals who resented the Church. Monasteries at that time held an enormous amount of power.
St Albans Cathedral website tells us that their hot cross buns are still made locally — at Redbournbury Mill, which the abbey once owned. Anyone interested can find them the old fashioned way, by going to the Abbot’s Kitchen. They are available throughout Lent to Easter Monday.
The historian gave an Alban bun to Berry, who said it was much spicier than conventional hot cross buns. There is also no pastry or paste cross on the Alban bun, rather one which is formed with a knife before baking.
Although Berry and the historian did not discuss the significance of the bun’s ingredients, the spices symbolise those used to embalm Jesus after His crucifixion. I cannot find anything about the meaning of the dried fruit in them, but years ago, I read that it represents the gentle character of Jesus. I have also read that the fruit pieces suggest the drops of blood He shed for us.
For centuries, people ate hot cross buns only on Good Friday in contemplation of the Crucifixion. These days, sadly, they are available nearly all year round.
During the Reformation, England’s Protestants — and, later, Puritans — condemned the eating of hot cross buns as Catholic superstition. During Elizabethan times, one could only purchase them in London on Good Friday, Christmas or for burials.
Historians point out that fruit breads with a cross existed in ancient Greece. The cross made it easier to divide the bread into four pieces.
A number of superstitions about hot cross buns abound. As for them not going stale, I can assure you that they must be eaten within 12 to 18 hours. They get hard as a rock after that. And, yes, they also go mouldy.
Mary Berry makes hot cross buns for her family during Lent. The BBC has made her recipe available.
Berry spent time with Bettina, who is originally from Jamaica and belongs to a Baptist church in Nottingham.
Bettina makes Jamaican buns for the ladies at her church during Lent. They are actually large cakes, served in thin slices, often with Jamaican cheese. The buns are also very dark, because they have stout in them. This recipe looks like the one Bettina uses.
Bettina also made a standard Good Friday dish of escoveitch (ceviche) fish for Berry to try. After marinating in a ceviche manner, Bettina pan fried the fish, basting it regularly. It looked delicious.
She served it with peppers, chocho and chilis. This recipe is like Bettina’s.
Bettina explained that marinating fish in vinegar dates back to the Moors, who introduced it to Spain. The Spanish, in turn, took the technique with them to the New World.
Russian devilled eggs and pascha
Berry met with a Russian Orthodox home cook and a priest, who explained how their Church observes Lent.
Father Peter explained that church members continue to follow the centuries-old vegetarian Lent, which starts two weeks earlier than the Catholic and Protestant one. They do not consume any food at all on Good Friday. Lenten fasting does not end until the Easter Vigil service ends, which is sometime between 3:00 and 3:30 a.m. Afterwards, everyone — including children — enjoys a feast.
Holy Thursday, which the Orthodox call ‘Clean Thursday’, is a busy, yet contemplative day, Father Peter said. It is the traditional spring cleaning day and it is also when the Easter cake, pascha, is made. Pascha is the word for Easter.
Pascha is a cheesecake with dried fruit. It is put into a pyramid mould with a Russian Orthodox cross on one side and ‘XB’ (‘Christ is risen’) on the other.
Another Russian Easter favourite is the devilled egg. A home cook made this for Berry. It involves peeled hard boiled eggs which are left to steep in beet juice. The programme did not mention this, but the red juice symbolises Christ’s blood. After several hours, the eggs are cut in half, the yolks devilled and piped back into the egg white centres. Caviar is a favourite topping.
Berry went to meet a Polish family in Cambridgeshire. They explained the importance of getting their Easter food blessed at church on Holy Saturday. I wrote about that in 2010.
In addition to coloured eggs, onto which the children were busy etching designs, olives are also an important Easter food for the Poles, probably because of their egg-like shape. Both symbolise life.
