The Great lent is a 54 day period of fasting observed by Orthodox Christians before the Feast of the Resurrection. This fasting period is called great, because its origin is the fast of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.
· Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ fasted for forty days and forty nights right after He was baptized. Following the example He set for us, we hold a forty day fasting period every year before Easter. But the total fasting period is actually fifty four days, because a week is added both before and after the 40 days fasting period.
· A week is added before the 40 day fast in remembrance of Emperor Heraclius of Constantinople, who led a successful military campaign against Persia to recapture the True Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ; and a week is added after the 40 days, and right before the Feast of the Resurrection in remembrance of the Lord’s suffering and crucifixion. This week, which is the last week of the fasting period is known as Holy Week or Passion Week.
Why did our Lord Jesus Christ fast?
· To set an example: Fasting is a spiritual virtue through which we overcome the desires of the flesh. That is why the Lord God calls us to return to him with fasting: “Turn to me with all your heart, with fasting…” /Joel 1:12/. The Lord Jesus Christ fasted forty days and forty nights to set an example for us of this virtue.
· To overcome the devil on behalf of Adam and Eve: When the serpent tested Adam and Eve, he tempted them with the forbidden fruit, tempted their eyes and desire by making appear attractive, and deceived them to tempt Godliness by promising them that they would be like God. He came to the Lord Jesus Christ while He was fasting in the wilderness with the same kind of temptations:
o He tempted the Lord with food saying “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” But the Lord overcame the temptation by replying, “It is written, ‘man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”
o Then the devil tried to persuade Him to tempt God by saying, “If you are the Son of God, throw Yourself down, for it is written: He shall give His angels charge for you and in their hands they shall bear you up…” But the Lord overcame this test by replying, “It is written again, you shall not tempt the Lord your God.”
o The devil again tempted His eyes by showing Him “all the kingdoms of the world and their glory” and promised to give Him all these things if the Lord Jesus Christ would fall down and worship him. But the Lord Jesus Christ rebuked Him saying, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘you shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.” /Matt. 4:1-11/
· To affirm the prophets fasting, and to bless a life of solitude: Fasting for forty days like Moses and Elijah /Exodus 34:28; 1 Kings 19:8/, he affirmed the prophets fast, and he blessed a life of solitude in prayer and fasting by holding the fast in the wilderness.
· Through this fasting period, we participate in the Lord’s fast, and receive the blessings of the prophets. We get the confidence to defeat Satan and his temptations, for the Lord Jesus Christ showed us how to overcome the deceiver.