The Lenten Triodion (Part IV)

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



Christ has set before us the abasement of the Publican as a path to exaltation, and a pattern how we may be saved: let us follow his example, rejecting disdainful pride and gaining God's mercy through our humility.


Let us cast out from our soul foolish pride and learn to think with truth and humility; let us not try to justify ourselves, but let us hate the delusion of vainglory and so obtain God's mercy with the Publican.


As the Publican, let us offer the Creator prayers for mercy. Let us avoid the ungrateful praying of the Pharisee and the boastful word with which he judged his neighbor, that we may gain God's forgiveness and His Light.


Weighed down by a great multitude of sins, I have surpassed the Publican in an excess of evil, and I have also made mine own the boastful delusion of the Pharisee. I am utterly devoid of all good things: Lord, spare me.



(Source: The Lenten Triodion. Translated from the Original Greek by Mother Mary and Metropolitan Kallistos Ware)

Let us now consider the sequence of the forty days in greater detail.

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 of Holy 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 as 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 Emperor Maximian (286-305 AD). Here may be seen at work a rule applied by the Church since the fourth century: as the full Liturgy cannot be offered on weekdays in Lent, Saints' memorials which in the fixed calendar occur during the week are transferred to Saturday or Sunday. So the memorial of Saint Theodore, whose feast falls on 17 February, has been transferred to the first Saturday. The texts for the day in the Triodion make frequent reference to the literal meaning of the name Theodore, '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 361-3), as part of his campaign against the Christians, attempted to defile their observance of the first week of 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 (kollyva) 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 kollyva 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 commemoration as that of Saint Theodore on the first Saturday, there are also regular hymns to the martyrs on all the weekdays of Lent. Their example has a special significance for us in our ascetic efforts during the great forty days.

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. This took place on the first Sunday in Lent, 11 March 843 AD. There is, however, not only a historical link between the first Sunday and the restoration of the 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 Lent, when we are striving to imitate the Martyrs by means of our ascetic 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 Triodion gives the text of a special 'Office of Orthodoxy' (not translated in this volume), which is held at the end of Orthros (Matins) or, more commonly, at the end of the Divine Liturgy on this Sunday. The Office celebrates not only the restoration of the holy icons but, more generally, the victory of the true faith over all heresies and errors. A procession is made with the holy icons, and after this extracts are read from the Synodical decree of the Seventh Ecumenical Council (787 AD). The sixty anathemas are pronounced against various heretics dating from the third to the fourteenth century; 'Eternal Memory' is sung in honor of the Emperors, Patriarchs and Holy Fathers who defended the Orthodox Christian faith; and 'many years' is proclaimed in honor of our present rulers and bishops. Unfortunately in many parts of the Orthodox Church today this impressive service has fallen into disuses; elsewhere it is performed in a greatly abbreviated form.

Before the Triumph of Orthodoxy came to be celebrated on the first Sunday, there was on this day a commemoration of Moses, Aaron, Samuel and the Prophets. Traces of this more ancient observance can still be seen in the choice of Epistles reading at the Liturgy (Hebrews 11:24-6, 32-40), and in the Alleluia  verse appointed before the Gospel: 'Moses and Aaron among His priests, and Samuel among them that call upon His Name'.

(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.


Glory Be To GOD For All Things!


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

+Father George