The Beginning of the Triodion, Part III

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

Inner Unity of the Triodion

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 4th century under the pagan Roman emperor Maximian (286-305 AD). The memorial of Saint Theodore, whose feast falls on 17th February, has been transferred to the first Saturday. As the full Divine Liturgy cannot be offered on weekdays in Lent, Saints' memorials which is fixed calendar occur during the week are transferred to Saturday or Sunday. The texts for the day in the Triodion make frequent reference to the literal meaning of the name Theodoros, 'Gift from God'.

There is a specific reason why Saint Theodore has come to be associated with the first week of Lent. According to the tradition recorded in the Synaxarion, the Emperor Julian the Apostate (reigned 361-363 A.D.), as part of his campaign against the Christians, attempted to defile their observance of the first week of Holy Lent by ordering all the food for sale in the market of Constantinople to be sprinkled with blood from pagan sacrifices. Saint Theodore then appeared in a dream to Evdoxios, Archbishop of the city, ordering him to warn his flock against buying anything from the market; instead, so the Saint told him, they should boil wheat (kolyva) and eat this alone. In memory of this event, after the Presanctified Liturgy on the first Friday, a Canon of intercession is sung to Saint Theodore and a dish of kolyva (boiled wheat) is blessed in his honor.

But, quite apart from this historical association of the Great Martyr Theodore with the first week of the fast, it is also spiritually appropriate that he should be commemorated during these days. The Great Fast is a season of unseen warfare, of invisible martyrdom, when by our ascetic dying to sin we seek to emulate the self-offering of the martyrs. That is why, in addition to such commemorations as that of Saint Theodore on the first Saturday, there are also regular hymns to the martyrs on all the weekdays of Holy Lent. Their example has a special significance for us in our ascetic efforts during the great forty days.

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. This took place on the first Sunday in Lent, 11th March 843 A.D. There is, however, not only a historical link between the first Sunday and the restoration of the holy icons but also, as in the case of Saint Theodore, a spiritual affinity. If Orthodoxy triumphed in the epoch of the Iconoclast controversy, this was because so many of the faithful were prepared to undergo exile, torture, and even death, for the sake of the truth. The Feast of Orthodoxy is above all a celebration in honor of the martyrs and confessors who struggled and suffered for the faith: hence its appropriateness for the season of Holy Lent, when we are striving to imitate the Holy Martyrs by means of our ascetic self-denial. The fixing of the Triumph of Orthodoxy on the first Sunday is therefore much more than the result of some chance historical conjunction.

The Office celebrates not only the restoration of the holy icons but, more generally, the victory of the true faith (Orthodoxy) over all heresies and errors. A procession is made with the holy icons, and after this extracts are read from the Synodical Decrees of the Seventh Ecumenical Council (787 A.D.). Then sixty anathemas are pronounced against various heretics dating from the 3rd to the 14th century; 'Eternal Memory' is sung in honor of the Emperors, Patriarchs and holy Fathers who defended the Orthodox faith.

The Second Sunday of Holy Lent. Since 1368 A.D., this Sunday has been dedicated to the memory of Saint Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessaloniki (1296-1359 A.D.). This commemoration forms a continuation of the feast celebrated on the previous Sunday: Saint Gregory's victory over Barlaam, Akindynos and the other heretics of his time is seen as a renewed Triumph of Orthodoxy...This commemoration, like that of Saint Theodore, underlined the connection between Lenten asceticism and the martyr's vocation. The second Sunday also takes up the theme of the Prodigal Son as a model of repentance, with the first of the two Canons at Orthros (Matins) being devoted to this parable.

The Third Sunday (The Sunday of the 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 feasts of the Exaltation of the Cross (14 September) and the Procession of the Cross (1st August). The veneration of the 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 it reminds us that the whole of Lent is a period when we are crucified with Christ: as the Synaxarion at Orthros (Matins) says, 'Through the forty-day Fast, we too are crucified, dying to the passions.' The dominant note on this Sunday, as on the two Sundays preceding, is one of joy and triumph. In the Canon at Orthros (Matins), the irmoi are the same as at Pascha (Easter) midnight, 'This is the day of Resurrection...', and the troparia are in part a paraphrase of the Paschal Canon by Saint John of Damascus. No separation is made between Christ's death and His Resurrection, but the Cross is regarded as an emblem of victory and calvary is seen in the light of the empty tomb.

The Fourth Sunday of Holy Lent. On this day Saint John Climacus, Egoumenos [Abbot] of St. Catherine's Monastery of Sinai, sixth-seventh century, who is assigned a special Sunday in Holy 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 Holy Lent. His memorial, like that of Saint Theodore, has been transferred to the movable from the fixed calendar, where he is remembered on 30th March. The first Canon at Orthros (Matins) on this Sunday is based on the Parable of the Good Samaritan (St. Luke 10:30-35): the repentant Christian is likened to the man who fell among the thieves.

(To be continued)



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