Ashes to Ashes: Ames Christians begin Lent fast

Madison Richards, ISU Orthodox Christian Fellowship President

Talon Delaney

You are dust, and to dust you will return.

This scripture inspired the Christian tradition of Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lenten in many Christian faiths. Lenten, or Lent, is 40 day long celebration of fasting with deep roots in Biblical literature.

The number 40 bears significance in the Bible: The Jews walked 40 years through the desert from Egypt to Israel. It was 40 days Jesus fasted in the desert and faced temptation from Satan, according to the gospels. It is in this respect certain Christian traditions observe Lent, but not every tradition does it the same way.

Today is Ash Wednesday, when Catholics and Lutherans mark a cross in ash upon their foreheads to symbolize their mortality. It references Genesis 3:19, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” in the King James Bible.

In many faiths the fast lasts from Ash Wednesday until Easter Sunday. Not all Christians who celebrate Lent recognize Ash Wednesday. Eastern Orthodox Christians still fast, but they begin and end on different days, and have different fasting conditions than Catholic or Protestant traditions.

This is because of the split in the Christian Church in 1054 which separated the Church into the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. Many differences, small and big, arose after the schism.

“The Eastern Orthodox faiths have never celebrated Ash Wednesday,” said Father Martin Watt, a pastor at Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church in Ames. “We actually won’t begin our Lent until next Monday.”

That Monday is Feb.19. Eastern Orthodox Christians will fast until their Easter on April 8, a week after Catholics and certain Protestants celebrate the same holiday.

“We use the Julian Calendar,” Watt explained. The Roman Catholics adopted the Gregorian calendar after the split, which is an adaption of the Julian Calendar from the days of Julius Caesar.

Celebrating Ash Wednesday isn’t like celebrating other holidays. The word “solemn” is often using when describing Lent.

“It’s broad use of the word celebration,” said Father Aaron Junge, a pastor at Saint Thomas Aquinas Church on Lincoln Way. “It’s not a wild celebration, one can think of it in a similar sense as an engagement celebration, where there’s still work to be done.”

To Junge, Lent is a time to remember God, and fasting reminds him “that only God is going to satisfy.” However, Lent is a largely individual experience. A Daily reporter spoke to three student religious leaders at ISU about what the Lent fast means to them.

Madison Smith

“Lent strengthens our relationship with God. It reminds us these are just worldly foods and we are in control of our choices.”

Smith, junior in business, is an Eastern Orthodox Christian, a denomination that doesn’t actually observe Ash Wednesday. However, they still observe a fasting period where they abstain from meat, dairy, eggs, and alcohol. They are permitted to eat shellfish and also drink wine on the weekends.

“We try to always follow the rules, but there is some leniency,” Smith said. “We’re all human and we have struggles.”

Smith is the President of the Orthodox Christian Fellowship at ISU, a small student group of about ten members. She said coming to Ames was a bit of a shock after being raised in a Greek Orthodox tradition in the Quad Cities.

“I go to a Russian Orthodox church now, and the transition threw me off at first,” Smith said. “But I’ve realized it’s basically just the same.”

Smith regularly received sermons in a mix of English and Greek at her hometown church, with Ethiopian and other translations as well.

It’s Smith’s first year as club president. She actually won her leadership in a game of rock-paper-scissors with the club treasurer.

Curtis Richards

“We fast as a community, and we’re all sharing an infinitesimal piece of Christ’s cross together.”

Richards, senior in mechanical engineering, calls himself a “cradle-Catholic,” which means he was baptized in the Catholic tradition as a child and has upheld the faith ever since.

He is also the president of ISU’s Catholic Student Community, an organization with more than 100 student members.

“What’s known about Lent is you give something up, but it’s more than that,” Richards said. “It’s like I’m in control of my choices and my relationship with God.”

Richards said coming to Iowa State had a positive effect on his faith and strengthened his convictions.

“I didn’t really have a sense of community in the church, the closest Catholic church was nearly 20 miles away,” Richards remembered. “ISU really offered that community feeling.”

Richards also explained the “universal aspect” of Catholicism: No matter where you go, the mass is the same.

Catholics abstain from eating meat on every Friday during Lent, and many choose to either give up a vice or take up a character building task in that time as well.

Tyler Gathman

“Ash Wednesday helps us focus on the big picture and improve as people. It’s a very somber holiday.”

Gathman, senior in mechanical engineering, was born and raised in the Lutheran Church. He is currently the vice president of the Lutheran Campus Ministry (LCM).

Gathman is from Rochester, Minnesota, and wants to enter Iowa State’s pre-medical program after he graduates.

“How Lutherans celebrate Lent is really up to the individual,” Gathman said. “We’re not going to ask you stop eating meat or anything like that.”

Like Catholics, many Lutherans give up a vice during Lent, and many also set personal goals to achieve between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday.

“I knew I wanted a social group with a faith connection,” Gathman said about joining LCM. “Getting involved with other Lutherans in Ames really helped my college experience.”

Gathman has been an LCM member since his freshman year. LCM currently has about 15 student members.

Ash Wednesday Services at Local Churches

  • Collegiate Presbyterian Church

    • 159 Sheldon Ave

    • 7 p.m.: Ash Wednesday Service

  • Saint Thomas Aquinas Church

    • 2210 Lincoln way

    • 7 a.m., noon, 5:15 p.m., 9:15 a.m.: Ash Wednesday Services

  • Memorial Lutheran Church

    • 2228 Lincoln Way

    • 7 p.m.: Ash Wednesday Service

  • Saint Andrew’s Lutheran Church

    • 209 Colorado Ave.

    • 7 p.m.: Ash Wednesday Service

  • Trinity Christian Reformed Church

    • 3626 Ontario St.

    • 7 p.m.: Ash Wednesday