The Lenten Triodion (Part VI)

St. Mary of Egypt

St. Mary of Egypt

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

Vespers on Saturday Evening

I was entrusted with a sinless and living land, but I sowed the ground with sin and reaped with a sickle the earth of slothfulness, in threshing floor of repentance. But I beg Thee, my God, the pre-eternal husbandman, with the wind of Thy loving -kindness winnow the chaff of my works, and grant to my soul the corn of forgiveness; shut me in Thy heavenly storehouse and save me.


Brethren, let us learn the meaning of this mystery. For when the Prodigal Son ran back from sin to his Father's house, his loving Father came out to meet him and kissed him. He restored to the Prodigal the tokens of hi proper glory, and mystically He made glad on high, sacrificing the fatter calf. Let our lives, then, be worthy of the loving Father Who has offered sacrifice, and of the glorious Victim Who is the Savior of our souls.


Our Savior teaches us every day with His own voice: let us therefore hearken to the Scripture concerning the Prodigal who became wise once more, and with faith let us follow the good example of his repentance. With humbleness of heart let us cry out to Him Who knows all secrets: We have sinned against Thee, Merciful Father, and are not worthy ever again to be called Thy children as before. But since Thou art by nature full of love for man, accept me and make me as one of Thy hired servants.


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

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 of 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. One of the greatest marvels of Greek religious poetry, with a richness of imagery that is the despair of any translator, the Akathistos Hymn has twenty-four main stanzas, alternatively long and short: each long stanza bears the title 'ikos' and ends with the refrain 'Hail,' Bride without bridegroom', while each short stanza is termed 'kontakion' and ends with the refrain 'Alleluia'. The title 'Akathistos' means literally 'not sitting', the Hymn being so called because all remain standing while it is sung. 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 1:18). The Hymn passes in review the main events connected with Christ's Incarnation, starting with the Annunciation (first 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 (Esperinos) 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.

At the beginning of the Akathistos Hymns, there is sung a Kontakion greatly loved by the Orthodox Christians, 'To thee, our leader in battle and defender...' celebrating the deliverance of the city of Constantinople from its enemies through the aid of the Mother of God...

(h) The Fifth Sunday. This corresponds closely to the preceding Sunday: just as the Fourth Sunday is dedicated to Saint Climacus, the model of ascetics, so the Fifth celebrates Saint Mary of Egypt, the model of penitents. Like that of Saint Climacus, her feast has been transferred from the fixed calendar, where she is commemorated on 1st April. Her life, recounted by Saint Sophronios, Patriarch of Jerusalem--it is read, as we have mentioned, on Thursday in the Fifth Week--sets before us a true verbal icon of the essence of repentance. 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 Holy 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.

On this Sunday the first Canon at Orthros (Matins) is based on the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus (St. Luke 16:19-11): like the Parable of the Good Samaritan on the previous Sunday, this is applied symbolically to the repentant Christian.

(i) The Sixth Week. During the services of this week, and to a still greater extent during Holy 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 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 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 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 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 all to be experienced here and now by me.

(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