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Παρασκευή, 26 Ιανουαρίου 2018

THE TRIODION – GREAT LENT







THE TRIODION – GREAT LENT

This Sunday the Church enters the Period known as the Triodion. For those of you who have never heard of this word before it is basically the service Book used by the Church for 70 days beginning from this Sunday and throughout Great Lent until the last service on Holy and Great Saturday night just before the Resurrection service, which then begins a new period in the Church cycle known as the Pentecostarion.
The name Triodion takes its name from the odes sung during Mattins on weekdays of this period. At all other times of the year a collection of short hymns called the canons are made up of eight odes or canticles. Now instead of eight there are only three odes - thus trio for three plus odes make up the word Triodion. It is the book of Lent, but it begins with four Sundays before the onset of Great lent with themes that will help us to prepare for that spiritual journey that will lead us to that feast of all feast, the Festival of Pascha.

The purpose of Great Lent is to strengthen and prepare us spiritually to understand the meaning of the great and unique joy of the Resurrection and its significance and meaning to our own life. Like all feasts, Pascha comes around each year, but it is not just a commemoration of the new life that shone forth from the grave two thousand years ago, it is also the celebration of the new life given to each of us who believe in Christ, a new life that was given to each of us on the day of our Baptism.

In theory we should be bathed in the Resurrection light and be shining forth like Christ and the saints, but because of the weakness of our human nature we constantly betray this "new life" we received at baptism. We are consumed with our daily preoccupations and the cares of this world. We fill our time with so many things that we must do that we forget the true meaning of life and sink into a life void of Christ, living as though he didn’t rise from the dead. Our life becomes a meaningless journey and as we sink further and further into sin and in the midst of our enjoying life we even forget that death looms over us and might all of a sudden take us by surprise. Our new life we received at baptism becomes buried under the mud of our various sins that the light of the resurrection no longer shines in our hearts: it becomes so dimmed that our life again resembles the “old life in darkness”.

But how do we overcome the pulling magnet of this world and the media which constantly teaches us that life means to be successful, to seek wealth, fame and glory, a social status which is identified by our home, our car and the brand names of our clothes and accessories? These according to the world are the things that will give us fulfilment and happiness in life and a sense of security and pleasure.

This according to the Gospel is the broad way, but Christ tells us to choose the narrow way, the difficult and often painful road of suffering which leads to genuine and eternal happiness. It is not an easy choice especially in our age where the world at large considers suffering for Christ as something foolish and illogical. It needs a certain amount of faith to begin this journey of return and only if someone has experienced at sometime in his life the “new man” in him can he understand that there is at the end of the road a genuine happiness that has nothing to do with this material world.

The Church fully understands human weakness and knows that the individual cannot undertake this difficult journey of return on his own and is ready to give to each the strength and support that will help them safely reach the desired destination. This is where Great Lent comes in: it is the help extended to us by the Church. It is a period of repentance with prayer and fasting, which if followed with obedience, will permit us to experience Pascha not as a day where we celebrate just the historical event of the Lord’s Resurrection and an excuse to eat drink and be merry, but as the renewal of our Baptism with the reburying of the “old man” in us and the rebirth of the “new man” bathed once more with the light of the Resurrection.

Thus Lent helps us to regain that which we received at baptism and which we constantly lose due to worldly distractions and careless living. Great Lent is our return journey back to Christ and the Kingdom of God, but this return will not happen if we do not take Lent seriously. The help the Church gives during this period is not a set of negative rules and obligations that she imposes on us. Many people observe Lent as a law imposed on them by the Church and if they don't observe it to the letter, God will punish them. If we see Lent in this way then we have lost the meaning before we even begin. The purpose of Lent is not to deprive us of certain foods or to force upon us certain obligations, but to soften our heart so that it may open itself to the realities of the spirit. It is an atmosphere into which we voluntarily enter and which for seven weeks penetrates and saturates our entire life. Lent needs a state of mind where the person acknowledges his alienation from God and hungers to re-establish the lost relationship and communion with him. But this state of mind does not happen overnight: it needs its own preparation. So before the actual beginning of Lent the Church announces its approach and invites us to enter into the period of pre-Lenten preparation.

