Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Orthodox Shrove Tuesday

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Yup! It's here, that celebratory day where all is prepared for the solemn observance of that "bright sadness" known as Great Lent.

But this celebratory atmosphere preceding Great Lent is not just something we crazy Western Rite Orthodox do, though you would never know it reading some blog enteries like this one: "The Great Fast, as the Orthodox also call it, begins not with parties, suppers or benders, but with one of the most moving services in all of Christianity. In the evening of Cheesefare Sunday, the church serves Forgiveness Vespers."

What the good author seems to forget is that in Russia, Cheesefare week is a festive time, with "parties, suppers and benders," chilled vodka and champagne flowing everywhere and pastry shops open almost around the clock, in addition to a generous consumption of pancakes, or blinis. This festive week is known as Maslenitsa, or "butter week." As the above photo shows, it can be somewhat "carnivalesque" (this is a Maslenitsa festival in Melbourne, Australia).

For parishes observing the Latin and English rites in the Antiochian Western Rite Vicariate and ROCOR, Shrove Tuesday is a time for making one's confession before Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent for the Western Rite. Celebration marks this special Tuesday before the imposition of ashes on Wednesday, when we will hear the solemn sentence "Remember, man, that thou art dust, and to dust shalt thou return." Shrove Tuesday is a day of pancake suppers, a day to have that last celebratory dinner before the beginning of the solemn season of the Great Fast, on the way to resurrection glory.

Confession, pancakes, celebration: not a bad way to begin the Great Fast, whether you call it Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras (without the excesses, of course) or Maslenitsa.

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