The Pre-Lenten Period

by: Rev. Christopher P. Foustoukos Proistamenos

The two weeks before we begin using the book called the Lenten Triodion (the book gets this title because the chanting of the Canon during weekday Matins/ Orthros of Great Lent has only three Canticles instead of the normal eight, thus three (Tri) odes or Triodion) we hear the Gospel of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1- 10). The lesson on January 22nd describes how Zacchaeus climbed a tree beside the road where Christ was to pass. Zacchaeus is not only eager but also filled with an intense desire to see the Lord. We apply this Scripture to ourselves in approaching Great Lent. We should have a real eagerness in our hearts and an intense desire for a clearer vision of Christ. If this is true, then our hope will be fulfilled during the fast; for like Zacchaeus we will receive far more than we expect. If we don’t have within us this eager expectation and this sincere desire, then we shall see and receive nothing. And so we should ask ourselves: What is my state of mind and will as I prepare to embark on the Lenten Journey?

The Triodion begins on Sunday, February 5th and for two weeks focuses on the theme of repentance. On February 5th we hear the Gospel of the Publican and the Pharisee (Luke 18:10-14). Repentance is the door through which we enter Great Lent. To repent is more than selfpity or regret over things done in the past. The Greek term Metanoia means a radical change of mind or direction. The problem with the Pharisee is that he has no desire to change his outlook; he is complacent, self-satisfied, and so he allows no place for God to act within him. The publican, on the other hand, truly longs for a ‘change of mind:’ he is dissatisfied with himself, he is poor in spirit, and where there is this selfdissatisfaction there is room for God to act. The theme of this Sunday can be summed up in a saying of the Desert Fathers: “Better a person who has sinned, if they know that they have sinned and repent, than a person who has not sinned and thinks of themself as righteous.”

On Sunday February 12th, we read of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). This parable is for us an icon of repentance in its different stages. Sin is exile, enslavement to strangers and hunger. Repentance is the return from exile to our true home; it is to receive back our inheritance and freedom in the Father’s house. But repentance implies action: “I will arise and go…” (verse 18). To repent is not just to feel dissatisfied, but to make a decision and to act on it.

The Sunday of Meatfare or Last Judgment is commemorated on February 19th with the reading from Matthew 25:31-46. The previous two Sundays spoke to us about God’s patience and limitless compassion, of His readiness to accept every sinner who returns to Him. On this Sunday, we are reminded of a complementary truth: no one is so patient and so merciful as God, but even He does not forgive those who do not repent. The God of love is also a God of righteousness, and when Christ comes again in glory, He will come as our judge. This is the message of Lent to each of us: turn back while there is still time, repent before the End comes.

On Sunday, February 26th, the day before Great Lent begins (Clean Monday) we celebrate Cheesefare or Forgiveness Sunday. This is the last of the Sundays of preparation for Great Lent. There are two themes on this day: the commemoration of Adam’s expulsion from Paradise and forgiveness. There are obvious reasons why these two topics should be brought to our attention as we stand on the threshold of the Great Fast. One of the primary images in the Triodion is that of the return to paradise. Lent is a time when we weep with Adam and Eve before the closed gate of Eden, repenting with them for the sins that have deprived us of our free communion with God. But Lent is also a time when we are preparing to celebrate the saving event of Christ’s death and rising, which has reopened Paradise to us once more. So sorrow for our exile in sin is tempered by hope of our re-entry into paradise.

The second theme of Forgiveness is emphasized in the Gospel reading for this Sunday and in the special ceremony of mutual forgiveness at the end of Vespers on Sunday evening (February 26th). Before we enter the Lenten Fast, we are reminded that there can be no true fast, no genuine repentance, no reconciliation with God, unless we are at the same time reconciled with one another. A fast without mutual love is the fast of demons.

I pray that you are well prepared and fortified for your journey through Great Lent. Remember to follow the calendar for the services on Monday, Wednesday and Fridays during Lent. Have a blessed Lent…Kali Tesserakosti!

+ Fr. Chris

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