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The Fast of Catechumens in the Armenian Church calendar

The fast of Catechumens (also called the First Lent) is practiced only in the Armenian Church. It begins three weeks before the Great Lent. In ancient times in this fasting period it was allowed to eat just bread with salt. Another restriction is the prohibition to celebrate the Divine Liturgy.

The aim of the fast of Catechumens is to purify five human senses from paganism. The word “catechumen” means a non-baptized person preparing for baptism. According to historical sources, in the ancient Armenian Church there was a tradition to undertake five day fasting before baptism to repent and to get freed of evil. That’s why the fast of Catechumens is sometimes called “the fast of salvation”.

The name “Fast of Catechumens” represents two ideas: the precursor of the Great Lent and the first fasting period of the Armenian Church.

The last day of the fast of Catechumens is Friday, the feast of Prophet Jonah. This day is commemorated in memory of his great repentance and abstinence.

Since the Armenian Church celebrates the feast of St. Sarkis on the Saturday following the fast, this fasting period is sometimes incorrectly called the fast of St. Sarkis. In the Middle Ages Georgian and Byzantine Churches blamed the Armenians for the fast connected with Saint Sarkis – they believed he had practiced dark magic. However, according to historical sources, in ancient times the Greek and Latin Churches also had the fast of Catechumens in their calendar.

 

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