Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent in Western Christianity, is quickly approaching. For those who might not know, Lent is when observants commit to a form of fasting or choose to temporarily give up other forms of luxury. In particular, Ash Wednesday derives its name from the practice of placing ashes on the foreheads of those who so choose as a sign of mourning and repentance to God. The ashes used are typically gathered after the palms from the previous year's Palm Sunday are burned.
Lent is observed by Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Anglicans and some Baptists. It is increasingly being observed by other denominations as well. According to the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus spent forty days fasting in the desert, where he endured temptation from Satan, before the beginning of his public ministry. Therefore, Lent is described as being forty days long, even though different denominations calculate the forty days differently.
Churches in Smyrna are holding special services this week to commemorate Ash Wednesday. In particular, St Benedict's Episcopal Church, 2160 Cooper Lake Road SE and St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church, 4300 King Springs Rd SE, both have special services planned for 7 a.m., noon and 7 p.m.
According to the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church in her 2012 Lent message to the church, Millennium Development Goals have been setup as the focus for Lenten study and discipline and prayer and fasting this year.
“I’m going to remind you that the Millennium Development Goals are about healing the worst of the world’s hunger. They’re about seeing that all children get access to primary education. They’re about empowering women. They’re about attending to issues of maternal health and child mortality. They’re about attending to issues of communicable disease like AIDS and malaria and tuberculosis. They’re about environmentally sustainable development, seeing that people have access to clean water and sanitation and that the conditions in slums are alleviated. And finally, they are about aid, foreign aid. They’re about trade relationships, and they’re about building partnerships for sustainable development in this world.”
She goes on to encourage that, “As you pray through the forty days of Lent, I encourage you to attend to the needs of those with the least around the world. I would invite you to study, both about how human beings live in other parts of the world and our own responsibility as Christians.”