Western Lent began on February 9 (Ash Wednesday) this year. We Orthodox are just beginning our preparations for Lent, which does not properly begin until March 13. Until then, we gradually begin readying ourselves for a 40 day fast when the observant will abstain from all meat and dairy products and, on most days, wine and oil as well. The purpose of this is not an annual orgy of masochism but rather, part of our preparation for the great feast of Pascha (Easter, as we Americans would say it.) Lent is a season of preparation and repentance. Not bad things generally for their own sake, but now we examine ourselves and struggle with our sins in preparation for the great shout of triumph and deliverance that is the Paschal service.
Years ago, while still a protestant, I heard a Greek Orthodox priest on the radio speaking about Pascha. I don't remember his name, or even what the show was. What I do remember is the joy in his voice when he spoke. It was the kind of joy that shakes the soul. Not the enthusiasm of crowds, or even the religious emotion of charismatic worship (what the Brits so cruelly, but accurately refer to as "happy-clappy") that I had known. It was the kind of joy you get when the doctor says the tumor is gone, or the child will live. That is the real goal of Lent; to learn more deeply the truth about ourselves, to know that it is in many ways a painful truth, so that when the great news of the resurrection comes to us again, we hear it as salvation and deliverance, life out of death, light out of darkness.