Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Each time I write a message to you, accompanied with the Weekly Bulletin, please know that I put a great deal of prayer and anticipation into my letters. Of course, some more than others. Sometimes my messages are light-hearted, and sometimes they are more serious in tone. Still, other times they are meant to motivate in some form or another. But always…always, they are intended as reminders of Christ’s love for each of us, and how the Church expresses His love.
To that end, please consider this week’s message as extremely important. It’s not funny, or witty or quippy. It’s purely didactic to the core. The Church has entered into a very important time of year: that is when our minds, hearts, ears and souls and eyes are making preparations for Great and Holy Pascha – the Celebration of Christ’s Resurrection and Victory over death. Following are some statements from differing resources that describe the days and weeks ahead of us. They correspond with the Church Calendar as a whole, and the St. Anna’s Liturgical Schedule to be specific. If you understand the themes of these coming weeks and place these virtues in your hearts, you will be ready to comprehend the rigors of Great Lent. So, let us take our first steps toward salvation.
The Paschal Cycle
For Orthodox Christians Easter, or Holy Pascha, is actually the center of what is known as the cycle of all movable feasts. This cycle is called the Paschal Cycle.
Sunday, February 3rd marked the beginning of this year’s Paschal Cycle (2019), which invites us to be renewed spiritually on the basis of what is most central and most sacred in our faith. It began with the reading of Zacchaeus a couple weeks ago.
The Paschal Cycle gives us the opportunity to consider the sacred feasts of this period and the particular meaning they have for Orthodox Christians.
The Paschal Cycle constitutes the heart of the Orthodox liturgical year. This is because Holy Pascha is regarded as the Feast of feasts and the Festival of festivals, as it commemorates the greatest event in human history, the Resurrection of Christ, through which death has been abolished for all humanity.
From Greek: three odes or modes. The Triodion is a Liturgical book containing the hymns, prayers and services of the movable feast before Easter, beginning ten weeks before Easter with the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee, until Easter Sunday. This includes the four weeks proceeding Great Lent, Great Lent, and Holy (Passion) Week. It is also the name of the time period when this book is used in the church, primarily during Orthros, Vespers and the Divine Liturgy. This Sunday, February 17, the Triodion begins. We are on our way to the doorstep of Great Lent.
Sphere Of Virtues
The first four Sundays constitute a preparation for, or gradual entry into, the sphere of virtues (sphera ton areton), which is the primary theme of the Great Lent. The precise meaning of this is revealed in the Sunday Gospel lessons of this period.
On the first Sunday, the Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee (Luke 18.9-14) teaches us about the damage which one suffers on account of pride and how delivery from pride can be obtained with the virtue of humility.
This Sunday emphasizes humility as a key attitude for repentance. The Greek word for repentance is metanoia, which means a change of mind. To repent we must not boast of our spiritual feats, but humble ourselves like the Publican who longs for a change of mind. We are called to learn this secret of the inward poverty of the Publican rather than the self-righteousness of the Pharisee who is convinced of his perfectness and not open to change because of his pride. There is no prescribed fasting for this week.
In other words, THE FIRST WEEK OF THE TRIODION IS FAST FREE. IN FACT, YOU ARE NOT “ALLOWED” TO FAST. NO FASTING NEXT WEEK.
On the second Sunday, the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15.11-32) teaches us about the great virtue of repentance, whereby every sinner returns to God and receives forgiveness and salvation.
This Sunday teaches us about our need to return from exile. This parable shows us the mercy of the Father who with open arms receives his son, whose behavior he does not return, but is joyous of his return home. We are encouraged to examine ourselves in the period of Lent to purge ourselves of sin and “come home.”
The week that follows is called Meat Week as it is the last week we are to eat meat. The normal rule of fasting are applied to this week, fast on Wednesday and Friday.
Saturday of this week is the first Saturday of Souls where those who have fallen asleep in the hope of resurrection and eternal life are remembered at a special service “Saturday of the Souls.” Parishioners bring small dishes of kollyva to the church and submit a list of first names of deceased ones to the priest. We commend to God all those who have departed before us, who are now awaiting the Last Judgment. This is an expression of the Churches love. We remember them because we love them.
