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Ash Wednesday begins season of Lent

The Rev. Robert Thomas applies ashes to the foreheads of churchgoers during Ash Wednesday service at the Christ Episcopal Church in Ironton.

As Christians look toward Easter, one of the holiest days of their religion, they enter into a season of reflection called Lent that begins with the sacred day of Ash Wednesday.

In honor of Ash Wednesday many churches in the county held special services, which included the imposition of ashes that were made from burning the palms used in last year’s service for Palm Sunday.

“When we impose the ashes, we say from dust you come to dust you return,” the Rev. Jan Williams, pastor of First Presbyterian Church, said. “It is a reminder of our mortality.”

The imposition of ashes dates back to the 11th Century, according to the Rev. Robert Thomas of Christ Episcopal Church.

“It is a reminder that we are dust and about the shortness of life and the fact we are to repent as often as needed and as we can,” Thomas said. “Ash Wednesday is always a particular reminder of the need for repentance. If you read the collects and prayers of Ash Wednesday, it was the time in the church’s year for the penitent to come to the church for absolution.”

The 40 days of Lent finds its Biblical roots in the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness, which according to the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, follow his baptism in the River Jordan.

“Lent comes from the word, lento, which means slow down,” Williams said. “It is a season where we try to slow down and prepare ourselves for Good Friday. If we are prepared for Good Friday, Easter is all the more encouraging and important.”

Part of the ritual of Lent is giving up something for the season, whether it is a favorite food or entertainment as a sacrifice. However pure deprivation isn’t the motivation for the act, Williams said.

“It is not giving up chocolate, but taking the time you would have eaten it or done something to contemplate what Jesus has done,” she said. “The time it takes to do that is spent contemplating your own life.”

Father Charles Moran, pastor of St. Ann’s Church in Chesapeake, noted that the Scripture reading for Ash Wednesday this year focused on making a permanent commitment to Jesus Christ.

“It emphasized if not now then when,” Moran said. “The idea is if we are not going to give ourselves to the Lord now when we are distracted by many things, when are we willing to give to him.”

Moran said Jesus came for two reasons: to do the will of God and let Christians know who God is.

“We spend out lives in pursuit of different types of comfort and our own penchants,” Moran said. “During Lent, it is giving up types of food in order to say I really want to concentrate on what God’s will is in my life, to have the mindset that focuses on the Lord.”