PENITENTIAL (LENTEN DAYS) AND DAYS COMMEMORATING THE SOULS OF THE DEAD
Holy Times also embrace penitential or Lenten days and days given over to prayers for the dead.
Lenten Days were established by the Church to facilitate the practice of penance and prayer prescribed by Christ Himself to atone for our sins as well as to see that we are properly disposed before the greater feasts. There are weekly fasts and annual fasts. Weekly fasts are those which come every week, for example, Friday. We fast every Friday in memory of the death of Jesus Christ on the cross for our sins. Annual Fasts are those which occur every year before some greater feast.
Amongst the annual fasts we find the Great Lent or Quadragesima, so called because it lasts for 40 days. It prepares us for the great feast of Easter, and it is during this period that we perform our Easter duties by going to confession. Another lent which lasts for 40 days is called the Pyllypiwka (from November 14th to December 24th) which prepares us for Christmas. Petriwka comes before the feast of the Apostles, Sts. Peter and Paul, and Spasiwka (from the word "Spas" or Savior) comes before the feast of the Assumption (from the 1st to the 15th of August). Spasiwka derives its name from the feast of "spas" (Savior) or Transfiguration which falls during the period of this lent.
Long ago the prescriptions for fasting were very strict. This strict fasting was observed during all the Lenten periods and Lenten days exclusive of Sundays and in the East exclusive of Saturdays and Sundays. It consisted of abstaining from meat and on certain days also from dairy products including eggs, or in fact eating nothing or very little. Nowadays the Church has eased the laws for fasting considerably in view of the tense productive life we are now leading. Today we are permitted to eat meat during Lenten days (with the exception of Fridays and a few days of strict fast during the year) on the recitation of certain prayers as prescribed by the Church.
Two days of the year which are one day fasts belong to the category of annual fasts, namely the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (Sept. 14th) and the Beheading of St. John the Baptist (Aug. 29th).
There are four weeks in the year called Compact Weeks during which the faithful are freed of any obligation of fasting or abstaining from meat even on Fridays. These are: 1) the week after Christmas, 2) the week after the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee, 3) the Bright Week after Easter, and 4) the week after Pentecost.
The days which the Church reserves for the commemoration and peace of the souls of departed Christians are called requiem days. These are: the Saturday before the Sunday of Cheesefare, the Saturdays before the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Sundays of the Great Lent, and the Saturday before Pentecost. There is a traditional custom for the priest and faithful to go out to the cemetery to pray over the graves of the dead. Panachydas or Parastases are sung. In some localities this is done on the Monday or Tuesday after Easter and in others at Pentecost or on some day between Easter and Pentecost.
During the Great Lent Sorokousty or Memorial Services (Parastas) are held for the deceased members of the families of the parish. On Wednesdays and Fridays of the Great Lent the "memorials" or names of the deceased are read out in the Sorokousty services. Every Saturday of the year the deceased Christians of the world are remembered by the Church for the Saturday services are dedicated to all the Saints and to the dead.