Great Lent – the Second Week

Great Lent began a week ago for the Orthodox. Interestingly the first week of Lent is the hardest week until Holy Week. There are services pretty much every evening and the rules for fasting are stricter. It’s as if you began a race with a sprint only to realize that there are many more laps to go.

Many years ago I was on my high-school track team. I don’t really mean to joke when I say that it was so long ago they had not invented the running shoe. There were only shoes for sprinting – none of these modern, technological marvels that actually support your feet and ankles. My place on the track team was as a miler – but not the really pheidippidespic2good miler. I was what they called a “rabbit” (named for the mechanical rabbit that greyhounds chase). The starting pistol would go off, and off I would begin at a fairly fierce pace. If the other team took the bait, then they would try to keep up with me and after a couple of laps were exhausted. Then our really good miler, who had been running a sensible pace would kick into greater speed and leave the field behind. If I had a really good race, I might finish third. Generally, I finished tired. Being a rabbit is hard work.

The pace of the first week of Great Lent – though beginning at a rabbit’s speed – is not meant to set the pace for the rest of the fasting season. This second week, we begin to slow down to a pace we can sustain until Holy Week.

How that works varies from person to person. For me, it means fewer services (since I obviously attend all of them). My fasting becomes a little less rigorous.

St. Paul seems to have been fond of sports metaphors. To the Corinthians he wrote:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable (9:24-25).

To stay with St. Paul’s imagery – for what prize are we competing – and against whom are we competing? These are important questions because the answers tell us the reason for running the race. Our prize – as St. Paul notes, is an “imperishable crown.” It is the crown of eternal life – participation in the true Life of God. Our competition is everything that separates us from God. We fast, we pray, we give alms, we forgive our enemies, all in order to allow ourselves to be drawn deeper into the life of God. If in the middle of Lent we begin to fast in order to fast, or to say prayers because “we have to,” etc., we will have already lost the race. There is only one prize – Christ Himself.

And look out for rabbits.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.



11 responses to “Great Lent – the Second Week”

  1. Katia Avatar

    Father Bless,

    Thank you, for the beautiful(thinking) post!

    Everyday hard training, self-discipline (i was long distant runner), determination and good rest of the body is needed to win any prize but for Christ Himself we should try even harder because is Unique and will bring the greatest joy and happiness if we win Him.

    In the moment i compete only against my thoughts (my bad twin passions and desires) and believe me it is not easy i hardly win any race.

    Pray for me sinner

  2. asinusspinasmasticans Avatar

    Please pray for me, as I am a massive sinner, have not confessed in a year, and am daily struggling with fear and despair.

    Thank you

  3. Stephen W Avatar
    Stephen W

    Thank you Fr. Stephen.

    Before coming to Orthodoxy, I had hardly an idea of why I was running at all. Maybe to go to heaven or something. Since coming into the church I am amazed almost daily of the the richness and fullness in which the scriptures are explained and illumined, pointing us towards Christ Himself. Not just abstract knowledge about Christ. Also your post illustrates the idea of team work and it would seem that the race can not be won or even ran without our brothers and sisters in Christ. Thanks again. Let us all run a good race…together.

  4. Katia Avatar

    Hi Stephen W,

    You are so right … together in the Church, and you are very ‘lucky’ to be able to go to Church and take part in the service(public prayer) where i live there is no church (i wish so much if there were one i can go) all my circle of friends are non believers, sometimes i do feel like i am alone,in the race but then i remember i ve got my angel and feel better. Blogs like this do help a lot so Thank you father Stephen and to all

  5. coffeezombie Avatar

    I think one of the best indications to me that Orthodoxy has preserved the True Faith is in the Church’s understanding of humanity. This is just another example of that.

    I know that the pace I set for myself last week would be impossible to keep up. I think that just trying to keep it up for a week taught me that! But there seems to be a wisdom in being very strict at first.

    Since we’re talking sports, my main sports experience was little league baseball. I wasn’t very good. Regardless, one particular image I recall now: when a player would be preparing to go to bat, he would leave the dugout and go to a prescribed place to prepare. Preparation often consisted of taking a weight and fitting it onto the bat he would be swinging with. Then, while he waited for his turn to bat, he would take practice swings with the weighted bat. Once it was his turn to approach the plate, however, he would remove the weight.

    I think the purpose of this is similar to what I’ve heard about runners training with weights on their legs. Having prepared yourself by requiring more work than necessary, you can perform better when the time comes.

    Perhaps that is what this first week of Lent is about. It is the week we wear weights on our legs so that we may better run the race ahead of us beginning in week 2.

    I suppose it is also recursive, as Lent altogether is that same training for the rest of the year. 🙂

    Finally (forgive me for such a long comment!), my own priest talked two Sundays ago about how the first week is important because it sets the tone for the rest of Lent. This past week, he talked about how many people gain an insight during the first week of Lent. Perhaps, combined with what you say here, I can synthesize it all into the idea that, in the first week, we more strictly fast, pray more, etc., and, in the process, God helps us to “see our own faults;” perhaps in the first week we see in a new way the sins of which we need to repent.

    The rest of Lent is repenting of those sins. 🙂

  6. fatherstephen Avatar

    Run (don’t walk) to confession. It’s much better to go when you are in bad shape, than to try and wait until you’re doing better. Repent like a Publican.

  7. Sara Avatar


    Please go to confession! Please realize that your fear and despair are the result of built-up spiritual junk that will be washed away in the sacrament. Many of us are scared and anxious to go to confession; don’t listen to any desperate thoughts you may be having. Just go!

  8. Andrew K. D. Smith Avatar

    I gained insight into myself from this article. I hadn’t understood before why the first week is harder than the other weeks of lent (before holy week) – now I understand better. Thank you.

  9. Theodora Elizabeth Avatar
    Theodora Elizabeth

    I’m a rather practical sort – and the second week of Great Lent means that I can get my home into order again after being let go during the first week of Lent. I’m a choir member, and so at every service. I’m single and work days so I have no excuse to NOT be in church!

  10. margi Avatar

    My problem is that the first week of Lent is so hard that the second week, even though I’m still fasting, feels like cheating and I feel guilty, as if I’m pigging when I know perfectly well I’m not. I suppose the crucial word here is ‘feel’ and I should just stop but…

    I too am single and work days so I go to Church almost every day (can’t sing though, not even my cats can tolerate my singing) but eventually I need a couple of nights a week at home before 9pm as the sink starts to overflow and there are more clothes in the laundry basket than the wardrobe.

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