|By Mother Mary and Bishop Kallistos Ware|
'We waited, and at last our expectations were fulfilled',
writes the Serbian Bishop Nikolai of Ochrid, describing the Easter service
at Jerusalem. 'When the Patriarch sang "Christ is risen", a
heavy burden fell from our souls. We felt as if we also had been raised
from the dead. All at once, from all around, the same cry resounded like
the noise of many waters. "Christ is risen" sang the Greeks,
the Russians, the Arabs, the Serbs, the Copts, the Armenians, the Ethiopians
one after another, each in his own tongue, in his own melody. . . . Coming
out from the service at dawn, we began to regard everything in the light
of the glory of Christ's Resurrection, and all appeared different from
what it had yesterday; everything seemed better, more expressive, more
glorious. Only in the light of the Resurrection does life receive meaning.'
This sense of resurrection joy, so vividly described
by Bishop Nikolai, forms the foundation of all the worship of the Orthodox
Church; it is the one and only basis for our Christian life and hope.
Yet, in order for us to experience the full power of this Paschal rejoicing,
each of us needs to pass through a time of preparation. 'We waited,' says
Bishop Nikolai, 'and at last our expectations were fulfilled.' Without
this waiting, without this expectant preparation, the deeper meaning of
the Easter celebration will be lost.
So it is that before the
festival of Easter there has developed a long preparatory season of repentance
and fasting, extending in present Orthodox usage over ten weeks. First
come twenty-two days (four successive Sundays) of preliminary observance;
then the six weeks or forty days of the Great Fast of Lent; and finally
Holy Week, Balancing the seven weeks of Lent and Holy Week, there follows
after Easter a corresponding season of fifty days of thanksgiving, concluding
Each of these seasons has
its own liturgical book. For the time of preparation there is the Lenten
Triodion or 'Book of Three Odes', the most important parts of which are
here presented in English translation. For the time of thanksgiving there
is the Pentekostarion, also known in Slav usage as the Festal Triodion.
2 The point of division between the two books is midnight on the
evening of Holy Saturday, with Matins for Easter Sunday as the first service
in the Pentekostarion. This division into two distinct volumes, made for
reasons of practical convenience, should not cause us to overlook the
essential unity between the Lord's Crucifixion and His Resurrection, which
together form a single, indivisible action. And just as the Crucifixion
and the Resurrection are one action, so also the 'three holy days' (triduum
sanctum) - Great Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday constitute a
single liturgical observance. Indeed, the division of the Lenten Triodion
and the Pentekostarion into two books did not become standard until after
the eleventh century; in early manuscripts they are both contained in
the same codex.
What do we find, then, in
this book of preparation that we term the Lenten Triodion? It can most
briefly be described as the book of the fast. Just as the children of
Israel ate the 'bread of affliction' (Deut. 16: 3) in preparation for
the Passover, so Christians prepare themselves for the celebration of
the New Passover by observing a fast. But what is meant by this word 'fast'
(nisteia)? Here the utmost care is needed, so as to preserve a proper
balance between the outward and the inward. On the outward level fasting
involves physical abstinence from food and drink, and without such exterior
abstinence a full and true fast cannot be kept; yet the rules about eating
and drinking must never be treated as an end in themselves, for ascetic
fasting has always an inward and unseen purpose. Man is a unity of body
and soul, 'a living creature fashioned from natures visible and invisible'
, in the words of the Triodion; 3 and our ascetic fasting should
therefore involve both these natures at once. The tendency to over-emphasize
external rules about food in a legalistic way, and the opposite tendency
to scorn these rules as outdated and unnecessary, are both alike to be
deplored as a betrayal of true Orthodoxy. In both cases the proper balance
between the outward and the inward has been impaired.
The second tendency is doubtless
the more prevalent in our own day, especially in the West. Until the fourteenth
century, most Western Christians, in common with their brethren in the
Orthodox East, abstained during Lent not only from meat but from animal
products, such as , eggs, milk, butter and cheese. In East and West alike,
the Lenten fast involved a severe physical effort. But in Western Christendom
over the past five hundred years, the physical requirements of fasting
have been steadily reduced, until by now they are little more than symbolic.