The husband made Berry a babka, the traditional Easter cake, which takes three days to make properly. Most of that time involves the rise of the enriched dough, similar to a brioche. He used a babka mould, similar to a kugelhopf mould, and added a chocolate insert. You could use a bundt cake mould.
Those who do not care for chocolate can add dried fruit instead.
A number of babka recipes exist, however, I have not been able to find the one this man used, which is the traditional one. He used his mother’s and, watching him make it, that’s definitely the original. Beware of ‘quick’ or ‘easy’ babka recipes. If anyone can point to one, please share the recipe or a link by commenting below. Many thanks!
Incidentally, he explained that ‘babka’ is also a complimentary word for a woman and a gracious name for a grandmother.
I’ll watch next week’s show and let you know what else Mary Berry discovers in the world of Easter food traditions.
February 10 is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.
What does this season mean? What does it involve? How do we use this season to prepare for Easter, the greatest feast in the Church?
Lutheran pastors show the way, with explanations about Lent in the early Church, including ashes and fasting:
With regard to prayer and contemplation, I can highly recommend the Revd Joshua Scheer’s which you can follow every day:
An Anglican pastor’s wife, Anne Kennedy, shared her thoughts on why Lent is an excellent time for addressing one’s spiritual state:
The Reformed and the Evangelicals are right to say that Christians should not feel obliged to treat Lent differently than any other time of the year. That means we should always be contemplating the state of our souls and repentance — turning away — from sin. In any event, we have the freedom in Christ to choose whether to observe Lent with special spiritual disciplines. See ‘Lent a source of Protestant contention’ in the next post where a lively written discussion takes place between a Reformed pastor-professor and Lutheran laymen:
Lent is an ideal time to begin reading the Bible, always profitable to body and soul:
Some will ask, ‘What is the point when we only revert to our old ways afterwards?’
After 40 days, a new behaviour or spiritual discipline — more prayer! — should be part of us, enabling another step or two on the lifelong road to sanctification. We can then continue to build on that the rest of the year and when Lent rolls around next year, work on the next knotty and stubborn part of our sinfulness.
Lent is a great time to build layer and layer of sanctification, accomplished only with divine grace through our only Mediator and Advocate Christ Jesus.
Good Friday is the most sorrowful day in the Church calendar as we recall our Lord’s crucifixion for our sins.
The painting above is by the Renaissance artists Lucas Cranach the Elder and Lucas Cranach the Younger, father and son. Lucas Cranach the Younger finished the painting in 1555. It is the centre altar painting in St Peter and Paul (Lutheran) Church in Weimar, Germany.
This post explains the symbolism and significance of this painting to Good Friday. Please note that the link included no longer works.
Martin Luther tells us how to contemplate Christ’s sufferings:
The following posts also help us to better understand and reflect on what happened on this day:
Good Friday: in whom can we trust? (John 18:12-27)
The Triduum begins on the evening of Maundy Thursday.
At that point we enter the most solemn, sorrowful period in the Church calendar followed by the greatest, most joyous of feast days, Easter.
The following posts explain more about the Last Supper:
St John’s Gospel has the fullest account of our Lord’s discourse at the Last Supper. What follows are selected passages accompanied by commentary:
John 13:16-20 – why the footwashing is necessary
John 13:36-38 – the promise of afterlife and foretelling Peter’s denial
John 14 – Jesus’s words of comfort
John 16:1-4 – a warning about persecution
John 16:16-24 – sorrow will turn into joy
John 16:25-33 – overcoming the world
Wednesday of Holy Week is known as Spy Wednesday in traditionalist Catholic circles.
The name is fitting as the chief priests close their deal with Judas, eager to betray our Lord for a few months’ wages.
These posts explain this fateful day and a bit about Judas himself:
St Mark’s Gospel has these accounts, with commentary from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur:
Mark 14:1-2 – what the Sanhedrin were thinking
Mark 14:10-11 – Judas volunteers to betray our Lord
On another subject relevant to Holy Week, some churches will be holding Tenebrae services. This post explains more about them.
