March 2, 2011

Cheesefare Week

By Sergei Bulgakov

This week received its name because the holy Church, gradually leading believers into the ascetical deeds (podvig) of the holy Lent, with the approach of Cheese Fare Week puts them on the last step of the preparatory abstinence by prohibiting the partaking of meat and permitting the partaking of cheese and eggs, in order to accustom them to avoid pleasant foods and without grief to enter the fast. In popular speech it is called butter week or shrove tide (maslianitsi) week.

The holy Church calls it "the light before the journey of abstinence" and "the beginning of tenderness and repentance". Such a meaning of Cheese Fare Week is detailed and explained in its Divine services. Especially the canons and the stichera of these Divine services contain the praise of Lent and the representation of its saving fruits. During this week the Divine services enter into a closer relation with the Divine services of the Holy Forty Day Fast as the time of the latter approaches. Thus, the holy Church, highly honoring the time of the Holy Forty Day Fast as a sacred time for cleansing and immensely important for the Christian, with truly wise foresight and by sequence directs everything to lead us to "the most precious days of the Holy Forty Day Fast", cleansing us beforehand to prepare us for the fast and repentance.

In the sacred hymns for this week the Holy Church as mother appeals to all: "Let us now approach this week of cleansing before the all honorable sacred fast now at hand, illumining bodies and souls"; "Therefore let us hasten to cut off our evil deeds"; "Having come to the bright threshold of the holy fast, let us all with fervent hearts bring hymns of thanksgiving to Christ"; "Behold, all who love God, the door of repentance is already opened: come, let us hasten to enter therein, before Christ closes it, as if we were not worthy of it"; "The threshold to divine repentance is opened: let us fervently enter, purified in our bodies and observing abstinence from food and passions, as obedient servants of Christ, who has called the world into the Kingdom of Heaven"; "As we observe abstinence from meat and other foods, so let us also abstain from hatred of our neighbor, from lust and lies, and from all evil." "As we all stand at the entrance and threshold of the Fast let us all not begin this time of cleansing in a sinful way with self indulgence and drunkenness; but let us enter fervently with purity of heart that we may receive the immortal crowns and the worthy fruits of our labor".

To our deepest regret Cheese Fare Week is changed into a week of excesses in food and revelry in amusements because of our warped human understanding and customs. These earthly customs of ours which have transformed "the bright journey to the fast" and "the beginning of tenderness and repentance" into days of over-eating and incontinences, into days of every possible sort of soul destroying worldly amusements and recreation, are directly the opposite of the good intention of the Holy Church and shameful for its true children.

Really, by that measure as the Holy Church strengthens and ennobles its summoning voice for fasting and repentance, the world, as is known, today multiplies its amusements and entertainments, trying to take hold of the souls and hearts of the worshippers. How many seductions, temptations and dangers to the pure and undefiled heart are hidden under a seductive cover, even the so-called, innocent amusements and entertainments in these pre-lenten days! How many Christian souls are turned, so to say, in their whirlwind up to self-oblivion! What darkness and gloom covers souls, betrayed by passionate, seduced hearts or to unrestrained inclinations of the flesh! How many people for whom it will be necessary to wail many and bitter tears over a few hours of immediate fun and ecstasy of feelings! Can the most cautious be praised if they regret nothing and repent nothing, if they lost none of the beneficial gifts of a pure and undefiled heart, if none have suffered in the calmness of his conscience?

"Cheese Fare Week", teaches St. Tikhon of Zadonsk, "is the threshold and the beginning of the fast. That is why for the true children of the Church it is necessary to act all the more temperate in Cheese Fare Week than in the previous days, although they should always do so. However, will the Christian listen to the sweet odes of his loving mother?" "She ordains to revere these days more, but they commit more excesses; she commands to abstain, and they betray less control; she makes rules to cleanse body and soul, and they defile them more; she orders to lament committed sins, and they add more iniquities; she inspires God to be merciful, and they all the more anger the Most High God; she appoints a fast, and they overeat and revel more; she offers repentance, and they become more violent. A worthy voice of pity and weeping: 'Sons are born and raised up, for you reject me! Listen, O heaven and inspire, O earth!' Children have turned away from their mother, Christians do not listen to the holy Church, those who renounced Satan and all his works are again converted to the works of an evil spirit, a lamentable and altogether terrible work! And whoever does not listen to the Church, is not the son of Church; whoever is not the son of the Church, Christ is not his shepherd; whoever Christ is not the shepherd, is not the sheep of Christ; whoever is not the sheep of Christ, vainly expects eternal life. Such are the results of a licentious celebration of Cheese Fare Week. The very celebration of butter week (Maslianitsi, Maslenitsa, Масленица) in the aforesaid manner is pagan work. The Pagan false god (the inventor of intoxicated drink) to whom they have established a special annual feast (so called Bacchanalia) was and spent these festivals in every dissolute abomination. Look, do not Christians also do the same in observing butter week (maslianitsi), and is the same for many of these festivals? I do not have to show it to you: see it in the light of the midday. And once again I will say, that whoever spends butter week (maslianitsi) in excesses, it becomes obvious that he is disobedient to the Church and shows himself unworthy of the name of Christian". "In order to spend Cheese Fare Week according to the Christian obligation, it is needful to act according to how the Holy Church commands during this time, namely: to drop every indecent care and to drop evil customs, remembering the Last Judgment and our ancestral Fall."

We don't do Liturgies on Wednesday and Friday of Cheese Fare Week. But if the Feast of the Meeting or the feast of the temple falls on Wednesday or Friday of Cheese Fare, we perform that service, except that at the end of Vespers, Matins and each of the Hours we do the three full prostrations; therefore although at the end of Vespers we also do three full prostrations, but Vespers is both Little Vespers and Great Vespers. In Matins on Wednesday and Friday if there is no feast day celebration, we do not sing the Great Doxology. If the Meeting falls on Friday (see page 64) we sing the Three Ode Canon for Friday on Wednesday of Cheese Fare Week at Compline. If these days fall on January 30 or February 24, see pages 57 and 95.

On Wednesday and Friday of Cheese Fare Week fasting is authorized and it is permitted to partake cheese, eggs and fish as well during all of Cheese Fare Week in contrast to the Jacobites (Copts), holding to the Monophysite heresy and fasting during Cheese Fare Week in memory of the fast of the Ninevites and the Tetradites, who received this name because they did not observe the fast on Wednesdays (Tetrada, the fourth day of the week) during the whole year, but fasted during Cheese Fare Week.

The Prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian (for Wednesday and Friday of Cheese Fare Week)

O Lord and Master of my life. Do not give me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power and idle talk, but rather give to your servant the spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love. Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions and not to judge my brother, for blessed are you for ages of ages. Amen.


Read also: Let's Talk About Maslenitsa