First Week of Holy and Great Lent: The Great Canon of Saint Andrew of Crete


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


FIRST WEEK OF HOLY AND GREAT LENT: The Great Canon of Saint Andrew of Crete
SAINT ANDREW, ARCHBISHOP OF CRETE (Commemorated on July 4th)

Born in Damascus of Christian parents, he was dumb until the age of seven. When his parents took him to church for Holy Communion and upon receiving the Mysterion (Sacrament) of Holy Communion he was able to speak. Such is the Divine power of Holy Communion.

He went to the holy city of Jerusalem at the age of 14 and was tonsured in the Monastery of Saint Sava the Sanctified. In his understanding he surpassed many of the older monks and was an example to all. The Patriarch took him as his secretary.

When the Monothelite heresy, which taught that the Lord had no human will but only a Divine one, began to rage, the Sixth Ecumenical Council met in Constantinople in 681 A.D., in the reign of Constantine Iv. Theodore, Patriarch of Jerusalem, was not able to be present at the Council and sent Andrew, then a Deacon, as his representative. At the Council, Andrew showed his great gifts: his articulateness, his zeal for Christ and Church, his rare prudence. Being instrumental in confirming the Orthodox Christian faith, Andrew returned to his work in Jerusalem.

He was later chosen as Archibishop of the Greek island of Crete. As Archbishop, he was greatly beloved by the people. His zeal for Orthodoxy and strongly withstood all heresy. He worked miracles through his prayers, driving the Saracens from the island by his prayers. He wrote many learned books, poems and canons, of which the best-known is the Great Canon of Repentance said in full on the Thursday of the Fifth Week of the Great Fast.

Such was his outward appearance that, 'looking at his face and listening to the words that flowed like honey from his lips." Returning from Constantinople on one occasion, he foretold of his death before reaching Crete. And so it happened as the boat approached the island of Mitylene, this light of the Church finished his earthly course and his soul went to the Kingdom of Christ in the year 740.



The Great Canon of Saint Andrew, bishop of Crete, is the longest Canon in all of our divine services, and is associated with Great Lent and it is appointed to be read in church are the first four nights of Great Lent [Clean Monday through Clean Thursday, and at Orthros (Matins) for Thursday of the Fifth Week of Great Lent, when it is read in its entirety (in this latter the life of Saint Mary of Egypt is also read)].

The First Week of Great Lent has been known since times of old as the "dawn of abstinence," or "clean week." During that week, the Church persuades her children to come out of that sinful state into which all of mankind fell because our Forefathers did not abstain, because they lost the blessings of heaven, the state of sin which each of us increases by his personal sins. It coaxes them into coming forth by way of faith, prayer, humility and fasting, things, which are pleasing to God. This is the time for repentance, says the Church "Behold the days of salvation, the entrance to the fast. O my soul, be watchful, close all the doors through which the passions enter, and look up towards the Lord." (From the first canticle of the Triodion Canon at Orthros (Matins) on Monday of the First Week of Great Lent).

 The Old Testament Church, which held especially sacred the first and the last days of several great feasts. Likewise, according to the ustav, Orthodox Christians, prepared and inspired by the maternal instructions offered by their Church from antiquity, observe the first and last weeks of Great Lent especially strictly and assiduously.

The services of the First Week are especially lengthy, and the askesis of physical abstinence during that week is considerably more rigorous than in the subsequent days of Great Lent. Over the course of the first four days of Great Lent, Great Compline (Mega Apotheipnon) is served, with the reading of the Great Penitential Canon of Saint Andrew of Crete, which as it were sets the tone which is to resound throughout Great Lent. During the first week of Great Lent, the Canon is divided into four separate parts, one chanted at each Compline. On Thursday (actually Wednesday evening of the Fifth Week of Great Lent, our attention is again directed to Saint Andrew's marvelous composition, this time in its entirety, so that with the conclusion of Great Lent is sight, we might not become lackadaisical, careless, and negligent, so that we might not forget ourselves and stop strictly watching over ourselves in everything.

The refrain "have mercy upon me O Lord, have mercy upon me" accompanies each verse of the Great Canon. Several troparia (hymns) in honor of Saint Andrew, composer of the Canon, and to Saint Mary of Egypt are also included. The Church of Jerusalem implemented this practice during Saint Andrew's lifetime. 

The Great Canon is more astonishing than any other liturgical text encountered during Great Lent. It is a marvel of liturgical hymnography, with texts of amazing power and poetic beauty. The Church decided to call it the Great Canon not so much for its length (250 Troparia, or verses), as for the quality and power of its content. Saint Andrew, Archbishop of Crete, who composed the Canon in the 7th Century, also composed many other canons used by the Church over the course of the liturgical year.


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


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

+Father George