The Meaning of the Great Fast: Inner Unity of the Triodion

Beheading of the Venerable Cornelius the Abbot of the Pskov Caves

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,


O Lord and Master of my life, do not permit the spirit of laziness and meddling, the lust for power and idle talk to come into me. (Prostration) Instead, grant me, Your servant, the spirit of prudence, humility, patience and love. (Prostration) Yes, Lord and King, give me the power to see my own faults and not to judge my brother (or sister). (Prostration) For You are Blessed unto the ages of ages. Amen.



On February 20th Our Holy Orthodox Christian Church commemorates, honors, and entreats the holy intercessions of the following Saints, Forefathers, Fathers, Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Preachers, Evangelists, Martyrs, Confessors, Ascetics, Teachers and of every righteous soul made perfect in Our Holy Orthodox Christian faith: our Righteous Father Leo the Wonderworker, Bishop of Catania in Sicily; Holy Martyr Sadoc the Bishop, and another One Hundred and Twenty-eight martyrs who were perfected in martyrdom with him in Persia; Saint Bessarion the Great of Egypt; Saints Agatho, Pope of Rome; Saint Cindeus, Bishop of Pisidia; our Righteous Father Plotinus; Saint Agatho of the Kiev Caves; the Righteous Cornelius, Egoumenos [Abbot] of the Pskov Caves, and his disciple, the Righteous Martyr Bassian of Murom.

+By the holy intercessions of Your Saints, Holy Martyrs, Holy Bishops, Holy Ascetics, Holy Fathers, Holy Mothers, Holy Righteous, O Christ Our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.

OUR FATHER AMONG THE SAINTS LEO, BISHOP OF CATANIA IN SICILY. Saint Leo, who was from Ravenna in Italy, lived during the reign of Leo the Wise and the son Constantine Porphyrogenitus (end of the 9th and beginning of the 10th centuries). He struggled especially against the paganism and sorcery still prevalent in those regions.

Apolytikion (Dismissal) Hymn. Fourth Tone

The truth of things hath revealed thee to thy flock as a rule of faith, an icon of meekness, and a teacher of temperance; for this cause, thou hast achieved the heights by humility, riches by poverty, O Father and Hierarch Leo, intercede with Christ God that our souls be saved.

Kontakion Hymn. Second Tone

With songs let us all crown him who was dedicated to the Lord from infancy, and who from his swaddling bands received grace from God, even Leo, the luminary and defender of the Church; for he is her support.



Vespers Old Testament 1: Zechariah 8:7-17
Vespers Old Testament 2: Zechariah 8:19-23


"Let us break loose from every entanglement, and from this snare of Satan. Let us fear the command of the Lord: let us settle ourselves in the best of habits: that, making progress, and having achieved this and the rest of the Commandments, we may obtain those good things which are promised to them that love Him, through the grace and loving-kindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, with Whom to the Father and the Holy Spirit together be glory, power, and honor, now and ever, and world without end. Amen." (Saint John Chrysostom)



a)     The First Week of Lent: Monday to Friday. At Compline (Apodeipnos) on the first four days of Lent, the Great Canon of Saint Andrew of Crete is read, divided into four sections; on Thursday in the fifth week it will be read again, this time in continuous form. With its constant refrain, 'Have mercy upon me, O God, have mercy upon me,' the Great Canon forms a prolonged confession of sin, an unremitting call to repentance. At the same time, it is a meditation on the whole body of Scripture, embracing all the sinners and all the righteous from the creation of the world to the Coming of Christ. Here, more than anywhere else in the Triodion, we experience Lent as a reaffirmation of our 'Biblical roots.' Throughout the Great Canon the two levels, the historical and the personal, are skillfully interwoven. 'The events of the Sacred History are revealed as events of my life; God's acts in the past as acts aimed at me and my salvation, the tragedy of sin and betrayal of my personal tragedy. The appeal of the Great Canon is very wide: the Scots Presbyterian Alexander Whyte found it 'the very finest thing; the thing, at any rate, that I most enjoy in all the Office-books of the Greek Church'.

b)     Saturday in the First Week. After the penitential fasting of the first five days of Lent, Saturday and Sunday are kept as feasts of joyful thanksgiving. On Saturday we commemorate the Great Martyr Theodore Tyron or Tiro, 'the Recruit', a Roman soldier in Asia Minor, martyred in the early fourth century under the pagan Roman emperor Maximian (286-305 A.D.) As the full Divine Liturgy cannot be offered during the week are transferred to Saturday or Sunday. So the memorial of Saint Theodore, whose feast falls on 17th February, has been transferred to the first Saturday.

c)     The Sunday of Orthodoxy. The sense of joy and thanksgiving already evident on the Saturday of Saint Theodore, is still more apparent on the First Sunday in Lent, when we celebrate the Triumph of Orthodoxy. On this day the Church commemorates the final ending of the Iconoclast controversy and the definitive restoration of the Holy Icons to the churches by the Empress Theodora, acting as regent for her young son Michael III.

d)     The Second Sunday. Since 1368 this Sunday has been dedicated to the memory of Saint Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessaloniki (1296-1359). This commemoration forms a continuation of the feast celebrated on the previous Sunday: St. Gregory's victory over Barlaam, Akindynos and the other heretics of his time is seen as a renewed Triumph of Orthodoxy.

