Meatfare and Cheesefare: the Basics
Great Lent is fast approaching. This Sunday is Meatfare and the following week is Cheesefare. I think these Sundays are really unique. In the Roman Catholic Church, these Sundays will merely be the 7th and 8th Sundays of Ordinary time. Boring, right? We Byzantine families are taking the time to prepare for Lent. That’s right. We spend a few weeks preparing for a season of preparation!
Meatfare Sunday is the second Sunday before Great Lent. It is called Meatfare because it is the last day to eat meat before Lent. Who doesn’t like a Sunday about food? Meatfare pancake breakfast at our church! This day is somewhat akin to Shrove Tuesday for Latin Rite Catholics. This Sunday is also called Judgment Sunday/Sunday of the Last Judgment. The gospel reading (Matthew 25:31-46) is Jesus describing our final judgment day.
Following the topic of judgment is forgiveness. Cheesefare Sunday is also called Forgiveness Sunday. The gospel reading (Matthew 6: 14-21) includes the message of forgiveness, fasting, and building up our treasures in heaven. How appropriate a reading for the day before the beginning of Lent! Cheesefare is also the last day to eat dairy products before Great Lent.
It is beautiful how these movable feasts connect the themes of judgment and forgiveness. We prepare for the Lenten season by contemplating our judgment and recognizing the ways in which we sin. Yet this is paired with a reminder of God’s mercy and forgiveness.
The gospel reading of the Last Judgment is sometimes labelled in the Bible as The Sheep and the Goats. In our society most people don’t want to be called sheep. But on the day of judgment they certainly do! Jesus tells us that what we do to others is we do to Jesus. He describes the acts of mercy that the righteous have done for him: feed the hungry, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked… Then he goes on to explain to “the goats” that they did not feed him when he was hungry, or give him water when he was thirsty. These people are surprised and claim not to have recognized Jesus as being hungry or thirty.
In the busyness of our lives, it is easy to overlook the needs of others. Is someone at your work or church lonely? Struggling to get by? Do you know how your friends are doing, and do you make yourself available to help them if they need it? Is there someone you ignore or feel uncomfortable around? Perhaps God is challenging you to recognize the needs of one of His children.
This Sunday is a good time to reflect by yourself (and with your children) on the ways you are serving “the least of these” mentioned by Jesus in the gospel. If you have children and are having trouble thinking up of acts of mercy appropriate for them, check out our Nativity Fast printable.
Byzantine Traditions: Cheesefare Week
Although not specifically liturgical, Cheesefare week follows Meatfare Sunday. This is the last week to partake of dairy before Lent. Also, during this week we begin fasting from meat (for those who are able). Traditionally, this is the final week to have parties and celebrations that are not proper to the solemn nature of the Lenten season. Big parties, weddings, and other major celebrations are rarely permitted during Lent. When they are allowed, they are often done on a much smaller scale.
Sometimes dancing, secular music, and other distractions from religious life are forgone during Great Lent. Because of this, people splurge on these activities during this week in anticipation of them being given up. (Again, this is rather like the Roman Catholic Shrove Tuesday). Many cultures have a special activity done each day of the week during Cheesefare. These vary from culture to culture but may include things like dancing, visiting certain relatives, or winter activities like sleigh rides and snowball fights.
Aside from Cheesefare and Forgiveness Sunday, this day is also called Adam’s Lament. We remember how Adam was banished from Eden, and join with Adam and Eve in expressing our sorrow over the sins which have separated us from God. This prepares us for our Lenten journey towards Easter. Christ’s death and resurrection reopens the gate to Paradise and restores our relationship with God. We mourn the loss in order to remember the joy of the hope which has been given to us through Christ.
The Rite of Forgiveness is celebrated following Vespers. During it the priest apologizes to the people for the sins he has committed against them, and the people do the same. The people offer forgiveness to the priest, and the priest offers the same reconciliation for us. This act of mutual forgiveness reminds us that we cannot reunite ourselves to God while we are not reconciled with each other.
The gospel reading calls for fasting and forgiveness, which reminds us why we celebrate Great Lent as we do. Fasting helps us to better hear God’s voice, and forgiveness enacts God’s will and grace in our lives. By letting go of our anger and other earthly attachments, we make more room for God in our lives.
The Byzantine Life
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