The third Sunday of the preparation is called Meatfare Sunday (Apokreos) because we eat meat for the last time until Pascha. This particular Sunday is also dedicated to the memory of the Second Coming of the Lord and the Last Judgment. This is most clearly revealed in the relevant Gospel reading (Matthew 25.31-46) which is recited during the Divine Liturgy that day.
The remembrance of the forthcoming Last Judgment teaches us that we must learn to avoid living carelessly. We should not misinterpret the longsuffering forbearance (makrothymia) of God, which makes Him delay the day of His coming. We should rather always be on the alert, working for what is good and being mindful that God is not only our Father Who loves mankind, but also the Righteous Judge.
The Thursday before Meatfare Sunday is known as Tsiknopempti, sort of the Orthodox version of Fat Tuesday, because people get together for the purpose of eating all kinds of meat delicacies.
The eve of Meatfare Sunday is known as the Saturday of Souls (psychosabbaton) because we observe a memorial service (mnemosyno) for all Christians who have fallen asleep in the Lord, since the Last Judgment is connected with the Resurrection of the Dead. Another such psychosabbaton is observed on the Eve of Pentecost Sunday.
Kollyva (i.e., boiled wheat mixed with pomegranate seeds, nuts, raisins and sugar) are also distributed on the first Saturday of Great Lent. This does not signify a psychosabbaton, however; it commemorates the miracle of Saint Theodore of Teron.
We are encouraged not to eat meat this week (after the Sunday of the Last Sunday), but we can eat fish, eggs, cheese and other dairy products.
The fourth Sunday is known as Cheesefare Sunday (Tyrine) because we eat cheese and dairy products for the last time until Pascha. On this particular Sunday, which is the Eve of the Inauguration of Great Lent, we remember the expulsion of the Adam and Eve from Paradise. Thus, we are reminded of the terrible consequences of sin and transgression against the Divine Will, and we are encouraged to take up the battle of fasting and obedience in order to obtain spiritual renewal and blessedness.
The Gospel lesson of Cheesefare Sunday (Matthew 6.14-21) teaches us that the right way to fast is to get rid of evil intentions, avarice and attachment to material goods. It is a custom that Christians grant forgiveness to one another during the vesper service of this Sunday, so that all of them together may enter with love and unanimity into the Lenten Season.
The 40 days of Great Lent begins on the Monday after Cheesefare Sunday, Clean Monday (Kathara Deftera), which this year (2019) falls on March 11th. On Friday the 15th of March we start the Service of Salutations to the Theotokos.
It is important to note that the Church leads us to this point gradually during the preparatory period of the first three weeks of the Triodion.
During the first week, She allows us to eat everything, even on Wednesdays and Fridays. During the second week, we can eat everything, except for meat on Wednesday and Friday. During the third week, we are no longer allowed to eat meat, but we can eat fish, eggs and dairy products.
The Church has thereby introduced us gradually into the more severe fast of Great Lent which begins on Kathara Deftera, when the faithful embrace a totally vegetarian diet.
The custom of preparing Christians for the celebration of Pascha through fasting and prayer is very ancient, but neither the length nor the type of fast was strictly specified during the first centuries.
For instance, Saint Irenaeus, the Bishop of Lyons at the end of the 2nd Century AD, tells us that some fasted for one day, others for two days, others for more, and still others for only 40 hours. Socrates, the 5th Century church historian, tells us that some did not eat meat while some ate poultry and fish, and while still others ate only vegetables.
In the 4th Century, however, the fast of the Paschal Cycle began to take a more specific form, at least in regard to length. It was extended to 40 days in commemoration of the 40 days, which the Lord fasted in the wilderness, hence the term Sarakoste (i.e., Lent).
Pure Monday: Great Lent Begins
Great Lent is the period that the Church has in her wisdom set aside for us to intensify our own spiritual growth through fasting, prayer and worship. If you follow the Church guidelines on fasting, make time to attend the services and intensify your own prayer life, you will be rewarded with a greater closeness to God.
As we draw closer to Great Lent, I will offer some thoughts on the themes of those weeks. For now, please pay close attention to the lessons that are directly in front of you. I am grateful that this time is at hand. Together as one Orthodox Christian Family, we will support each other, encourage one another, and be peaceful toward each other, walking the path which leads to Great Lent.
With Much Love in Christ,