Clean Monday-Blog

Clean Monday in Greece

Also known as Orthodox Shrove Monday or Ash Monday. In Cyprus, the holiday may be called ‘Green Monday’.

Clean Monday (“Kathara Deftera”) begins the season of Great Lent (“Sarakosti”) in Eastern Orthodox Churches on the first day of the seventh week before the Greek Orthodox Easter Sunday.

Traditions of Clean Monday

Great Lent corresponds to Lent as found in Western Christianity, though the lengths of the periods are calculated in different ways. They both use a period of 40 days between the beginning and end of Lent, because of the 40 days that Jesus is said to have spent fasting the desert. However, Western Christendom doesn’t count Sundays because Jesus is recorded as having resurrected on a Sunday, whereas Eastern Orthodox churches do count Sundays.

Liturgically, Great Lent begins on the preceding Sunday night, at a special service in which all present bow down before one another and ask for forgiveness. In this way, the faithful begin the Great Lent with a clean conscience, forgiveness and renewed Christian love

This first day of Great Lent is called “Clean Monday” because Christians should begin the holy season with “clean hearts and good intentions.” It is also because the season of Lent is regarded as a time when Christians should clean up their spiritual house, coming to terms with their lives and rededicating themselves to a more holy and righteous way of living.

Clean Monday is a day of strict fasting. Christians are not allowed to eat from midnight to noon and can have no meat at all. Christians are also expected to spend extra time praying during the day and reading from the Bible.

The day of Clean Monday is sometimes called “Ash Monday,” by analogy to Ash Wednesday, the day on which Lent begins in Western Christianity.

Because Clean Monday is also considered to mark the first day of spring, Greeks tend to celebrate it with outdoor activities and picnics rather than fasting and prayer. These activities are often called ‘koulouma’.

Eating meat, eggs and dairy products is traditionally forbidden to Orthodox Christians throughout Lent, with fish being eaten only on two major feast days: on March 25th (Annunciation of the Virgin Mary) and on Palm Sunday. 

The consumption of shellfish and mollusks, however, is permitted in Greek Orthodox Churches.

Traditional foods include olives, taramosalata, octopus, and shrimp. A special kind of unleavened bread called “lagana” is baked only on Clean Monday.  The history of lagana dates back to the Old Testament and alludes to the help offered by God to the Israeli people while guiding them from Egypt to the promised land.

Greek children also create Kyra Sarakosti, known as Lady Lent. Without a mouth or ears, and with seven legs, she is either created out of dough or in cardboard cut-outs. Children cut off one of her legs per week until Easter.

In addition to picnics, outdoor activities used to celebrate the day include building and flying kites, dancing, and music.
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