The four weeks which precede Great Lent are considered preparatory, a forerunner to Lent. These four weeks, along with the eight weeks of Lent, are characterized by the Church as Triodion, meaning “thrice-hymns”, a name which has no bearing on the substance of Lent itself:
- The four weeks preceding Lent are known as:
- Sunday of the Tax Collector and Pharisee (from the Parable),
- Sunday of the Prodigal Son (from the Parable),
- Sunday of Meat (the Final Judgment),
- Sunday of Cheese (Adam’s expulsion from Paradise);
- The eight weeks of the Great Lent are:
- First Sunday (Sunday of Orthodoxy),
- Second Sunday (St. Gregory Palamas),
- Third Sunday (Adoration of Cross),
- Fourth Sunday (St. John of Climax),
- Fifth Sunday (St. Mary of Egypt),
- Palm Sunday through Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday.
- During Great Lent:
- Every day the Great Compline is read,
- Every Wednesday and Friday the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is officiated.
- On four Friday evenings a fourth of the Akathist Hymn is read, with the entire Hymn read the fifth Friday.
THE FOUR PREPARATORY WEEKS
SUNDAY OF THE TAX COLLECTOR AND PHARISEE (John 1:43-52).
Arrogance is the perversion of the soul and spirit of man; it is the greatest weapon of the evil one; it is the mother of hypocrisy; it is the obstacle of spiritual progress: it is the degradation of civilization; it is the greatest enemy of man; it is the opposite of repentance; it is the corruption of the conscience of man. This is why the Church designated the first Sunday of preparation for acceptance of the Message of the Resurrection of Christ, with the Parable of the Tax Collector and Pharisee being read. The root of evil, arrogance, should be uprooted and replaced with the virtue of humbleness, which is the teaching of this Parable. The highest degree of man’s arrogance is when a person speaks to God in prayers as did the Pharisee, who said, “God I thank thee”, only for the opportunity to enumerate his achievements publicly, comparing himself to others who, according to him, were sinners, saying “I am not like other men, sinners, or even like this tax collector”. He extolled himself saying, “I fast, I give tithe”, which he did. But the more he boasted, the more he condemned himself through arrogance.
On the other hand, the tax collector confessed: “God be merciful to me a sinner”. The repentance of the tax collector is the basis of Christian life; it is the passage into the Kingdom; it is the reestablishment of the image of God in the soul of His creature. Humbleness is the queen of all virtues. Thus, the first phrase of the hymnology of the day is: “Let us not pray pharisee-like. . . . Open to me the doors of repentance”. The combination of almsgiving, prayer and piety, along with the intention of repentance like that of the tax collector, is imperative in the life of a Christian. The attitude of the tax collector made him a steward of divine gifts. Repentance and confession of faith is the same two-sided coin.
SUNDAY OF THE PRODIGAL SON (Luke 15:11-32).
This Parable relates to man’s prodigality with the divine gifts to man. It is the consequence of arrogance. Prodigality is the unreckoning extravagance in sensuality. The prodigal is one who cannot be saved, whose life is dissolute, who squandered his father’s property. Prodigality, then, is the second basic corruption toward which man is inclined. This is why this Parable is known as the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the subject matter of this week. Despite the characterization in this Parable, its main subject is the warm parental love of the Father. The father’s love was unbroken and firm
for his prodigal son. His love was shown more at the return of his son than in the beginning, despite the fact that his son squandered his “properties”. In the end, however, the son exchanged his prodigality for repentance, and this is the crux of the parable. This moment changes the prodigal son into the prudent son, expelling arrogance with repentance. While the son was returning to his father, he kept rehearsing over and over again: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you”. But when the son saw his father’s house from afar, his father saw him, and ran to him and embraced him warmly. Thus, the son did not have the opportunity to tell his father what he had been rehearsing. The son at the beginning said, “give me”, but in the end he asked, “make me”, which is the depth of repentance and obedience, the challenging factors of a Christian.
SUNDAY OF MEAT (Matthew 25:31-46).
It is a strong conviction and belief of the Church that Christ will come a second time into the world, not to save the world, but in “glory” to judge the world. In as much as God knew in advance the destiny of each man, why did He not prevent the non-believers and wrong-doers from being born and being condemned everlastingly, someone might ask. The fate of people is wrought on this earth, because after death, there is no opportunity for repentance in order to better one’s state. Man’s finite mind cannot comprehend God’s love for his salvation and judgment for his condemnation. Yet, here is the center of the belief that there is a Supreme Judge for those who committed iniquities and wrong-doings without punishment or discovery while on earth. Approaching Lent and Easter, the Christian is admonished to correct his faults by fasting, praying and almsgiving, as recorded in the Gospel passage of the day. The Last Judgment will be made according to the good works of each person as a result of his faith in and worship of God. These good works are directed to the “least”, those in need, as Christ Himself says, “as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me”, (v. 45). This Sunday is the last day before Lent that the believer eats meat.
SUNDAY OF CHEESE (Matthew 6:14-21).
The theme of this Sunday refers to the expulsion of Adam from Paradise. Adam in Paradise misused his freedom by allowing himself to be persuaded by the evil one to disobey the command to not eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The evil one convinced him that by so doing he would know more than God. The Church
in its hymnology presents the condition of Adam outside of Paradise as weeping and working hard for his livelihood. The Gospel passage of the day refers to the manner of praying, fasting, almsgiving and all good works. These are to be done in secret, without boasting. The meaning of this Sunday is the condescension of God to the human weakness, “for if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (v. 14-15). This is emphasized in the Lord’s Prayer.,The week (six days) preceding Sunday of Cheese and after Meat Sunday, is the addition to the period of the Great Lent which completes the forty days of fasting (excluding Saturdays and Sundays). The name of this Sunday, “Cheese”, implies that the fast of this week is the gradual transition from eating meat to the strict fast of Lent, which starts the next day, Monday, with the first Sunday of Lent at the end of the preliminary seven days (Sunday of Orthodoxy).