On Monday, March 10th, the Great Lent begins for Orthodox Christians. It is preceded by Forgiveness Sunday, which completes the Maslenitsa folk pancake feast.
Forgiveness Sunday marks the last day of eating meat or dairy products; on this day all Orthodox Christians ask each other forgiveness to start the fast with the kind soul, without harboring any anger towards their near ones.
The 40-day Great Lent is considered to be one of the four many-day fasts. It continues until Palm Sunday. The Great Lent is followed by fasting Holy Week to commemorate the last days of Jesus Christ's earth life and his sufferings.
Fasting means abstinence from both certain food and all harmful habits and amusements. This is the time of thoughts and assiduous prayers. The aim of any fasting is to exercise abstinence, cleanse the soul from passions and sinful thoughts, and submit the body and the soul to the spirit.
That is why, to be angry or desperate during the fasting period, for example, is as sinful as to drink wine or eat meat. It is better to break the fast than to abhor in pride and self-conceit from communication with the near ones who do not observe the fast strictly.
Speaking about the observance of bodily fasts, the holy fathers of the Church called themselves "sin mortifiers" rather than "flesh mortifiers." In pre-revolutionary Russia seriously ill persons, pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, soldiers, workers engaged in hard physical labor, and also travelers were excused from fasting. However, they observed especially strictly the spiritual fast, abstaining from amusements and repenting of the fast break at confession.
The remarks from the Pope came as "a very strong step towards degradation," "given the rather massive nature of homosexuality" among the Catholic clergy.