Great Lent, Megali Sarakosti in Greek, is the period of our spiritual and physical preparation preceding Pascha, the glorious Resurrection of our Lord. It is a period of deep reflection into our inner self, repentance, confession and prayer, in view of our co-suffering the Passion of our Lord, but also of the joyous anticipation of His Resurrection. According to our Holy Fathers, it is especially during Great Lent when we can experience the so-called “joyful sadness” (χαρμολύπη), which comes from such strong and contrasting emotions.
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Great Lent resources
The lesson plan on this page is an introduction to Great Lent. We have also created material for all the Sundays of Great Lent. All of our Great Lent resources can be found on our page: Great Lent resources.
Great Lent Activity Package
Spoon Lady Lent
Printing problems? PLEASE CLICK HERE
FREE: Orthodox fasting resources
In addition to the material found in this page, we have also created resources for teaching the meaning and details of Orthodox fasting. CLICK HERE to go to the relevant web page.
A colorful wall hanging calendar made out of soft fleece fabric, to count down the weeks of Great Lent.
TEACHING ABOUT GREAT LENT
- Great Lent is a time to prepare ourselves in order to celebrate Pascha.
- This preparation is for both our body and soul. In practice, it consists of:
3. Religious study
- Great Lent roughly lasts for seven weeks (including Holy week – see details at Background section below).
- Each Sunday of Lent, we celebrate something special. The last Sunday of Lent is Pascha.
Taking into account the above main ponts, objectives for a lesson series on Great Lent for children in preschool through lower Elementary could be set up as follows.
At the end of the lesson series, they should be able to:
- Explain that Lent is a time to prepare for Pascha.
- Name Lady Lent.
- Using visual aids, describe Lady Lent as a woman with many legs, and explain that when we reach her last leg, it will be Pascha.
- Mention at least one of the things we do during Lent (prayer, fasting, religious study, almsgiving).
In addition to the above objectives, they should be able to:
- Number Lady Lent’s legs and describe her special features (eyes, mouth, hands – see below).
- Mention all four of the things we do during Lent.
- Generally identify lenten foods as non-animal based.
- Pick out the lenten foods when shown pictures of both lenten and non-lenten foods.
- Briefly explain what we celebrate on each Lent Sunday – if this is too much, at least Sundays #1, 3, 6 and 7.
Planning the lesson
Great Lent is such an important period in the Orthodox ecclesiastical calendar, that we usually devote more than one lessons to it. This webpage contains all of our Great Lent resources, which are too many to be used together in one lesson. We usually separate them as follows:
- Introduction (our animation video and accompanying printables can be helpful for this – see top of page)
- Lady Lent poster or wall hanging (see below)
- What we do at Lent (see printable activity package on top of page)
- Spoon Lady Lent (a project that continues for the whole of Lent – see below)
- Fasting (see printable activity package on top of page, plus additional resources on our Orthodox Fasting page)
Lady Lent (Kyra Sarakosti) poster/calendar
Lady Lent is a well-known, beloved Greek tradition which works like an Advent calendar. She is usually made out of dough or paper, and one of her feet is cut off at the end of every week of Lent – until Pascha is reached. It can be an engaging teaching tool, helping the children grasp the rather abstract meaning of this very important period.
While making Lady Lent, we explain to the children that Lady Lent’s seven feet correspond to the seven weeks of Great Lent, which is the time we spend getting ready for Pascha. We discuss how Lady Lent has a cross on her head, hands crossed in prayer, no mouth because she is fasting and refrains from speaking unkindly. Additionally, her eyes are closed because she avoids seeing anything bad.
To make your own Lady Lent calendar, you can use our free ideas below or you can purchase our fabric wall hanging calendar DIY kit.
Paper Lady lent poster
If you would like to make the above hanging calendar out of paper, we have included the design and instructions in our printable Great Lent Activity Package (see top of page).
