The Beginning of the Triodion

The Publican and the Pharisee

The Publican and the Pharisee

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


Before the festival of Pascha (Easter), there has developed a long preparatory season of repentance and fasting, extending in present Orthodox usage over ten weeks. First, come twenty-two days (four successive Sundays) or preliminary observance; then six weeks or forty (40) days of the Holy and Great Lent; and finally Holy and Great Week. Balancing the seven weeks of Lent and Holy and Great Week, there follows after Pascha a corresponding season of fifty (50) days of Thanksgiving, concluding with Pentecost.

Each of these seasons has its own liturgical book. For the time of preparation there is the Lenten Triodion or 'Book of Three Odes', the most important parts...what do we find in the book of preparation that we term the Lenten Triodion? It can most briefly be described as the book of the fast. Just as the children of Israel ate the 'bread of affliction' (Deuteronomy 16:3) in preparation for the Passover, so Christians prepare themselves for the celebration of the New Passover by observing a fast. But what is meant by this word "fast" (nisteia)? Here the utmost care is needed, so as to preserve a proper balance between the outward and the inward. On the outward level fasting involves physical abstinence from food and drink, and without such exterior abstinence a full and true fast cannot be kept; yet the rules about eating and drinking must never be treated as an end in themselves, for ascetic fasting, has always an inward and unseen purpose. Man is a unity of body, 'a living creature fashioned from natures visible and invisible', in the words of the Triodion; and our ascetic fasting should therefore involve both these natures at once. The tendency to over-emphasize external rules about food in a legalistic way, and the opposite tendency to scorn these rules as outdated and unnecessary, are both alike to be deplored as a betrayal of true Orthodoxy. In both cases, the proper balance between the outward and the inward has been impaired. 

The second tendency is doubtless the more prevalent in our own day, especially in the West. Until the 14the century, most of Western Christians (Roman Catholics), in common with the Orthodox East, abstained during Lent not only from meat but from animal products, such as eggs, milk, butter and cheese. In the East and West alike, the Lenten fast involved a severe physical effort. But in Western Christendom over the past five hundred (500) years, the physical requirements of fasting have been steadily reduced, until by now there are little more than symbolic...

"...One reason for this decline in fasting is surely a heretical attitude towards human nature, a false 'spiritualism' which rejects or ignores the body, viewing man solely in terms of his reasoning brain. As a result, many contemporary Christians have lost a true vision of man as an integral unity of the visible and invisible; they neglect the positive role played by the body in the spiritual life, forgetting Saint Paul's affirmation: "your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit…glorify God with your body" (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Another reason for the decline in fasting among Orthodox Christians is the argument, commonly advanced in our times, that the traditional rules are no longer possible today. These rules presuppose, so it is urged, a closely organized, non-pluralistic Christian society, following an agricultural way of life that is now increasingly a thing of the past. There is a measure of truth in this. But it needs also to be said that fasting, as traditionally practiced in the Church, has always been difficult and has always involved hardship. Many of our contemporaries are willing to fast for reasons of health or beauty, in order to lose weight; cannot we Christians do as much for the sake of the Heavenly Kingdom? Why should the self-denial gladly accepted by previous generations of Orthodox Christians prove such an intolerable burden to their successors today? Once Saint Seraphim of Sarov was asked why the miracles of grace, so abundantly manifest in the past, were no longer apparent in his own day, and to this, he replied: "Only one thing is lacking--a firm resolve". (Source: The Lenten Triodion. Translated from the original Greek by Mother Mary and Metropolitan Kallistos Ware)

(To be continued)


"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--Saint John Chrysostom


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

+Father George