British parents are no doubt delighted to discover that chocolate Easter egg prices are at ‘rock bottom’ in 2015 thanks to supermarket discounts.
Meanwhile, Church of England Archbishops are unhappy because The Real Easter Egg, the one with a booklet telling the story of the Resurrection, has been crowded out by eggs representing Darth Vader, Doctor Who or Postman Pat.
The Real Easter Egg
Meaningful Chocolate produces The Real Easter Egg, a tasty teaching aid (my words) which comes with a small booklet explaining why eggs are a central symbol of the Resurrection.
The Warrington-based company has been making the eggs for four years. However, it is not always easy for them to negotiate shelf space. Their website provides a list of UK supermarkets selling the egg, made with quality Fairtrade chocolate.
David Marshall, who runs Meaningful Chocolate, told the Daily Mail:
We do wonder at times if there is an anti-Christian agenda from some of our supermarkets who just keep turning it down. It is as if some feel Christianity is politically incorrect or the Easter story, which mentions Jesus, might put people off.
‘One buyer asked us what Easter had got to do with the Church, while another simply said, “I don’t think this is a credible product” and asked us to leave.’
John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, and George Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury, are urging Asda, the Co-op and Sainsbury’s to stock the egg.
Pagan, useful or both?
A growing number of Christians all over the world, but mainly in the United States, consider that, as the Easter egg and the Easter Bunny are not in the Bible and that they were part of pagan rituals, they have no place in the Resurrection story.
Yet, when we think back to the early centuries of Christianity, when missionaries risked life and limb travelling around Europe to spread the Gospel, what was the best way for them to tell people about Jesus? One cannot help but think of St Patrick, who taught about the Holy Trinity using a shamrock.
We’re talking about people who were illiterate and whose lives revolved around nature, upon which they were dependent for survival. The world then was not the way it is now: clean, sanitised, educated, plentiful. Life was precarious. Death was just around the corner. Food was not widely available 365 days a year. Hens stopped laying eggs. Animals went into hibernation. Most crops were unsustainable during frosty months. Is it any wonder, then, that people rejoiced at the advent of Spring?
Most of today’s well-meaning believers labelling everything ‘pagan’ are driving everywhere, buying food at a supermarket and maintaining their lawns devoid of other life. Look at any suburb.
Under such privileged circumstances, it is easy to denounce symbolism of the ancient world as being purely pagan with no crossover into Christianity. The same was true during the Reformation in discarding anything symbolic or exemplary, such as stained glass illustrations of biblical events or recalling the lives of the saints, many of whom died for the faith.
Fine, for those who wish to do that. However, there is another side to the story.
Hares and rabbits represented life
Explore God has a good article explaining what the hare and, later, the rabbit, represented for ancient peoples.
Life and fertility are intertwined in man’s atavistic need for survival and propagation. No animal represents these characteristics quite as well as the beautiful hare or cuddly rabbit.
Explore God tells us that a thousand years before Christ was born, the peoples of Mesopotamia and Syria viewed the hare as representative of life and rebirth. In the Greco-Roman world, gravestones had depictions of rabbits for the same reason.
The early Christians also used the hare and the rabbit to represent rebirth in the resurrected Christ.
The ancient world, northern European traditions and ‘Easter’
The word Easter is only used in Teutonic, Scandinavian and English languages.
Therefore, English-speakers would do well to stop saying that Easter is a pagan feast. We might have appropriated a pagan word for it (as we did with Sunday), but it is not universally known as that in every other language.
Infoplease says (emphases mine):
Prior to that, the holiday had been called Pasch (Passover), which remains its name in most non-English languages.
In French, for example, it is Pâques. The Passover which the Jews celebrate is called Pâques juif.
Explore God summarises the possible origins of the word ‘Easter’:
– The ancient German fertility goddess Eostra, associated with the hare;
– The ancient Norse word for Spring, which, translated into German is ostern.
