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Professor James Skedros of Holy Cross Lectures on History of Great Lent

March 21, 2019

BOSTON – Professor James Skedros, former Dean of Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology delivered a thoughtful and informative lecture at the St. Philip Greek Orthodox parish in Nashua, NH titled “The History of Great Lent.”

The lecture was attended by approximately 30 congregants and prior to the lecture a Lenten meal was offered by the choir of the church.

Professor Skedros made reference to a hymn chanted in the Presanctified Liturgy that speaks about not only food-related fasting but also its spiritual side. He made reference to the late distinguished professor of Liturgics Fr. Alexander Schmemann and his book Great Lent: Journey to Pascha, and said, “fasting helps us to live the life that we should live…the reality of Lent is a calling to fasting, prayer, and repentance. The calling to become the human beings that we had been called to become.”

Skedros also pointed out that “we all were created in the image and likeness of God but with uniqueness.”

He explained that “the word Lent is an Anglo-Saxon word which means Spring and he added that in the Greek Orthodox Church the word used is “Tessarakosti”, which comes from the number 40, a highly symbolic number; by the 4th century in the East Lent was called Tessarakosti.” He also said, “the earliest reference to Lent in Christianity is associated simply with Easter, which was simply called Pascha, from the Hebrew Pasch for Passover.”

In speaking about Easter he pointed out that “in the synoptic gospels, the last supper is a Passover meal; Jesus is the new Passover. In the Gospel of John the last supper was a regular meal; Jesus was crucified on a day of slaughtering of the lambs for Passover; Jesus is the Lamb of God for John.”

Regarding the history of fasting Skedros said that “in the 3rd century, Dionysios of Alexandria, wrote a letter noting that the fast for Easter should be one week long.”

Skedros added that “Saints Augustine and Jerome both claim that the extension to a 40-day fast was instituted during the reigns of the emperors Galerius, Maximinus Daia, and Licinius (306-323 AD). By the end of the 4th century pre-paschal Lent was in practice almost everywhere, an outgrowth of the preparation for baptism at Easter.”

He emphasized that “the duration of Lent and the ways of calculating it have varied. Originally the whole period lasted six weeks. Where Saturdays and Sundays were not fast days (except for the Holy Saturday), this amounted to only 36 days of fasting in Lent plus Holy Week; thus these day were called “the tithe of the year. Soon literalism and the desire to have 40 actual fast days led in the 6th and 7th century in Constantinople to the addition of another, pre-Lenten tyrine, or “Cheesefare Week” of fasting that, with six weeks of Lent plus Holy Week, makes a total of eight weeks, each with five fast days, 40 days in all.”

Dr. Skedros also spoke about the Book of Triodion the Lenten liturgical hymn book, and said that “the current Triodion begins with the Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee and ends with Vespers of Great and Holy Saturday.”

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