Sock-leg Lady Lent
– Butcher paper or poster paper
– Pieces of fabric (several different kinds), lace, buttons, stickers, and other decorative materials
– A piece of yarn (for the hair)
– Two craft sticks (for the cross on the head)
– Socks (we often find single socks left over in the wash, which we collect for this activity)
– Cotton balls
We roughly draw a large figure of Lady Lent on butcher paper or colored poster board and embellish in class, in any way the children like. We make seven feet out of socks filled with cotton balls, and tape, staple or glue them at the hem of Lady Lent’s dress.
We also discuss how each Sunday of Lent has a special celebration associated with it. We have found marking all of the Sundays too much for young children to remember, so we choose to mark the most memorable Sundays with different symbols (a small icon for Sunday of Orthodoxy #1, a small cross for Veneration of the Cross #3, a small leaf for Palm Sunday #6, and a red egg for Pascha #7).
We explain that, on each of the Lenten Sundays, the class will be tearing off one foot. When all the feet are gone, it will be Pascha!
We hang Lady Lent at a prominent place and refer to her throughout the period of Great Lent.
Long-term project: Spoon Lady Lent
For this project you will need the Spoon Lady Lent Free Printable, which includes templates and crafting instructions.
Spoon Lady Lent is a cute project we have been doing with our youngest students for the past few years. It encourages them to put into practice everything they have been learning about Great Lent. This project involves parent/guardian participation.
– Wooden spoons
– Pipe cleaners
– Knitting yarn
– White or colored printer paper
– Glue stick and tacky glue
– Black marker for eyes
A completed Spoon Lady Lent consists of:
– A spoon body
– Yarn hair
– Pipe cleaner arms
– Paper dress
– A pocket
– Seven legs
– The tokens inside the pocket, different ones each week
Each child makes his/her own spoon Lady Lent, which s/he takes home. Lady Lent has a front pocket, into which seven round tokens are placed, different ones each week the project lasts for. Each token mentions a special task the child can do at home during the week.
Every child also brings home a chart. For each completed task , s/he is to glue the corresponding token on the chart. The child is to bring back the chart to Sunday School on the following Sunday, for a small reward. Even one completed task gets a reward.
Every Sunday, the tokens and chart are replaced with new ones, and we continue with this project throughout Great Lent. Some years we have started the project right before Great Lent, while others one or two weeks into Lent, in which case we don’t use all of the tokens in the packet.
Great Lent song
In class, we have been using a very cute song which is excellent for the youngest children. It is included in the new children’s book Since God Loves you and You Know It… Sing Out Loud!, by Christina Romas Connant. Special thanks to Christina for allowing us to copy it on our webpage.
Easter* is a special time
(to the tune of Pop Goes the Weasel)
Easter* is a special time
we prepare by fasting
Jesus died to save our souls
For life everlasting!
We prepare for 40 days
On Lent to cleanse our spirit
We give up foods like meat and cheese
And try to act with kindness.
Easter* is a special time
A time for new beginnings
Jesus died to help us all
go UP into heaven!
*replace Easter with Pascha
Great Lent is the second and largest part of the Triodion – a ten-week period which consists of Pre-Lent, Great Lent, and Holy Week. Technically, Holy Week does not belong to Great Lent, but, to make it easier on the faithful to understand the period preceding Pascha, it is often regarded as part of it.
- Pre-Lent consists of four Sundays and three weeks.
- Great Lent consists of five Sundays and six weeks.
- Holy Week begins on the Saturday of Lazarus and ends on Holy Saturday night.
The whole of the Triodion period with its special services, readings and hymnology, is offered to us as an opportunity to re-focus and reflect on our spiritual and physical condition, acknowledge and repent for our wrong-doings and passions, confess and change our mindset, and show Christian love, care and compassion to our fellowmen – especially those with whom we keep a certain distance.
The first week of Lent is called Clean (Purified) Week. Clean Monday is largely celebrated in the Orthodox world. In many traditions, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of the Clean Week are days of complete fast until the first Liturgy of the Pre-sanctified Gifts of that week – usually on Clean Wednesday evening – when the faithful may receive Holy Communion.
