My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
THE BEGINNING OF THE TRIODION
By Mother Mary and His Eminence Metropolitan Kallistos Ware
SUNDAY BEFORE LENT. The last of the preparatory Sundays has two themes: it commemorates Adam's expulsion from Paradise, and it is also the Sunday of Forgiveness. There are obvious reasons why these two things should be brought to our attention as we stand on the threshold of the Great Fast. One of the primary images in the Triodion is that of the return to Paradise. Lent is a time when we weep with Adam and Eve before the closed gate of Eden, repenting with them for the sins that have deprived us of our free communion with God. But Lent is also a time when we are preparing to celebrate the saving event of Christ's death and rising, which has reopened paradise to us once more (St. Luke 23:43). So sorrow for our exile in sin is tempered by hope of our re-entry into Paradise:
"O precious Paradise, unsurpassed in beauty, Tabernacle built by God, unending gladness and delight, Glory of the righteous, joy of the prophets, and dwelling of the Saints, With the sound of thy leaves pray to the Maker of all: May He open unto me the gates which I closed by my transgression, And may He count me worthy to partake of the Tree of Life and of the joy which was mine when I dwelt in Thee before."
Note how the Triodion speaks here not of 'Adam' but of 'me': 'May He open unto me the gates which I closed.' Here, as throughout the Triodion, the events of Sacred History are not treated as happenings in the distant past or future, but as experiences undergone by me here and now within the dimension of sacred time.
The second theme, that of forgiveness, is emphasized in the Gospel reading for this Sunday (St. Matthew 6:14-23) and in the special ceremony of mutual forgiveness at the end of Vespers (Esperinos) on Sunday evening. (For practical purposes we conduct the Vespers of Forgiveness immediately following the Divine Liturgy while everyone is present.) Before we enter the Lenten fast, we are reminded that there can be no true fast, no genuine repentance, nor reconciliation with God, unless we are at the same time reconciled with one another. A fast without mutual love is the fast of demons. As the commemoration of the ascetic Saints on the previous Saturday has just made clear to us, we do not travel the road of Lent as isolated individuals but as members of a family. Our asceticism and fasting should not separate us from our fellow men but link us to them with ever stronger bonds. The Lenten ascetic is called to be a man for others
THE FORTY DAYS. The two preceding Sundays, of the Last Judgment and of Forgiveness, together constitute-albeit in reverse order-a recapitulation of the whole range of Sacred History, from its beginning-point, Adam in Paradise, to its end-point, the Second Coming of Christ, when all time and history are taken up into eternity. During the forty days that now follow, although this wider perspective is never forgotten, there is an increasing concentration upon the central moment in Sacred History, upon the saving event of Christ's Passion and Resurrection, which makes possible man's return to paradise and inaugurates the end. Lent is, from this point of view, a journey with a precise direction; it is the journey to Pascha. The goal of our journey is concisely expressed in the closing prayer at the Liturgy of the Presanctified: '...may we come uncondemned to worship at the Holy Resurrection.' Throughout the forty days we're reminded that we are on the move, traveling on a path that leads straight to Golgotha and the empty tomb. So we say at the start of the first week:
"Let us set out with joy...Having sailed across the great sea of the Fast, May we reach the third-day Resurrection of our Lord. Let us hasten to the Holy Resurrection on the third day....While our journey proceeds, as travelers we regularly call to mind how far we have progress: As we begin the second day....Let us now set out with joy upon the second week of the Fast...As we start upon the third week of the Fast, O ye faithful, Let us glorify the Holy Trinity,And joyfully pass through the time that still remains....Weaving garlands for the queen of days---the day, that is, of the Lord's Resurrection. So we continue: Now that we have passed beyond the middle point in the time of the Fast, Let us hasten eagerly towards our journey's end....So may we be counted worthy to venerate the Divine Passion of Christ our God, And to attain His dread and Holy Resurrection."
During each week of Lent, our faces are set towards the objective of our journeying: the Savior's suffering and triumphant Passover.
The forty days' journey of Lent recalls in particular the forty years in which the chosen people journeyed through the wilderness. For us, as for the children of Israel, lent is a time of pilgrimage. It is a time of liberation from the bondage of Egypt, from domination by sinful passions; a time for progress by faith through a barren and waterless desert; a time for unexpected reassurance, when we draw near to the promised land, to our true home in paradise whose door the Crucified and Risen Christ has reopened for us.
THE WEEKDAYS OF LENT. A characteristic ethos is given to the week-days of Lent by the frequently repeated prostrations, used especially in conjunction with the Prayer of Saint Ephraim the Syrian, "O Lord and Master of my life…" Brief, sober, yet remarkably complete, this prayer takes us to the very heart of what Lent means.
Another distinctive feature of Lenten weekdays is the Liturgy of Presanctified, celebrated according to present practice on each Wednesday and Friday, but at one time on every weekday of Lent. Strictly speaking, the term 'Liturgy' is a misnomer, for there is no Eucharistic consecration at this service; it is simply the office of Vespers, followed by the distribution of Holy Communion from elements consecrated on the previous Sunday. The full celebration of the Eucharist, being always a festive and triumphant event, is felt to be inconsistent with the austerity of the weekday Lenten Fast; and so already in the 4th century it was laid down that there should be no complete celebration of the Liturgy during Lent except on Saturdays and Sundays. But so as to enable the faithful to receive Holy Communion on weekdays in Lent-for in the ancient Church it was normal to communicate frequently, and in some places even daily--the order of the Presanctified Liturgy was devised.
Many moments in the Presanctified Liturgy recall the period when Lent was a time of final training before the reception of Baptism, the Sacrament of light or "illumination." Thus between the two Old Testament lessons, the priest, holding the censer and a lighted candle, blessed the congregation, saying: "the light of Christ shines upon all;" and, following the Litany for the Catechumens and their dismissal, there is during the second half of Lent, an additional Litany 'for those who are ready for illumination.' Each time we take part in the Liturgy of the Presanctified, we should ask ourselves: In a world that is increasingly alienated from Christ, what have I done since last Lent to spread the light of the Gospel? And where are the catechumens in our Orthodox churches today?
On Wednesdays and Fridays in Lent, as indeed throughout the year, the normal hymns to the Mother of God known as 'Theotokia' are replaced by 'Stavrotheotokia', that is, hymns referring both to the Cross and to the Theotokos (Mother of God), and describing the Mother's grief as she stands beside the Cross of her Son. Through these hymns, we are made conscious of the Blessed Virgin's participation in our observance of Lent.
(To be continued)
Please note: The more one understands the significance of our Holy Tradition and the spiritual purpose of Holy and Great Lent, the more one appreciates and benefits from it. This is why I will be concentrating on Lent from now on. If one desires to enjoy the divine fruits of Holy Lent, one must practice it and make it part of his/her spiritual life.
MY BLESSING TO ALL OF YOU
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