The Lenten season begins Wednesday. This week I’m exploring the history and practices of Lent.
Lent is a period of fasting, penance, and spiritual discipline in preparation for Easter, the most important Christian festival. It has been observed for over a thousand years.
The origins of the Lenten season are unclear. Many believe the practice of lent developed gradually in the early centuries of the Christian Church. The writings of the early Christian bishop Irenaeus in the second century first mention 40 days of fasting and spiritual preparation before Easter.
The practice of Lent became more widespread in the fourth century, as Christianity became the Roman Empire’s official religion. At that time, Lent was primarily observed by those preparing for baptism. It was a time of intense spiritual preparation and catechesis.
Athanasius of Alexandria was an important figure in the early Christian Church as a bishop and theologian in the fourth century. He was one of the leading voices in the debate over the nature of Christ. Athanasius defended the doctrine of the Trinity and the divinity of Christ. He also played a significant role in shaping the development of the Lenten season.
Athanasius wrote extensively on Lent’s practice in his leadership role and helped establish the 40 days of fasting and spiritual discipline. In his Festal Letters, Athanasius urged Christians to observe 40 days of preparation for Easter.
Athanasius believed that this preparation period was essential for Christians to grow their faith and deepen their relationship with God. He saw Lent as a time of spiritual renewal and transformation, a time to repent of sins and turn towards God with greater devotion and commitment.
Focus of Lent
Over time, the practice of Lent evolved and became more formalized, focusing on repentance, self-denial, and prayer. Currently, Christians worldwide observe Lent. Their customs and practices vary, but the purpose is to prepare hearts for Easter.
Father, as the Lenten season approaches,
My thoughts return to repentance —
I’m reminded that it is Your kindness
That leads me to this place,
Just the desire alone for You to search my heart
Requires a deep work of the Spirit —
Even more so, to be honest before You,
To accept and sacrifice the idols You reveal —
Soften my heart even now –
Change me from within,
Move me to follow Your leading
And may my life be holy and pleasing to You.
Follow my friend Ashley Wallace to learn how to incorporate Lenten practices in your family.