The Church knows how we humans cannot change abruptly from one spiritual state of mind to another and need time to adjust and prepare. This time to adjust is the pre-Lenten preparation where on the first week there is no fasting even on Wednesday and Friday. The next week there is a strict fast on Wednesday and Friday. The third Sunday is called Meatfare Sunday and is the last day we eat meat and from the Monday we enter into Cheesefare Week where we do not eat meat but we can have eggs, cheese and all dairy products and fish everyday including Wednesday and Friday. Great Lent and the fast begins on the Monday after the Sunday of Cheesefare week.

The period of the Triodion is a period of abstinence, temperance and self-restraint: a time for increased spiritual warfare with the purpose of purifying both the soul and body. For each of the four Sundays before Lent, the liturgical themes are based on the Gospel readings of that Sunday. This Sunday, being the first, begins with the Gospel reading of the Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee.

The main message of the Parable is repentance and that is why it was chosen as the Gospel reading to open the new season of the Triodion. It is telling us that it is time to repent and change the way we live and the purpose of this change is to live the life of the Cross so that we may meet Christ.

For the Church the whole of a person’s life is a time of repentance, but because we are careless and lazy in spiritual matters and because we have to defeat and overcome the resistance of our rebellious flesh which doesn’t want to be subjected and bound to the spiritual life, the Church proclaims repentance and calls us to battle even just for this short period before Easter. Before repentance our bearings and affections relate to our fallen state, or us St. Paul say, to the “old man” or the man according to the flesh. Our whole life is wasted satisfying the desires and pursuits of our egocentric self. These bearings and affections lead man to eternal death because they distance him from God. The Church’s call for repentance means to destroy the old self which is governed by the passions and transform these bearings and affections into a living communion with God and man.

The period of the Triodion, and especially the four preparatory Sundays, wants to make us aware of the true meaning of life. Our detachment from God is detachment from life, and only where God is can we find eternal life. Where God is absent there is death – first of the soul and then of the body. Thus if we want to live we must change our way of life, we must repent. Lent teaches us how to change and offers us the tools which will help us to do battle against the resistance generated by our carnal desires. These tools are fasting, prayer, charity and almsgiving, love for others expressed in practical form, by works of compassion and forgiveness and our participation in the Sacraments of the Church.

By following this new way of living we partake of the Lord’s Passion. By putting to death the passions and our life according to the flesh, we partake of the Cross and are resurrected into a new life with God. By walking a new path in life we become new people and our prototype is none other than Christ who is our salvation. This u-turn of both the body and soul, in search of God’s grace for help so that we may follow in Christ’s footsteps by becoming dead and resurrected, is the purpose of the Triodion and especially of Great Lent.

In the Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee Christ gives us to understand what is and what is not repentance. Repentance is the first step on the road to salvation. It means to acknowledge that our life on earth is a temporary abode: a life in exile from the Paradise of Bliss which we lost when Adam fell from grace. Christ, through his Death and Resurrection, re-opened the gates of paradise for man and our time on earth is given to us to strive to re-enter this paradise by living not according to the lustful desires of the flesh, but according to the spirit. St. Paul says “For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace”.

The Greek word for repentance is metanoia and means to have a change of mind, but it means more than just a short term feeling of remorse: it entails a complete change in lifestyle to a way of life according to the will of God. At the dawning of a new era, John the Baptist, preparing the people for the coming of the Messiah, preached “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand”. When Christ came he preached the same message and through his teaching he continually pounded the message of repentance showing us how necessary it is for our salvation. This message of repentance has never stopped; it was taken up by the Apostles, and the Church, through the liturgical hymns and sermons and other means at her disposal, continually reminds us that we must repent of our sinful ways if we want to live eternally with Christ.


The four Sundays before Lent each have important teachings to prepare us and put us in the proper frame of mind that we must have to reap the spiritual benefits of Great Lent. The first two Sundays teach us repentance and humility which are interdependent, the third Sunday teaches us about love for all people and the fourth, just before the onset of Great Lent, teaches us the importance of forgiveness and how to pray and fast in a manner that will help us reap the rewards of our effort so that our time in the spiritual arena of Great Lent will not have been in vain.

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