It is difficult to know which came first: ostern or Eostra.
Infoplease says that the Venerable Bede, chronicler of the early Anglo-Saxon world that he witnessed, described the month of what we now call April as being named after Eostra:
“Eostremonat,” or Eostre’s month, leading to “Easter” becoming applied to the Christian holiday that usually took place within it.
Some historians see no connection with the Babylonian and Assyrian goddess Ishtar as her feasts occurred later in Spring. Explore God explains:
It seems probable that around the second century A.D., Christian missionaries seeking to convert the tribes of northern Europe noticed that the Christian holiday commemorating the resurrection of Jesus roughly coincided with the Teutonic springtime celebrations, which emphasized the triumph of life over death. Christian Easter gradually absorbed the traditional symbols.
On the other hand, Christina Georgiou explains Eostre’s connection with the hare and the Ishtar story. Easter was not established until 325 AD at the first Council of Nicaea:
… co-opting an existing pagan holiday served the purpose of sowing the seeds of a new religion on existing faith.
In the east, the festival of Ishtar (correctly pronounced ‘Easter’) and the resurrection of Tammuz also took place shortly after the equinox.
Still, they might have been on to something, even if it wasn’t exactly new. The holiday they picked had many of the same connotations attached.
The mystery of death and resurrection is remarkably similar in many places and times, and the time of year when it is recognized is practically universal across the northern hemisphere …
The totem of Eostre is a hare—and according to the story, the goddess can turn into a hare at will. In one legend, the goddess comes upon an injured bird, who she saves by turning into a hare, it being the animal she is strongest as. Yet, having been a bird, this hare could still lay eggs, and in gratitude to the goddess, the bird laid colored eggs on her feast day ever since.
The hare heralded new life as did lilies — and the first eggs of the season.
Other related rituals
Georgiou goes on to explain that whether pagans of the ancient world worshipped Ishtar in the Cradle of Civilisation, Adonis/Aphrodite in Mediterranean lands or Eostre in the North, certain practices and rituals surrounded the vernal equinox.
One of these was fasting from meat for 40 days prior to the equinox. Some cultures cut down a tree in the shape of a ‘T’, commemorating Tammuz’s death and resurrection, which they believed occurred soon after the equinox. In the days approaching this time, pagans sang songs of mourning and held a vigil. On the appropriate morning, the priest or shaman comforted mourners by telling them that they, too, would rise like Tammuz from the grave to new life.
From this, it is easy to see why Church fathers established the feast of the Resurrection at a similar time. Fasting could easily translate into Jesus’s time in the desert to fast and pray. The tree held significance as Jesus died on the Cross.
Pagans and fundamentalist Protestants might be angry about this history for different reasons, but the springtime story helped to spread Christianity in earliest times throughout Africa, the Middle East, Mediterranean countries and Europe. What’s not to like?
Eggs, hens and early civilisations
We’re used to going to the supermarket to buy eggs. It’s nothing unusual for us. Eggs are on sale all year round.
However, historically, this is a relatively recent development.
Hens cannot lay eggs without a generous supply of light. Today, this is done artificially indoors so that we can enjoy them throughout the year. However, in the old days, as daylight grew shorter, people used to gather eggs for winter storage. At some point during the winter when production had ground to a halt, they probably ran out or the eggs spoiled.
Once longer days rolled around in the Spring, hens guarded their newly-laid eggs by hiding them. Georgiou tells us:
When does laying season begin? You guessed it.
And, if you’ve ever kept free-range chickens, you know that this time of year they hide them everywhere. Yes, even in the grass. (No, I never kept chickens, but when I was in college, my landlord did, and these are things I can attest to personally.)
Hmm. Think of American Easter baskets. They have artificial grass and chocolate eggs, a throwback to a hen’s natural behaviour.