Sundays of Great Lent
Every Sunday of Lent is dedicated to a special Church event, feast, or Saint. The deeper meaning of each Sunday is reflected in the hymnology of the Church services. Here is a brief description of the Sundays of Great Lent, also linking to our lesson plan for each Sunday:
First Sunday of Lent: The Triumph of Orthodoxy
The Church commemorates the restoration of the Holy Icons and the end of Iconoclasm, as decreed by the Seventh and Eighth Ecumenical Councils, in the 8th and 9th c. AD. A Doxology is offered followed by a large procession (litany) of the Holy Icons around the church. At the conclusion of the procession, the priest proclaims the Synodikon (“As the Prophets beheld…”) of the Seventh Ecumenical Council on the Restoration of the Holy Icons.
Second Sunday of Lent: Saint Gregory Palamas
The Church commemorates Saint Gregory, archbishop of Thessaloniki of the 14th c. and Holy Father of the Church. He explained the doctrines of Orthodoxy and established the discipline of hesychasm, according to which man tries to get closer to God by praying unceasingly, especially the Jesus Prayer: “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”.
Third Sunday of Lent:: Veneration of the Holy Cross
In the middle of Great Lent, (Mid-Lent/Meso-sarakosti), the Church commemorates the finding of the True and Life-giving Cross of Christ by Saint Eleni in 326 AD. The Church readings and hymnology are about the Passion and Crucifixion of our Lord, and give us strength to continue our spiritual and physical struggle.
Fourth Sunday of Lent: Saint John Climacus
The Church commemorates Saint John Scholasticus, or Climacus (which means ‘of the Ladder’), a 6th c. monastic and theologian at St Catherine’s Monastery in Mount Sinai, who wrote the famous book The Ladder of Divine Ascent. For the faithful, the Ladder is the spiritual guide on how to attain perfection in thirty steps – each step is the desired virtue that brings the soul closer to God.
Fifth Sunday of Lent: Saint Mary of Egypt
The Church commemorates a great female Saint of the 4th c., St Mary of Egypt, the model of repentance. From her youth Saint Mary was leading such a sinful life that, when she went to venerate the Cross in Jerusalem, the all-holy Theotokos prevented her from entering the church. Mary burst into tears, deeply regretting her life, and prayed to the Theotokos to help her repent. The Mother of God directed her to retreat in the desert and there Mary lived alone for 48 years, with virtually no food, in prayer and repentance. Saint Mary received Holy Communion for the first time in her life by Saint Zosimas the monastic; she slept in the Lord shortly after that. Saint Mary’s life is an example that there is no sin great enough to keep us from finding God and live forever in His Resurrection.
Special Church services
Great Lent is accompanied by a number of services particular to this period.
- Divine Liturgy
Because of its celebratory (Resurrectional) character, the Divine Liturgy is not celebrated on weekdays, only on Saturdays, with the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, and on Sundays, with the Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great. Exception: the great feast of the Annunciation (Evangelismos) of the Theotokos.
- The Great Vespers of Forgiveness
Served in the evening of Forgiveness Sunday, it is the first service of Great Lent, with added penitential hymns and prayers. At the end of the service the faithful approach the priest and one another, and ask for forgiveness. Thus our Lenten journey begins with forgiveness and humility.
- The Great Compline (Mega Apodeipnon)
Served on week nights, the Great Compline is the after-dinner service with prayers and many Psalms of penitential character. During Great Lent it takes the place of the Small Compline.
- The Liturgy of the Pre-sanctified Gifts
Served on weekdays, this special Liturgy was created to fill the need of the faithful for frequent receiving of Holy Communion. The particularity of this Liturgy is that the priest offers Holy Communion using the Precious Gifts that have already been sanctified during the Divine Liturgy the previous Sunday.
