For Western churches, Protestant and Catholic alike, the Lenten season extends over a 46 day period, beginning with Ash Wednesday and ending on Easter Eve. Sundays, being weekly commemorations of the first Easter, have never been considered Lenten fast days. With six Sundays in the period, there are 40 days in Lent, which corresponds to and symbolizes the 40 days Jesus spent fasting, praying and meditating in the wilderness before He began His ministry.
In the Armenian Apostolic Church, Lent is called Médz Bahk, which means Major Feast. It is the period between Poon Barékendan and Easter. Unlike the Western Churches, the Lenten season in the Armenian church begins the day after Poon Barékendan, rather than on Ash Wednesday which the Western churches observe as the beginning of Lent. Each Sunday of Médz Bahk is devoted to a certain event and named accordingly (Sunday of Expulsion, Sunday of the Prodigal Son, Sunday of the Steward, Sunday of the Judge, Sunday of Advent and Palm Sunday.)
The Sunday preceding Lent is Poon Barékendan (Carnival), a day of celebration, an occasion for festivity and merrymaking. It is an observance of God’s creation of our first parents Adam and Eve and their life and joy in the Garden of Eden. The sharagans of the Armenian church also speak of Christ, “the Second Adam,” through Whom mankind was saved and became worthy of the heavenly happiness of paradise.
The first Sunday of Médz Bahk is Artaksman Kiraki (Expulsion Sunday), dedicated to the expulsion of Adam and Eve from paradise, and relates how Christ opened the gates of paradise to those who repent and accept Him.
The second Sunday of Lent is called Anaraki Kiraki, dedicated to the parable of the Prodigal Son, who after repentance came to his father’s home and was restored to his original state (Luke 15:11-24).
The third Sunday is called Tntesi Kiraki (Sunday of the Steward) and takes up the parable of the dishonest steward (Luke 16:1-9). It recommends the practice of prudence and wisdom for better ends.
The fourth Sunday is called Datavori Kiraki (The Judge’s Sunday) and treats the parable of the widow and the unjust judge (Luke 18:1-8). The teaching of the parable is persistence in prayer.
The fifth Sunday is called Galustyan Kiraki (Advent Sunday) focusing on the second coming of Christ.
The sixth Sunday is Tzaghkazard (Palm Sunday), dedicated to Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem. The rite performed on that day is the Drunpatzek (opening the door). It is a reminder of the coming of Judgement Day.
The English word Lent is derived from the Anglo-Saxon Lencten, meaning “spring.” In the Armenian tradition, it is “fasting.” It is abstinence and restraint from eating certain foods and time spent for meditation, self-examination and repentance. But whatever tradition one belongs to, Lent is a period of the deepening and broadening of spiritual life; that is, a deepening of insight, self-discipline and dedication, and a broadening of outlook, compassion and vision.
Early church leaders realized what this period of self-denial, self-discipline and prayer meant in Jesus’ life. They established this period to help the early Christians realize that the complete fulfillment of Christian living came through these very acts.
Today, people observe Lent in a variety of ways. Some observe it by giving up certain things—some by taking on certain things. The danger is that when Lent is over, the deepening and broadening process may not have occurred or may come to an end. Lent, however, is designed to be a period of such significance in our lives that what occurs in it may be that which makes possible a continuing growth and advancement in Christian faith and practice. Self-denial, giving up something just for the sake of giving it up, means nothing. Each of us needs those times when we set out for ourselves to think of the primary concerns of our lives. We need to put aside all the extraneous, unimportant activities and interests and center our thinking and action on that which gives the proper direction to our living. Lent prepares us for the atonement of Jesus Christ. Atonement means unity; separating the three syllables, you have “at-one-ment”, and this is descriptive of its meaning. It is fulfillment, totality, personality integration and being in tune with life and life’s Creator.
In our spiritual life, may Lent be synonymous with spring and its meaning, emphasizing reawakening, renewal and rebirth for all of us—a time to reject our old, tired selves and to recreate anew our image. But most of all may it be a season to revive and reaffirm our faith in God.