She explains that in pagan times, the hare’s winter behaviour — nocturnal — was associated with the moon. In springtime, hares resumed running around during the day. Eggs also began reappearing; pagans connected them with the sun, the ‘golden egg’:
The two together indicate a balance between the sun and moon, appropriate for a holiday that is centered around the vernal equinox, a time of equal day and night, and also to indicate the fertility of the season.
Therefore, eggs were a prominent food at pagan rituals taking place at this time. Infoplease says that the ancient Egyptians, Persians and Romans all used them.
Early Christian missionaries used the egg as a symbol for the Resurrection: out of the hard shell (the tomb), new life emerges.
As Christianity displaced paganism, various peoples attached this symbolism to the egg. Elaborate decorations also appeared.
The pagan fasting became a Christian tradition, recalling Christ’s own 40 days in the desert. Not only was meat restricted, eggs were, too. Easter represented Christ’s Resurrection and the end of the fast.
People gave each other eggs as gifts, a token of mutual rejoicing at new life through our Lord’s victory over death and the tomb.
Christians in the Middle East and Greece painted eggs bright red, recalling His blood shed for our sins. Armenians carefully emptied the contents of the egg then painted the shells with pictures of our Lord, Mary and the saints. Early Germans also hollowed out eggs which they hung on trees. They coloured whole eggs green to give to family and friends on Maundy Thursday.
Austrians buried eggs in plants with decorative foliage. When they boiled the eggs afterward, a pretty plant pattern emerged on the shell. Further east, the Poles and the Ukranians painted eggs silver and gold. They also developed an elaborate method of egg decoration called pysanky. This involved applying designs in wax on the eggshell before dying it. They reapplied wax then boiled the egg again in other colours of dye. The end product was a multi-coloured, patterned delight.
In Russia, Tsar Alexander III wanted an exquisite Easter present for his wife. In 1885, he commissioned Pierre Faberge to create the first of what we know as Faberge eggs.
The white week — hebdomada alba — and Easter parades
Traditionally, Easter has been the time when catechumens — those who have been instructed in the faith — were baptised.
Centuries ago, the newly baptised wore white robes during Easter week to symbolise their new life in Christ. That week was referred to in early Christianity as hebdomada alba: ‘white week’ in Latin.
Infoplease says that during the Middle Ages local churches arranged religious processions after Mass on Easter Day. The congregation processed in their towns or villages following the clergy and deacons who carried a processional cross and/or a Paschal candle, which would have been lit at the Easter vigil service. Unlike today, people dressed up for church and Easter would have represented the perfect occasion for wearing new, Sunday best attire. Hats and bonnets would have been important, too, as they were seen by everyone. These processions, originally religious and solemn, became more secular and joyful. They evolved into what we know as Easter Parades.
The German Easter Hare — the children’s judge
From what we have seen so far in the history of springtime and Easter symbolism, we know that a) it was an important time of year as it meant food production could recommence, b) ancient civilisations attached atavistic importance to the hare and the egg and c) Christianity was able to biblically use certain elements — fasting, the tree of sacrifice and the egg — to make Christ’s death and resurrection more understandable to pagan populations.
In the 16th century, possibly the 15th, Germans borrowed the aforementioned Eostre story about the transformation of the bird into a hare that could lay eggs and transformed it into a religious Oschter Haws or Osterhase (‘Easter Hare’).
Children were told that a special hare would deliver gifts of colored eggs to the baskets made by good little boys and girls. Homemade baskets were crafted from bonnets and capes, and then hidden within the home. This tradition has evolved into modern-day Easter egg hunts and Easter baskets!
The first German settlers in the United States brought this tradition to Pennsylvania.
Parents told their children to be good or else the Easter Hare would not leave them a treat. I read elsewhere that the Easter Hare might determine that bad children needed a good whipping instead of a basket.
The Easter Hare — now the Easter Bunny — arrived in secret to leave these hidden eggs. From this we have the traditional Easter Egg Hunt.