How many, one wonders, of those who eat pancakes on Shrove Tuesday are
aware of the original reason for this custom to use up any remaining eggs
and butter before the Lenten fast begins? Exposed as it is to Western
secularism, the Orthodox world in our own time is also beginning to follow
the same path of laxity.
One reason for this decline
in fasting is surely a heretical attitude towards human nature, a false
'spiritualism' which rejects or ignores the body, viewing man solely in
terms of his reasoning brain. As a result, many contemporary Christians
have lost a true vision of man as an integral unity of the visible and
the invisible; they neglect the positive role played by the body in the
spiritual life, forgetting St. Paul's affirmation: 'Your body is a temple
of the Holy Spirit. . . . glorify God with your body' (I Cor. 6: 19-20).
Another reason for the decline in fasting among Orthodox is the argument,
commonly advanced in our times, that the traditional rules are no longer
possible today. These rules presuppose, so it is urged, a closely organized,
non-pluralistic Christian society, following an agricultural way of life
that is now increasingly a thing of the past. There is a measure of truth
in this. But it needs also to be said that fasting, as traditionally practiced
in the Church, has always been difficult and has always involved
hardship. Many of our contemporaries are willing to fast for reasons of
health or beauty, in order to lose weight; cannot we Christians do as
much for the sake of the heavenly Kingdom? Why should the self-denial
gladly accepted by previous generations of Orthodox prove such an intolerable
burden to their successors today? Once St. Seraphim of Sarov was asked
why the miracles of grace, so abundantly manifest in the past, were no
longer apparent in his own day, and to this he replied: 'Only one thing
is lacking - a firm resolve'. 4
The primary aim of fasting
is to make us conscious of our dependence upon God. If practiced seriously,
the Lenten abstinence from food - particularly in the opening days - involves
a considerable measure of real hunger, and also a feeling of tiredness
and physical exhaustion. The purpose of this is to lead us in turn to
a sense of inward brokenness and contrition; to bring us, that is, to
the point where we appreciate the full force of Christ's statement, 'Without
Me you can do nothing' (John 15: 5). If we always take our fill of food
and drink, we easily grow over-confident in our own abilities, acquiring
a false sense of autonomy and self-sufficiency. The observance of a physical
fast undermines this sinful complacency. Stripping from us the specious
assurance of the Pharisee - who fasted, it is true, but not in the right
spirit - Lenten abstinence gives us the saving self dissatisfaction of
the Publican (Luke I 8: 10-1 3). Such is the function of the hunger and
the tiredness: to make us 'poor in spirit', aware of our helplessness
and of our dependence on God's aid.
Yet it would be misleading
to speak only of this element of weariness and hunger. Abstinence leads,
not merely-to this, but also to a sense of lightness, wakefulness, freedom
and joy. Even if the fast proves debilitating at first, afterwards we
find that it enables us to sleep less, to think more clearly, and to work
more decisively. As many doctors acknowledge, periodical fasts contribute
to bodily hygiene. While involving genuine self-denial, fasting does not
seek to do violence to our body but rather to restore it to health and
equilibrium. Most of us in the Western world habitually eat more than
we need. Fasting liberates our body from the burden of excessive weight
and makes it a willing partner in the task of prayer, alert and responsive
to the voice of the Spirit.
It will be noted that in
common Orthodox usage the words 'fasting' and 'abstinence' are employed
interchangeably. Prior to the Second Vatican Council, the Roman Catholic
Church made a clear distinction between the two terms: abstinence concerned
the types of food eaten, irrespective of quantity, whereas fasting signified
a limitation on the number of meals or on the amount of food that could
be taken. Thus on certain days both abstinence and fasting were required;
alternatively, the one might be prescribed but not the other. In the Orthodox
Church a clear-cut distinction is not made between the two words. During
Lent there is frequently a limitation on the number of meals eaten each
day, 5 but when a meal is permitted there is no restriction on the
amount of food allowed. The Fathers simply state, as a guiding principle,
that we should never eat to satiety but always rise from the table feeling
that we could have taken more and that we are now ready for prayer.
