Byz-y Mama: Mid-Lent and Where We Go From Here

Dionisius [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Icon of the Descent into Hell, depicting Christ pulling up Adam and Eve. (Dionisius [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Today marks “Mid-Lent,” the beginning of the second half of the Great Fast. In the first portion of the fast, there tends to be a focus on ourselves–how we were created, our fallen nature, our particular personal sins and efforts–and this hopefully leaves us feeling how much we lack and how much we desperately need a savior. This second portion of the fast ushers in the hope for such a savior by focusing on God and on his role in our salvation and redemption.

(If you’re reading along with Father Schmemann’s book Great Lent, which I recommended in my last article, he gives a much more thorough explanation of Mid-Lent and the second half of the Great Fast on pages 76-78).

Too many times, we go through Great Lent, not to mention our entire lives, forgetting that Christ is the true savior and not us. It would be pretty tragic to arrive at the end of Lent feeling accomplished at our self-improvements, or upset by our failures, but virtually unaware of the true source and cause of our salvation.

To avoid this, the Church Fathers–who came up with a good idea every once in a while–organized the season’s liturgies and traditions in such a way as to help us arrive at the end of Great Lent with hope for God’s saving help in Christ’s incarnate life, death, and resurrection.

Below I’ve listed some of these liturgies and traditions. There are also a few contemporary ideas (Lord have mercy, I joined Pinterest…) that seemed in tune with the message of this second half of the season. I hope you can use what works and ignore for now what doesn’t. For the liturgical prayers, I have included links to their Ruthenian versions.

Liturgical and prayer traditions:
  • Matins of the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete: This is my absolute favorite prayer of the season. This is traditionally prayed in the morning (Matins is morning prayer) on Thursday during the fifth week of Lent, which is March 19th for Eastern Catholics this year. I would highly recommend attending this liturgy at a church for the richness of that experience. But it can still be very fruitful to pray the Canon at home or even break it up into small chunks if you’re very busy. Another worthwhile option is to purchase this album, which is also available on iTunes.
  • Moleben for the Great Fast: A shorter (by shorter, I mean, only 30 pages) prayer based on the Great Canon of St. Andrew.
  • Moleben for the Precious and Life-giving Cross: Although this was originally created for the feast of the Holy Cross in September, this moleben is a fitting and popular devotion for the Great Fast that keeps one’s mind on the cross.
  • Terce-Sext: The midday offices of the Great Fast, a way to step back from the craziness of the day and remember God’s saving help.
  • The Jesus Prayer: A very short prayer, but one aims to pray this constantly. For a brief explanation, I really appreciate the section titled “Keep Inner Stillness” as well as the section “The Prayer of Stillness” found in this essay. The second section immediately follows the first. (The entire essay is a wonderful read, by the way).
  • Pre-sanctified Divine Liturgies: The Divine Liturgies prayed on Wednesdays and Fridays as a means of offering spiritual sustenance for those days of most intense fasting. Given that we fast from the consecration of the Eucharist during the week, Pre-sanctified Divine Liturgies follow a somewhat different format from the normal Divine Liturgy, and the Eucharist that is distributed is what was consecrated on the previous Sunday. (See chapter 3 of Great Lent for more information on the Pre-sanctified Divine Liturgies).
Other ideas:
  • Make a salt-dough crown of thorns: Let me start by saying do NOT do this activity in the way it is commonly presented on Pinterest, and by that, I mean don’t do the thing where your kid gets to pull out a toothpick whenever they do something kind to symbolize how they are taking away Jesus’ pain. Not only is this theologically questionable at best, but the activity done this way emphasizes to family members how they can be Jesus’ savior instead of the other way around. However, it could be very powerful to make a salt dough crown of thorns, keep the toothpicks in, and then place the crown in an appropriate place where it can remind the family of Jesus’ sacrifice. (This might be too graphic for some children. As always, please use your parental discretion).
  • Lenten Sacrifices Bring Easter Flowers: A friend of mine (you can visit her website related to her awesome music and speaking ministries here) wrote about this activity on Facebook and is graciously allowing me to share it here. What I appreciate about this activity is that it is motivating for little ones while also supporting a conversation on how God makes our sacrifices something beautiful.
    Easter flowers activity, before the tissue paper is added. Image credit: Noelle Garcia, used with permission.

    Easter flowers activity, before the tissue paper is added. Image credit: Noelle Garcia, used with permission.

“First of all, this is not totally my idea- my mom used to do this with my siblings and I when we were growing up to give us a sense of the fruits of our labors so to speak! I wanted to do it with my kids for the same reason.

“I used a white poster board and drew outlines of a flower for each member of my family, writing each person’s name in the center of the flower. I cut up squares of various colored tissue paper for the petals and put them in a baggie taped to the board. To put a petal on, I simply put the square of tissue paper on my child’s finger tip, use a glue stick on the tissue paper on the tip of the finger, then have the child press the petal on to the flower. The tissue paper should look bunched up, almost like a cupcake wrapper!

“On some other slips of paper, I wrote down age appropriate sacrifices for my kids to choose from. What are the prayers they know? What are the chores that they can do? For older kids, my mom would write more challenging things like, give up TV for the afternoon, pray a Rosary, do a chore without being asked, etc. I repeated some of them as well so something might appear twice.

“In our family, we choose an offering each morning and then before bed evaluate if those things were done. If not, they get a quick chance to finish it! Then we glue all of our petals on before bed!”

  • Sticky notes for the faint of heart: By yourself or as a family, put some Bible verses, phrases from the Philokalia, or short prayers on sticky notes and then put them in appropriate places. For example, you could jot down a prayer against temptation and put it on the refrigerator. Or you might copy a Bible verse on charity and put it on your desk or wherever there are people who tend to push your buttons. (Note: it is apparently not appropriate to put a sticky note directly onto the difficult person’s forehead).
  • Make pretzels: According to one legend, the shape of a pretzel was originally invented over a thousand years ago to resemble arms folded across the chest during prayer, a position that is maintained in the Eastern churches. Here’s an easy recipe that involves no waiting for the dough to rise and no boiling water! And it tastes great! We brushed on melted Earth Balance (a vegan butter substitute) instead of egg for the wash, but if you’re really hardcore with your fasting and not eating oil during the week, you could leave off a wash of any kind and still have good pretzels. Either way, you have a delicious reminder to pray.
  • Paint (or otherwise craft) a cross with your kids: This Wikipedia article has a great, brief explanation of the format for the Byzantine cross as well as a picture that you can use as a model. Older kids can get really creative with media. The artistic process will allow for some meditation on the beauty of Christ’s sacrifice, and the final product will serve as a reminder of that beauty.

What are your favorite activities for Great Lent to remind you of God’s role in salvation?


Copyright 2015, Brittany Balke

Art: Descent into Hell, Dionisius [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
Easter flowers activity, Noelle Garcia, used with permission.


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