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Question 62.
Dear Fr Christopher, your blessing.
In Greek-speaking areas Pure Monday (Clean/Green Monday)  is usually celebrated with joyful festivities that include dancing and wine consumption. In what terms could this festive atmosphere be compatible with the spiritual character of Lent? Should all these customs be abolished in the long run?

Kissing your hand,

Answer to Question 62.

Dear Eleftheria,

One of the themes for the Sunday before the onset of Great Lent, known as Cheesefare Sunday/Forgiveness Sunday, is the Expulsion of Adam from the Paradise of bliss. This is a theme we hear in the hymns during Vespers and Mattins. Throughout the entire preparation period for Lent, the message we should have received is that man’s sin has deprived him of the blessed life in Paradise and his life on earth is in exile: a self imposed exile in that far away land of the Prodigal Son, distant from the fatherland which is our true home. Great Lent is our effort to return to paradise: a pilgrimage towards our heavenly fatherland. Thus, as we approach the start of our journey through Lent, we are reminded of how great a loss Paradise was for mankind: what beauty and sweetness, what blessings and delight Adam lost when he fell from grace and how much Adam must have wept bitterly knowing what he had lost. This is the message we hear in the hymns for the day, hymns like the following:
“Adam sat before Paradise and lamenting his nakedness, he wept: Woe is me! By evil deceit was I persuaded and led astray, and now I am an exile from glory. Woe is me! In my simplicity I was stripped naked, and now I am in want. O Paradise, no more shall I take pleasure in thy joy; no more shall I look upon the Lord my God and Maker, for I shall return to the earth whence I was taken. O merciful and compassionate Lord, to thee I cry aloud; I am fallen, have mercy on me”.
Clean/Green/Pure Monday is a day of great mourning and repentance where we should reflect on the Paradise of Bliss we have lost through Adam. As we begin our Lenten effort we are reminded that we are Adam, but Christ, the Saviour of the world has re-opened the gates of Paradise to everyone who would follow him. But to follow means to deny ourselves as Christ himself said “Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.”
Of all the fasts, Great Lent is the strictest with not only what we can eat but also on how many times we can eat. Before Lent begins we Have Cheesefare week which is a form of preparation for Lent. During this week no meat is allowed, but we may eat eggs, cheese and all dairy products and fish. Then as we enter lent, we should begin with a total fast which means that nothing may enter the mouth. For those who have the strength to keep this very strict fast, they will only have two meals in the first five days, on Wednesday and Friday evening after the Liturgy of the Presanctified. In practice this rule is kept only by monks, but many people keep a total fast on the first day. If one hasn’t the strength to keep a total fast then in the evening he/she may have some tea or fruit juice.
The Greek lay custom, which has everyone going out into the fields and having a party on Clean/Green Monday, makes a mockery of the fasting rule for the first day of Lent and ridicules the whole message of repentance. This is a deep-rooted tradition and, as practiced by older generations, only salads, vegetables and pulses were to be on the menu. In older times people only ate what they themselves produced and meat was only for Sundays and special feasts. In recent years, with many more foods readily available at the supermarket, people have been adding to the menu with calamari, octopus and fish, and for some who never fast, even meat on the barbecue is acceptable. All this is washed down with gallons of beer and wine and other alcohol beverages. One of the reasons for family get-togethers on Clean/Green Monday is that in Greece and Cyprus it is a National Holiday whereas in the Diaspora this custom has disappeared, because for most countries, it is just another working day.
In the Greek world, many occasions in the Ecclesiastical Calendar are an excuse for a family get-togethers and celebrations with the barbeques burning away and other meat dishes. Meatfare Sunday for example is the last Sunday before lent where meat is permitted. In popular language the day is known as “η Πρώτη Σήκωσης” in other words “the First Lifting” which refers to the lifting of certain foods from the household larder. In this case it is the lifting of all meat products which have to be lifted from the larder and consumed before the start of “Cheesefare week” which begins on the Monday. Most people will not stop eating meat on this day, even if it is prescribed by the Church, but that is no excuse not to have a party. In fact this is the second excuse for a party in the same week. The first was on the Thursday which is commonly known as Τσικνοπέμπτη, which translates as Scorching or Sizzling or Fat Thursday. Τσίκνα is the smell of burning meat and thus lends its meaning to the last Thursday before Lent that we eat meat. Of course we eat meat on the Weekend, but Saturdays and Sundays were never considered as true fasting days, so with the Friday being a fast, this Thursday is the last weekday for eating meat before lent. As such, it has become a custom and tradition or rather an excuse to celebrate this day with parties.
The next Sunday, the Sunday before the onset of Great Lent, Known as “Cheesefare Week” is also commonly known as “η Δεύτερη Σήκωσης” or the Second Lifting and again refers to lifting and consuming from the home all the non meat products that are not allowed to be eaten during the Lenten Fast such as cheese and dairy products, eggs and fish. This again is another excuse for a family celebration. One would think that people would have enough of celebrating, but the Greeks like to have one more on Clean/Green Monday which they refer to as “Κόψιμο της μύτη της Τεσσαρακοστής” which translated says “cutting the nose of Great Lent” meaning I suppose that Great Lent is a difficult period and by cutting the first day it should make the rest flow much easier.
As we have already seen, this festive atmosphere is totally incompatible with the spiritual character of the day and it is not something to which the Church gives her blessing. You ask: “Should all these customs be abolished in the long run?” Not all lay/folk traditions are bad and if observed correctly, certain traditions like the “First and Second Liftings” of Meatfare and Cheesefare Sundays have a practical purpose and therefore a valid reason for family get-togethers. As for the Clean/Green Monday celebrations, yes, is should be abolished, but how do you abolish a custom that is so deep-rooted in the lives of people? The Church has been trying for years, but without success. Unfortunately the majority of people are only Christian by name and do not even try to actively live according to the Gospel teachings. They do not see the harm, because they are ignorant of spiritual matters. Every year I tell my congregation of the true meaning of Clean/Green Monday and advice them that if they have to eat then only to eat vegetables without the party atmosphere with music, dancing and alcohol. No-one actually hears what I say that sometimes I feel it is better to say nothing and just let the day pass and be forgotten rather than making a commotion that might cause more harm than good.
All things said, someone who believes in Christ and leads a spiritual life doesn’t associate himself with these customs and doesn’t need the Church to tell him that they are wrong. The Holy Spirit guides and teaches us in what we should do and how to live. As for the rest of the people – God is love and patience and when they are ready to search for God, He will be there to enlighten them and show them the way.

With love in Christ
Fr. Christopher