We can see the similarity of the Easter Bunny with Father Christmas/Santa Claus operating on the reward-punishment basis. In Dutch traditions, Sinter Klaas (St Nick) goes around in the early hours of the morning on St Nicholas’s feast day — December 6 — to leave a treat or nothing. Sinter Klaas travels with his friend Black Pete, who metes out a whipping to bad boys and girls. These days, Black Pete is seen as politically incorrect. Whether he was actually from central Africa as today’s activists say is unclear. The best testimony on that came from one of my ex-colleagues, a Dutchman, who said that the warning his parents gave him before December 6 was, ‘Be good or the Spaniards will take you away!’ This refers to the long-standing rivalry centuries ago between the Netherlands and Spain. It is possible that Pete — Piet, in Dutch — represented Spaniards who would have had somewhat darker skin. Or Piet could have represented a similar-shaded person from St Nicholas’s native Turkey. Another theory posits that Piet was covered in soot from sliding down so many chimneys.
But I digress.
Suffice it to say that the Church’s principal feasts share this mandate for children to be good — or else. It’s an easy way of shaping their early behaviour into a civilised, godly one. What harm can that do? The child can digest ‘reward-punishment’ better than he can theology at that stage. That is not to say theology should not be paramount even then with prayers and Bible stories, but the ‘reward-punishment’ principle teaches simple, practical lessons quickly. A child’s mind only runs to the immediate future.
How Easter treats further developed
Germans developed the first edible Easter Hares out of pastry and sugar in the early 1800s.
Today, Easter is the second largest day of candy consumption during the year. The first, at least in the United States, is Hallowe’en. Here in the UK, it is probably Christmas.
We are awash in chocolate eggs and chocolate bunnies in the run-up to Easter. In fact, one of our local shops brought out creme eggs on the 11th day of Christmas this year: January 5!
We don’t have Easter baskets here in the UK, and now, having done this research, I know why.
Twenty-five (or more) years ago, candy companies sold complimentary mugs, sometimes egg cups, with their Easter eggs. This went by the wayside 20 years ago, unfortunately, although I was able to procure a Snickers mug for the 1990 World Cup, a Kit Kat one the following year and an M&Ms one, my last mug purchase. I still have all three. They are fun and practical.
Easter cards became popular in Victorian England. A 19th century stationer had a card with a hare on it and added a seasonal greeting. From there the rest is history.
Today, at least in the United States, Easter is the fourth-most popular greeting card holiday after Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day.
Last but not least — the pretzel
Before leaving the food aspect of Easter, it is worth pointing out that the pretzel is an Easter treat.
Apparently, the pretzel is the world’s oldest snack food. In 610 AD, an Italian monk wondered what to do with leftover bread dough. He decided to make small twists of dough, the shape of which was meant to resemble children’s arms folded in prayer.
Conclusion — and the Passover connection
In closing, what is important about Easter is that Christ Crucified – Christ Risen is the most important concept we can share with young people. An Easter basket helps to convey to a little one that shared joy of everlasting life through our Lord’s death and resurrection.
And we might also recall that one symbol — the egg — came to the Jewish Christians from the original Passover seder. Therefore, we acknowledge our spiritual history with the Old Testament as well as Jesus’s mandate for us in the Last Supper:
the hard-boiled egg is one of the seven symbols set out on the Seder plate. Easter and Passover, after all, are strongly connected to each other. According to the Gospel accounts, Jesus celebrated a Passover meal with his disciples just before the crucifixion. After the disciples began proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection, they continued to celebrate a yearly Passover in the way Jesus had instructed them to, remembering his death and, more importantly, what his death and resurrection meant for them.
Whatever way you choose to celebrate Easter with your family, I wish you a very happy one, indeed.
Palm Sunday falls on March 29 this year and marks the beginning of Holy Week.
Readers might be interested in the following posts in recalling our Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, an occasion of elation which would not last the week.
