Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Where does Lent come from?

Ever wonder where Lent comes from?  Did it suddenly appear in middle ages?  Is it some kind of pagan thing the church adapted to it's own use?  Nope. It is Apostolic.  Yes, you heard correctly.  Lent is Apostolic.

First century Bishop, successor of the Apostle Peter, the child Jesus set beside him (Luke 9:46-48), and food for the emperor's lions, St. Ignatius of the Church of Antioch:

"These things, brethren, out of the affection which I entertain for you, I have felt compelled to write, exhorting you with a view to the glory of God, not as if I were a person of any consequence, but simply as a brother. Be ye subject to the bishop, to the presbyters, and to the deacons. Love one another in the Lord, as being the images of God. Take heed, ye husbands, that ye love your wives as your own members. Ye wives also, love your husbands, as being one with them in virtue of your union. If any one lives in chastity or continence, let him not be lifted up, lest he lose his reward. Do not lightly esteem the festivals. Despise not the period of forty days [e.g. Lent], for it comprises an imitation of the conduct of the Lord. After the week of the passion, do not neglect to fast on the fourth and sixth days, distributing at the same time of thine abundance to the poor." - Letter to the Philippians, Chapter XIII

Saint Irenaeus, disciple of St. Polycarp who was the disciple of St. John to whom Jesus entrusted the care of his mother, of the second century, makes the claim that the fasting preparation for Pascha (Passover/Easter) was a long standing tradition.

"For the controversy is not merely as regards the day, but also as regards the form itself of the fast, For some consider themselves bound to fast one day, others two days, others still more, while others [do so during] forty: the diurnal and the nocturnal hours they measure out together as their [fasting] day. And this variety among the observers [of the fasts] had not its origin in our time, but long before in that of our predecessors, some of whom probably, being not very accurate in their observance of it, handed down to posterity the custom as it had, through simplicity or private fancy, been. And yet nevertheless all these lived in peace one with another, and we also keep peace together. Thus, in fact, the difference [in observing] the fast establishes the harmony of [our common] faith."

Eventually the Church universally accepted, and established, an inviolate practice regarding lenten fasting still held to by Orthodox Christians.  This acceptance was similar to how Christians accepted the various books of the New Testament.

So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter." (2 Thess 2:15)

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