Lent is intended to commemorate the forty days of fasting of Our Lord (Matthew 4:2 ). In our Church, as well as in all Eastern Churches, the great fast of Lent begins with the Monday following the Sunday of Poun Barekentan, and not on Ash Wednesday, as is the practice of the Roman Catholic Church. Lent is a period of forty days counting from the above-mentioned Monday to the evening of the Friday before Palm Sunday.
The whole Lenten period, including Holy Week, is intended to be one of self-discipline. In this order, particularly, we should consider our shortcomings, and ask God's help in rectifying them. Lent is a time for self-examination and self-appraisal, to strengthen our character and to renew our purpose in life. In trying to rededicate our lives to God, we try to exercise self-control over our appetites, which is a main principle behind the practice of Lent. Our choice to modify our diets is a physical discipline which is meant to correspond with a spiritual discipline. During lent we are to try to keep especially mindful of God, and pray to God, waiting with silent heart for him to answer. Fasting is a God ordained way of aiding in maintaining mindfulness of God.
The practice of fasting consists in refraining from all kinds of flesh meat, including fish, and all other animal foods, i.e., dairy products and eggs. During lent, we should also abstain from certain pleasures, shows, festive occasions, etc. We can at least devote more time to private prayer and church attendance.
In the Armenian Church all Sundays of Lent have meaningful names, which remind us of various basic Christian truths to meditate upon during that Sunday and the whole week following.
The Sunday preceding the first day of Lent is called in Armenian Poun Barekentan. Barekentan is an Armenian word used for all Sundays preceding a week of abstinence and means good or happy living. Poun Barekentan is the Armenian Carnival Day. People who are intending to observe Lent are permitted to indulge on this day in all kinds of feasting and merry-making.
According to the Armenian Church calendar this Sunday of Poun Barekentan is dedicated to the commemoration of the happy, healthy and carefree life which our first parents, Adam and Eve, enjoyed in the earthly Paradise. This commemoration reminds us of the Christian teaching that man was originally created to be in joyous communion with God and all His creation.
The second Sunday of Lent is called The Sunday of Expulsion and commemorates the exclusion or banishment of Adam and Eve from Paradise following their sin of disobedience. It reminds us of the sad consequences of sin. (Read Genesis 31-24 ).
The lesson of the third Sunday contains the parable of the two sons (Luke 15 11-23), and is often called The Sunday of the Prodigal Son. It teaches us how to regain the lost paradise.
The fourth Sunday is known as The Steward’s Sunday (Luke 16 1-13). It instructs us to use our intelligence to gain and preserve our spiritual life, to use our wealth to relieve the poor and needy, and to help our churches, so that one day we may be received into the everlasting dwellings.
The fifth Sunday is called The Sunday of the Judge (Luke 18 1-8). It reminds us of the importance of prayer in gaining and keeping our eternal happiness.
The last Sunday is called The Sunday of Advent (Mark Ch. 13). It reminds us of the last happenings of human history in this world
a) The end of present order to the world.
b) The second coming of Christ.
c) The resurrection of the dead.
d) The Last Judgment.
e) The Inauguration of a new order in the world, a new earth and a new heaven.
In accordance with the penitential spirit of the Lenten Season, the altars of the Church are closed and Divine Liturgy is said behind a closed curtain, in a low voice and in penitential tones. Besides the regular daily morning service the Armenian Church has another morning service called Arevakal which is generally sung during the Lenten season. This service has beautiful prayers and hymns.
In keeping with the spirit of Lent , the faithful are expected to abstain from worldly amusements, such as shows and parties while devoting themselves to church-going, prayer, penance and other religious activity.