Great Lent 101: A Few Tips for Beginners


In the first four days of Great Lent, the Canon of Repentance written by St Andrew of Crete is read in churches during the Great Compline. This service is a “tuning fork”, setting the mood for Great Lent. The canon is full of instructive images from the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. It is a good idea to familiarize yourself in advance with the appropriate reading of the Great Canon for each particular day. New Christians can always bring these texts to the temple, especially if the reading there is not very intelligible.

Those who are bedridden or far from the temple can play a video or an audio recording of the service.

The duration of the Great Canon reading is about 45 minutes. It is immediately followed by the Great Compline, which is about the same length (it is included into the Book of Hours and consists of 3 parts). So, the entire service lasts about 1.5 hours.

Maintaining the appropriate state of mind throughout the service can be difficult even for experienced church-goers. The Jesus Prayer makes this task easier.

About Food Limitations

Today the Russian Orthodox Church follows the Jerusalem Ecclesiastical Rules (Typikon) of Mar Saba (The Holy Lavra of Saint Sabbas). It is derived from the practice of a Palestinian monastery of 1695. Because of that, some of its fasting recommendations, such as dry eating, food without vegetable oil, etc. may need to be treated with discernment by laymen.

For example, when according to the Typicon we take the vegetable oil off the table on certain days, let us also remember that in southern countries it is easily replaced with olives, making oil rather a superfluity in the monastic practice.

It should also be borne in mind that as we impose more food limitations on ourselves, we should also be praying more.

How often should we attend services and take part in the Sacraments during Great Lent?

This question does not usually arise for people following the “rhythm” of church life. The common pastoral advice is to take communion every Sunday and every holiday. It is also advisable to go to church on Sundays and holidays, as well as on particular Lenten services, such as the readings of the Great Canon and the life of St Mary of Egypt, the Veneration of the Holy Cross, the Laudation of the Mother of God and the entire cycle of the Holy Week starting with Lazarus Saturday. All of these are amazing services performed only once a year, and missing them for any reason is a heavy loss.

Rise When You Fall

It is never too late to start fasting or resume a broken fast. In case of failure, do not fall for the crafty trick of quitting fasting altogether on the plea of “doing it properly next year”.

For some reason, it is often believed that spiritual life is something that should work out spontaneously. That causes many to give up immediately after “stumbling” for the first time on their path towards God. Despondency is not a good counsellor; so beware of its provocative acts. Spiritual life has enough principles and laws to form a separate academic discipline called asceticism. Approach fasting wisely, studying and relying on the experience of the holy ascetics.

Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds
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