- The Akathist Hymn to the Theotokos
The Akathist Hymn (or Salutations, Χαιρετισμοί) is a special service to the Theotokos, a magnificent poem of praise and supplication to Her to help us in our spiritual struggle. It consists of 24 stanzas (oikoi), that are sung in clusters of 6 on each Friday night of Great Lent. On Friday night of the fifth week, the final Akathist Friday, the whole Akathist is sung. The service of Small Compline precedes the Akathist.
- The Great Feast of the Annunciation (Evangelismos)
Always falling within Great Lent, March 25th is the celebration of the Good News that Archangel Gabriel brought to Virgin Mary: by God’s will she would become the Mother of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Fasting is lighter on that day – fish, oil and wine are allowed.
- Saturdays of the Souls (Psychosavata)
The Church remembers Her deceased faithful every Saturday throughout the year. There are four Saturdays especially designated for the public commemoration of those sleeping in the Lord: three of those Saturdays fall during the Triodion period -the first on the Saturday before Judgment Sunday, the second on the Saturday before Forgiveness Sunday and the third on the first Saturday of Lent, before the Sunday of Orthodoxy. The faithful are encouraged to place their kolyva offerings (boiled wheat for the souls of the dead) in the front of the church and at the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy, the priest offers a special memorial service commemorating all the names of our deceased brothers and sisters in the Lord.
Special readings and prayers
Great Lent’s focus on repentance, prayer and anticipation of the Resurrection is reflected in the Scripture readings, special prayers and hymnology of the Church.
- The Lenten Prayer of Saint Ephraim the Syrian
This beautiful prayer is read on the weekdays of Great Lent. It is a supplicatory prayer to our Lord and Savior to take away our passions and give us virtues – prostrations recommended:
O Lord and Master of my life!
Take from me the spirit of sloth, faint-heartedness, lust of power, and idle talk. (prostration)
But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant. (prostration)
Yea, Lord and King! Grant me to see my own errors and not to judge my brother, for Thou art blessed unto ages of ages. (prostration) Amen.
- The Great Canon of Repentance of Saint Andrew of Crete
Written by Saint Andrew, bishop of Crete in the 7th c., the Great Canon is a long poem of penitential character, which also includes personal reflections, readings from the Old and New Testaments, and lives of Saints, like St Mary of Egypt. It is sung in clusters during the first four evenings of Great Lent and in full on the Thursday of the Fifth week of Lent.
In today’s culture where material abundance is highly prized, it can be challenging to keep the fasting discipline of Great Lent. However, from the very beginning the Orthodox Church has been teaching that limitation on food is an important tool to control our impulses and intensify our spiritual struggle. By keeping a limited diet, we can be more attentive to temptations, maintain self-control, dedicate more time to pray and study Scripture, and use our resources -money saved from food, our time, and talents- to discreetly help our fellowmen in need.
We need to emphasize that the advice from our spiritual father and our health condition should be our guide to the appropriate fasting discipline. For details on fasting, see also our page on Orthodox Fasting.
- Our own article on Orthodox fasting
- Article on Great Lent from the Orthodox Church in America, part of Fr Thomas Hopko’s series on Orthodox Faith, Volume II – Worship: the Church Year.
- Video on the First week of Lent, from Coffee with Sister Vassa
Please note: We have had questions by some of our readers about using Sister Vassa’s videos in some of our pages. We understand that Sister Vassa supports some views that are considered controversial. The fact that we are sharing some of her videos doesn’t mean that we agree with the entirety of her online content. On the other hand, to the extent of our knowledge, we do find the specific videos in line with Orthodox teaching and helpful for discussing the specific topics.
- Video from Be the Bee, Youth and Young Adult Ministry, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, episode 26 – The Discipline of Fasting
Special thanks to Sister Vassa Larin and to Y2AM for allowing us to embed their videos in our webpage.
Special thanks to Christina Romas Connant of SinceGodLovesYou.com for allowing us to use her song in our page.
Our spoon Lady Lent was inspired by the “Lenten Treasure chest” project of Ms. Phyllis M. Onest, retired Director of Religious Education at the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Pittsburgh – her ideas and resources have been invaluable to our catechesis.
Scrapbooking paper used in the illustrations: