The Greek Orthodox Paschal (Easter) season starts with The Great Lent, beginning on a Monday (Clean Monday) seven weeks before Easter Sunday. The Greek Orthodox faith follows a modified Julian calendar to establish the date of Easter each year and Easter must fall after Passover, so it does not always or often coincide with the date of Easter in other faiths.
The Duration of Lent
The weeks of the Great Lent are:
- First Sunday (Sunday of Orthodoxy)
- Second Sunday (St. Gregory Palamas)
- Third Sunday (Adoration of Cross)
- Fourth Sunday (St. John of Climax)
- Fifth Sunday (St. Mary of Egypt)
- Palm Sunday through Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday
Greek Orthodox Lent is a time of fasting, which means abstaining from foods that contain animals with red blood (meats, poultry, game) and products from animals with red blood (milk, cheese, eggs, etc.), and fish and seafood with backbones. Olive oil and wine are also restricted. The number of meals each day is also limited.
Note: Vegetable margarine, shortening, and oils are allowed if they do not contain any dairy products and are not derived from olives.
The purpose of fasting is to cleanse the body as well as the spirit in preparation for accepting the Resurrection at Easter, which is the most sacred of all observances in the Greek Orthodox faith.
In addition to cleansing the body and spirit, Lent is also a traditional time for spring housecleaning. Houses and walls get new coats of whitewash or paint, and inside, cupboards, closets, and drawers and cleaned and freshened.
Menu and Recipes for Clean Monday
Clean Monday is the first day of Lent, and a great celebration filled with customs and traditions. Children make a paper doll called Lady Lent (Kyra Sarakosti) who has seven legs, representing the number of weeks in Lent. Each week, a leg is removed as we count down to Easter. On Clean Monday, everyone heads out for a day at the beach or in the country, or to their ancestral villages. In villages around Greece, tables are set and stocked with the traditional foods of the day to welcome visiting friends and family.
Foods eaten during Lent are restricted, but that doesn't mean Lenten dishes are boring and bland. A history of a diet that leans heavily toward the vegetarian has resulted in an array of delicious foods that meet Lenten requirements.
How to Know If a Recipe Meets Lenten Restrictions
When considering if a recipe meets the requirements, look for foods that have no meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, eggs, olive oil, and wine. Some favorites are adapted to meet Lenten restrictions by substituting vegetable oil for olive oil, and vegetable margarine for butter, and by using non-dairy products and egg substitutes.
Note: While the use of olive oil is restricted, many do use it during Lent, abstaining only on Clean Monday (the first day of Lent) and Holy Friday, which is a day of mourning. Two dates on which dietary restrictions are lifted are March 25th (Annunciation and also Greek Independence Day) and Palm Sunday. On these two days, fried salt cod with garlic puree has become traditional fare.