e)     The Third Sunday (the Sunday of the Holy Cross). On this day the service of Orthros (Matins) concludes with the solemn veneration of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross; the ceremonies are closely parallel to those at the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (14th September) and the Procession of the Holy Cross (1st August). The veneration of the Holy Cross on this third Sunday in Lent prepares us for the commemoration of the Crucifixion which is soon to follow in Holy and Great Week, and at the same time it reminds us that the whole of Lent is a period when we are crucified with Christ.

f)      The Fourth Sunday. On this day is commemorated Saint John Climacus (of the Ladder), Egoumenos [Abbot] of Saint Catherine's Monastery of Sinai (6th-7th century), who is assigned a special Sunday in Lent because, by virtue of his writings and his own life, he forms a pattern of the true Christian ascetic. Saint John is the author of the Ladder of Paradise, one of the spiritual texts appointed to be read in church during Lent.

g)     The Fifth Week. During this week, there are two special observances:

(1)  At Orthros (Matins) on Thursday, the Great Canon of Saint Andrew of Crete is read in its entirety, together with a Canon to Saint Mary of Egypt; and Saint Mary's life is also read during the service.

(2)  At Orthros (Matins) on Saturday, there is sung the Akathistos Hymn to the Mother of God. 'The Akathistos' means literally 'not sitting,' the Hymn being so called because all remain standing while it is sung or chanted. The greater part of the Hymn is made up of praises addressed to the Holy Virgin, each beginning with the salutation of the Archangel Gabriel, 'Hail' or 'Rejoice' (St. Luke 1:28). Thy Hymn passes in review the main events connected with Christ's Incarnation, starting with the Annunciation (firs Ikos) and ending with the Flight into Egypt (sixth ikos) and the Presentation in the Temple (seventh kontakion)

The link between the Akathistos Hymn and the Feast of the Annunciation still continues to be much in evidence: for example, most of the texts at Friday Vespers before the Vigil of the Akathistos are taken directly from the office for 25th March. The Annunciation almost always falls within the period of the Great Fast, and that is why this special office of praise to the Mother of God has found a place in the Lenten Triodion.

h)     The Fifth Sunday. This corresponds closely to the preceding Sunday: just as the Fourth Sunday is dedicated to Saint John Climacus, the model of ascetics, so the Fifth celebrates Saint Mary of Egypt, the model of penitents. In her youth Saint Mary lived in a dissolute and sinful way at Alexandria. Drawn by curiosity, she journeyed with some pilgrims to Jerusalem, arriving in time for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. But when she tried to enter the Church of the Holy Sepulchre with the others, an invisible force thrust her back at the threshold. This happened three or four times. Brought to sudden contrition by this strange experience, she prayed all night with tears to the Mother of God, and next morning she found to her joy that she could enter the church without difficulty. After venerating the Holy Cross, she left Jerusalem on that same day, made her way over the Jordan River, and settled as a solitary in a remote region of the desert. Here for forty seven years she remained, hidden from the world, until she was eventually found by the ascetic Saint Zosimas, who was able to give her Holy Communion shortly before her death.

i)      The Sixth Week. During the services of this week, and to a still greater extent during Holy and Great Week, the Triodion assumes the character of a historical narrative. Day by day we accompany Christ: we are with Him as He draws near to Jerusalem, as He reaches Bethany to raise Lazarus, as He enters the Holy City on Palm Sunday, as He approaches His Passion. The daily offices are marked by a sense of advancing movement and dramatic realism. Each day we call to mind, as exactly as possible, the things that must have occurred on the corresponding day during the last year of Christ's earthly Ministry.

All this is not to be seen merely as the bare commemoration of occurrences in the distant past. On the contrary, through the liturgical celebration we relive these events, participating in them as contemporaries. We are raised from the level of secular time, as measured by the clock or calendar, to the level of 'liturgical' or 'sacred' time; we are transferred to the point where the vertical dimension of eternity breaks into linear time. This transposition of past into present, of remembrance into reality, is expressed in the liturgical texts above all through the word today. So we sing on the Saturday of Lazarus: 'Today Bethany proclaims beforehand the Resurrection of Christ.' 'Today Christ enters the Holy City', we affirm on Palm Sunday. 'Today Christ comes to the house of the Pharisee', we state on Holy and Great Wednesday, 'and the sinful woman draws near and falls down at His feet...Today Judas makes a covenant with the chief priests.' 'Today the Master of Creation stands before Pilate', we say on Holy and Great Friday: '...Today He Who hung the earth upon the waters is hung upon the Cross.' So also at Pascha Midnight we affirm: 'Yesterday I was buried with Thee, O Christ, and today I rise with Thine arising. Yesterday I was crucified with Thee...' We shall not understand the meaning of these last two weeks in the Triodion unless we listen to this word today that resounds at each service. It is not a mere metaphor or an instance of poetic license, but embodies a specific spiritual experience. All that was witnessed by the crowds in Holy and Great Week, all the words addressed to the Disciples, all the sufferings undergone by Christ--these are to be experienced here and now by me.

(To be continued: HOLY AND GREAT WEEK)



The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George