Elias Bejjani: What is The Ash Monday

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What is The Ash Monday
Elias Bejjani/March 04/19

Ash Monday is the first day of Lent and It is a moveable fast, falling on a different date each year because it is dependent on the date of Easter. It derives its name from the practice of placing ashes on the foreheads of adherents as a sign of mourning and repentance to God.

On The Ash Monday the priest ceremonially marks with wet ashes on the worshippers’ foreheads a visible cross while saying “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”. Worshippers are reminded of their sinfulness and mortality and thus, implicitly, of their need to repent in time.

Ash Monday (Greek: Καθαρά Δευτέρα), is also known as Clean and Pure Monday.

The common term for this day, refers to the leaving behind of sinful attitudes and non-fasting foods.

Our Maronite Catholic Church is notable amongst the Eastern rites employing the use of ashes on this day.

(In the Western Catholic Churches this day falls on Wednesday and accordingly it is called the “Ash Wednesday”)

Ash Monday is a Christian holy day of prayer, fasting, contemplating one’s transgressions and repentance.

Ash Monday is a reminder that we should begin Lent with good intentions and a desire to clean our spiritual house. It is a day of strict fasting including abstinence not only from meat but from eggs and dairy products as well.

Liturgically, Ash Monday—and thus Lent itself—begins on the preceding (Sunday) night,[2] at a special service called Forgiveness Vespers, which culminates with the Ceremony of Mutual Forgiveness, at which all present will bow down before one another and ask forgiveness. In this way, the faithful begin Lent with a clean conscience, with forgiveness, and with renewed Christian love. The entire first week of Great Lent is often referred to as “Clean Week”, and it is customary to go to Confession during this week, and to clean the house thoroughly.

The theme of Ash Monday is set by the Old Testament reading appointed to be read at the Sixth Hour on this day (Isaiah 1:1–20), which says, in part: Wash yourselves and You shall be clean; put away the wicked ways from your souls before Mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well. Seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, consider the fatherless, and plead for the widow. Come then, and let us reason together, says the Lord: Though your sins be as scarlet, I will make them white as snow; and though they be red like crimson, I will make them white as wool (vv. 16–18).

The Holy Bible stresses the conduct of humility and not bragging for fasting: Mathew 06/16-21: “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

It is worth mentioning that Ashes were used in ancient times to express grief. When Tamar was raped by her half-brother, “she sprinkled ashes on her head, tore her robe, and with her face buried in her hands went away crying” (2 Samuel 13:19).

Examples of the Ash practices among Jews are found in several other books of the Bible, including Numbers 19:9, 19:17, Jonah 3:6, Book of Esther 4:1, and Hebrews 9:13.
Jesus is quoted as speaking of the Ash practice in Matthew 11:21 and Luke 10:13: “If the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago (sitting) in sackcloth and ashes.”

Elias Bejjani
Canadian-Lebanese Human Rights activist, journalist and political commentator
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