Jesus entered the city not held aloft by the Apostles nor sitting upon a horse — which symbolised power and battle — but on a humble donkey. This explanation gives us more information.
It is beautifully done. The first page suggests how to go about a daily devotion by beginning in prayer. It is commendable that those who put it together include a recitation of the Apostles Creed along with the Lord’s Prayer. Also included are Morning and Evening prayers, giving thanks to the Lord for personal and family safety.
Each week’s devotions have a different theme. The first is repentance.
Caveat: the PDF has to be printed, assembled and folded in the middle, because it is laid out in publisher’s format. Otherwise, one sees page 4 next to page 45, for example. Still, it is well worth doing.
Another good site for relevant Scripture verses is Brian Flamme’s Rightly Divided, referenced on page 45 of the PDF.
Both of these resources are also excellent for Anglicans looking for Lenten devotionals.
Yesterday’s post explained the reasons and history behind spiritual discipline during Lent.
Below are some suggestions for Lent for those who would like to do something a bit different.
When I was younger, I used to give up desserts in addition to observing Friday (and Ash Wednesday) fasts. A few years ago, I tried eating only one meal a day. As I was no longer working in town, there was no reason why it couldn’t be done. Since then, I’ve kept this up, rarely eating after dinner.
The ketogenic diet — high fat, moderate protein, very low carbohydrate — has helped greatly in this regard.
Dietary advice: the old ways are the best (my own story on the ketogenic diet)
A high fat and low carbohydrate way of eating is also very good in treating a variety of physical and mental medical conditions. (Some readers might need to discuss it with their doctor first.) Feeling better helps us to become better ambassadors for Christ:
Fat and a balanced mind (low-fat diets can imbalance serotonin and nerves)
High carbohydrate intake and depression (also epilepsy related [Dr Richard A Kunin’s paper])
High-carb, low-fat diets might cause Western diseases (cancer related)
Now that I am older and understand it better, sanctification has become more important. Part of this lifelong undertaking includes Bible study.
A few years ago, I was undertaking Bible reading every day during Lent. One year later, I had read it all. Would that I had done so before. These posts of mine explore methods of reading the entirety of Scripture which lend themselves to our busy modern lives:
Prayer is also vital to sanctification — our growth as Christians. However, a question mark remains over certain New Age practices which have migrated into the Church:
These suggestions are not to be construed as persuasion to adopt a Lenten discipline. As the Lutheran Pastor Abrahamson said, it is not obligatory nor is it salvific. However, many like to use these 40 days to further their personal sanctification but are not quite sure how to go about it.
I pray that those of us undertaking something special are able to keep a good Lent.
For Catholics, Anglicans and Lutherans Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent which ends the evening of Holy Saturday, the day before Easter.
The concept of Lent offends a number of Protestants who say that every day should be considered one of repentance. Others add that this is an extra-biblical or pagan practice, something many believers have gleaned from the Free Church of Scotland minister Alexander Hislop‘s book The Two Babylons.
In ‘Redeeming Holy Days from Pagan Lies — Ash Wednesday and Lent’ Abrahamson tells us that St Athanasius — and other doctors of the Church before him — took Lenten disciplines seriously in the earliest days of Christianity.
Pastor Abrahamson cites St Athanasius’s text from the fourth century (emphases mine below):
6. The beginning of the fast of forty days is on the fifth of Phamenoth (Mar. 1); and when, as I have said, we have first been purified and prepared by those days, we begin the holy week of the great Easter on the tenth of Pharmuthi (Apr. 5), in which, my beloved brethren, we should use more prolonged prayers, and fastings, and watchings, that we may be enabled to anoint our lintels with precious blood, and to escape the destroyer4021. Let us rest then, on the fifteenth of the month Pharmuthi (Apr. 10), for on the evening of that Saturday we hear the angels’ message, ‘Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is risen4022.’ Immediately afterwards that great Sunday receives us, I mean on the sixteenth of the same month Pharmuthi (April 11), on which our Lord having risen, gave us peace towards our neighbours. When then we have kept the feast according to His will, let us add from that first day in the holy week, the seven weeks of Pentecost, and as we then receive the grace of the Spirit, let us at all times give thanks to the Lord; through Whom to the Father be glory and dominion, in the Holy Ghost, for ever and ever. Amen.