If it is important not to
overlook the physical requirements of fasting, it is even more important
not to overlook its inward significance. Fasting is not a mere matter
of diet. It is moral as well as physical. True fasting is to be converted
in heart and will; it is to return to God, to come home like the Prodigal
to our Father's house. In the words of St. John Chrysostom, it means 'abstinence
not only from food but from sins'. 'The fast', he insists, 'should be
kept not by the mouth alone but also by the eye, the ear, the feet, the
hands and all the members of the body': the eye must abstain from impure
sights, the ear from malicious gossip, the hands from acts of injustice.
6 It is useless to fast from food, protests St. Basil, and yet to
indulge in cruel criticism and slander: 'You do not eat meat, but you
devour your brother' . 7 The same point is made in the Triodion, especially
during the first week of Lent:
As we fast from food,
let us abstain also from every passion. . .
Let us observe a fast acceptable and pleasing to the Lord.
True fasting is to put away all evil,
To control the tongue, to forbear from anger,
To abstain from lust, slander, falsehood and perjury.
If we renounce these things, then is our fasting true and acceptable to
Let us keep the Fast not only by refraining from food,
But by becoming strangers to all the bodily passions. 8
The inner significance of
fasting is best summed up in the triad: prayer, fasting, almsgiving. Divorced
from prayer and from the reception of the holy sacraments, unaccompanied
by acts of compassion, our fasting becomes pharisaical or even demonic.
It leads, not to contrition and joyfulness, but to pride, inward tension
and irritability. The link between prayer and fasting is rightly indicated
by Father Alexander Elchaninov. A critic of fasting says to him: 'Our
work suffers and we become irritable. . . . I have never seen servants
[in pre-revolutionary Russia] so bad tempered as during the last days
of Holy Week. Clearly, fasting has a very bad effect on the nerves.' To
this Father Alexander replies: 'You are quite right. . . . If it is not
accompanied by prayer and an increased spiritual life, it merely leads
to a heightened state of irritability. It is natural that servants who
took their fasting seriously and who were forced to work hard during Lent,
while not being allowed to go to church, were angry and irritable.' 9
Fasting, then, is valueless
or even harmful when not combined with prayer. In the Gospels the devil
is cast out, not by fasting alone, but by 'prayer and fasting' (Matt.
17: 21 ; Mark 9: 29); and of the early Christians it is said, not simply
that they fasted, but that they 'fasted and prayed' (Acts 13: 3; compare
14: 23). In both the Old and the New Testament fasting is seen, not as
an end in itself, but as an aid to more intense and living prayer, as
a preparation for decisive action or for direct encounter with God. Thus
our Lord's forty-day fast in the wilderness was the immediate preparation
for His public ministry (Matt. 4: 1-11). When Moses fasted on Mount Sinai
(Exod. 34: 28) and Elijah on Mount Horeb (3  Kgs. 19: 8-12), the fast
was in both cases linked with a theophany. The same connection between
fasting and the vision of God is evident in the case of St. Peter (Acts
10: 9-17). He 'went up on the housetop to pray about the sixth hour, and
he became very hungry and wanted to eat; and it was in this state that
he fell into a trance and heard the divine voice. Such is always the purpose
of ascetic fasting - to enable us, as the Triodion puts it, to 'draw near
to the mountain of prayer'. 10
Prayer and fasting should
in their turn be accompanied by almsgiving - by love for others expressed
in practical form, by works of compassion and forgiveness. Eight days
before the opening of the Lenten fast, on the Sunday of the Last Judgment,
the appointed Gospel is the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matt.
25': 31-46), reminding us that the criterion in the coming judgment will
not be the strictness of our fasting but the amount of help that we have
given to those in need. In the words of the Triodion:
Knowing the commandments
of the Lord, let this be our way of life:
Let us feed the hungry, let us give the thirsty drink,
Let us clothe the naked, let us welcome strangers,
Let us visit those in prison and the sick.
Then the Judge of all the earth will say even to us:
'Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you.'
