Wow. It's 10:38pm as I start to write this, but it feels so much later. I'm so tired.
In the Orthodox Church, we have a few weeks of preparation before Lent, the last of which is called Cheesefare Week (and means no meat or fish, but LOTS of milk! Got to use it all up, right? *wink*) and then the last Sunday is called Forgiveness Sunday. This year, that was today.
It's an intense day, not really from the services - it's something 'in the air' I suppose. Church this morning was just a normal Divine Liturgy (Mass), though it was HOT (40*C, ugh), but with only a few people because when it's hot most people at this Church stay home. We had been asked to help at the Greek festival, but as it was so hot there were very few people there. The minute we walked in the sun we just about died, and I turn red really easily so I was beetroot coloured by the time I got to the stall! People threw cold water at me and I cooled down. Eventually we got bored, and after some yummy food and thickshakes (c'mon, last day to eat dairy - THICKSHAKE!) we dropped Troy at his house and I went back to Jeremy's house to wait the afternoon out (another four hours, ish) before Vespers. He gave me a book called Dancing Alone by Frank Schaeffer which is wonderful...but he pulls no punches so it's hard going. Very true, just...ouch! He napped, and I read, and worked on memorising Psalm 50 (51 for everyone not Orthodox) which is one of my goals for this Lent.
Vespers was...wow. We had a packed Church, and the Bishop came, and we had every greek priest from the state, I think! It was incredible. And I'm used to Vespers, but this was something new. Halfway through the service they all processed through the Church, and then went inside the altar (there's a screen in front) and shut the doors. When they came out again, they had swapped their light coloured vestments for dark ones, and it was time for Lent to begin. The music changes, too - much more solemn, and we said Kyrie eleison (Lord have mercy) 40 times in a row! All the lights were turned out, and we finished the service in the dark. At the end, we lined up and the Bishop and priests were in a row, in order of rank, and we kissed each one's hand as they asked us to forgive them anything they might have done against us, and we asked the same in return. Then we went around doing the same to all our friends, and wishing each other a blessed fast!
Lent isn't as hard for us, I think. We all do it together, and it's a communal thing. Lots of chickpea curry for me, I think, and fassolada - bean soup with lots of vegies. We'll see if I still think it's 'easy' in a few weeks though!
The other thing for me is that it's a harbinger. At the end of Lent, 40ish days from now, I will make my vows before God and my Church to Orthodoxy, and be baptised. Which is wonderful, but kind of scary. As Father said tonight, this begins the time of earnest preparation.
May God help me :)
I know this is all a bit religious for my blog, even though I talk about religion a bit. It's just... so much part of my life, and today is so significant.
As we do this for all - to anyone reading this, all my friends and those I don't know, please forgive me anything I may have done to offend or hurt you in the past year, and to any Orthodox readers - have a blessed fast!