Below are excerpts from Abrahamson’s post, which sheds more light on the subject of Lenten practice.
The ancient Church recognized that it was free from legalistic obligations, both from the Old Testament Law, and from new invented laws of men. St. Paul wrote about this in Colossians 2. They also knew from Scripture that they were not to use this liberty as an excuse for sin. (Romans 6) They knew that they were not to let their consciences be bound by new human regulations as if their salvation depended upon them. (Galatians 1-2) Whatever was beneficial for the teaching of God’s word and for the practice of the Christian life-consisting of repentance and forgiveness in the Means of Grace-was encouraged.
No human can require a Christian to use the fast of Lent as a saving work. A congregation can recommend the practice as a serious self-examination of one’s own sin and sinful appetites; of one’s own weaknesses. No human can require Christians to use ash on Ash Wednesday or any other day as a way of proving their faith.
And neither can any human forbid the use of the Lenten fast or the use of ashes either. Both are legalism, a replacing of the Gospel for a new law. The whole point of Ash Wednesday and the Lenten Fast is to look on ourselves as worthless and utterly needy: to look only upon Christ, to celebrate His feast in the Lord’s Supper, preach His passion and death upon the cross, and proclaim the Resurrection of Christ as the final seal upon our salvation.
Secondly, the near-universal consideration of Lent as a time of penitence, fasting and prayer:
We learn from this [Athanasius’s text] that even at the time the Nicene Creed was written, at the time Constantine the Great ruled, the Western and Eastern Churches practiced a voluntary fast for 40 days before Easter.
That this was practiced in Rome and elsewhere is seen in St. Athanasius’ letter from the year 340 A.D. when he returns from a meeting of pastors/bishops from all around the world, and he encourages his own congregations to continue in the same practice of the 40 day Lenten fast as does “the rest of the whole world.”
Thirdly, Abrahmson gives us several scriptural references concerning the use of ashes: 2 Samuel 13:19, Esther 4:1, Job 2:8, Isaiah 58:5, Jeremiah 6:26, Daniel 9:3, Jonah 3:6 and Luke 10:13. Therefore:
The practice of believers using ashes to represent sorrow and repentance is well testified in the Bible.
Fourthly, an explanation of how the days of Lent are calculated:
In order to count the 40 days of Lent the Sundays of that season are not counted as part of the fast. Rather the Sundays are each a minor feast day. If you add the six feast Sundays to the 40 fast days you get 46 days. That means that the first day of the Fast of Lent is a Wednesday, just as Athanasius explained.
From an Episcopalian perspective, Anne Kennedy — wife of the Revd Matt Kennedy — gave a good précis of the Episcopal / Anglican reasons for using Lent as a special time to progress in sanctification. I posted on her reflections last year. Mrs Kennedy took for her text Psalm 32, which includes these verses:
Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
She writes, in part:
This strikes me as a perfect entrance into a Lenten season of repentance and self examination. The gift of God’s forgiveness to the one who turns in sorrow for sin is the beginning point. It is the moment of greatest blessing. Many things come after it—love, grace, maturity, knowledge, enlightening of the heart and mind—but none of them can be had in their fullness without repentance, without turning around and walking towards God rather than away from him. And yet this beginning step is usually always the hardest, whether it is a first time repentance, or one of the many many times of contrition the Christian faces …
Certainly, we can accomplish nothing without divine grace. Therefore, we pray for more of it, particularly during this time.
It is also to be hoped that the discipline we undertake during these 40 days becomes an inherent part of us so that we may then progress to another stage of sanctification afterward.