This stanza, it may be noted
in passing, is a typical instance of the 'evangelical' character of the
Orthodox service-books. In common with so many other texts in the Triodion,
it is simply a paraphrase of the words of Holy Scripture. 12
It is no coincidence that
on the very threshold of the Great Fast, at Vespers on the Sunday of Forgiveness,
there is a special ceremony of mutual reconciliation: 13 for without
love towards others there can be no genuine fast. And this love for others
should not be limited to formal gestures or to sentimental feelings, but
should issue in specific acts of almsgiving. Such was the firm conviction
of the early Church. The second-century Shepherd of Hermas insists that
the money saved through fasting is to be given to the widow, the orphan
and the poor. 14 But almsgiving means more than this. It is to give not
only our money but our time, not only what we have but what we are; it
is to give a part of ourselves. When we hear the Triodion speak of almsgiving,
the word should almost always be taken in this deeper sense. For the mere
giving of money can often be a substitute and an evasion, a way of protecting
ourselves from closer personal involvement with those in distress. On
the other hand, to do nothing more than offer reassuring words of advice
to someone crushed by urgent material anxieties is equally an evasion
of our responsibilities (see Jas. 2: 16). Bearing in mind the unity already
emphasized between man's body and his soul, we seek to offer help on both
the material and the spiritual levels at once.
'When thou seest the naked,
cover him; and hide not thyself from thine own flesh.' The Eastern liturgical
tradition, in common with that of the West, treats Isaiah 58: 3-8 as a
basic Lenten text. So we read in the Triodion:
While fasting with the
body, brethren, let us also fast in spirit.
Let us loose every bond of iniquity ;
Let us undo the knots of every contract made by violence;
Let us tear up all unjust agreements;
Let us give bread to the hungry
And welcome to our house the poor who have no roof to cover them,
That we may receive great mercy from Christ our God. 15
Always in our acts of abstinence
we should keep in mind St. Paul's admonition not to condemn others who
fast less strictly: 'Let not him who abstains pass judgment on him who
eats' (Rom. 14: 3). Equally, we remember Christ's condemnation of outward
display in prayer, fasting or almsgiving (Matt. 6: 1-18). Both these Scriptural
passages are often recalled in the Triodion:
Consider well, my soul:
dost thou fast? Then despise not thy neighbor.
Dost thou abstain from food? Condemn not thy brother.
Come, let us cleanse ourselves by almsgiving and acts of mercy to the
Not sounding a trumpet or making a show of our charity.
Let not our left hand know what our right hand is doing;
Let not vainglory scatter the fruit of our almsgiving;
But in secret let us call on Him that knows all secrets:
Father, forgive us our trespasses, for Thou lovest mankind. 16
If we are to understand correctly
the text of the Triodion and the spirituality that underlies it, there
are five misconceptions about the Lenten fast against which we should
guard. In the first place, the Lenten fast is not intended only for monks
and nuns, but is enjoined on the whole Christian people. Nowhere
do the Canons of the Ecumenical or Local Councils suggest that fasting
is only for monks and not for the laity. By virtue of their Baptism, all
Christians - whether married or under monastic vows - are Cross-bearers,
following the same spiritual path. The exterior conditions in which they
live out their Christianity display a wide variety, but in its inward
essence the life is one. Just as the monk by his voluntary self-denial
is seeking to affirm the intrinsic goodness and beauty of God's creation,
so also is each married Christian required to be in some measure an ascetic.
The way of negation and the way of affirmation are interdependent, and
every Christian is called to follow both ways at once.
In the second place, the
Triodion should not be misconstrued in a Pelagian sense. If the Lenten
texts are continually urging us to greater personal efforts, this should
not be taken as implying that our progress depends solely upon the exertion
of our own will. On the contrary, whatever we achieve in the Lenten fast
is to be regarded as a free gift of grace from God. The Great Canon of
St. Andrew of Crete leaves no doubt at all on this point:
I have no tears, no repentance,
But as God do Thou Thyself, O Saviour, bestow them on me. 17
In the third place, our fasting
should not be self-willed but obedient. When we fast, we should not
try to invent special rules for ourselves, but we should follow as faithfully
as possible the accepted pattern set before us by Holy Tradition. This
accepted pattern, expressing as it does the collective conscience of the
People of God, possesses a hidden wisdom and balance not to be found in
ingenious austerities devised by our own fantasy. Where it seems that
the traditional regulations are not applicable to our personal situation,
we should seek the counsel of our spiritual father - not in order legalistically
to secure a 'dispensation' from him, but in order humbly with his help
to discover what is the will of God for us. Above all, if we desire for
ourselves not some relaxation but some piece of additional strictness,
we should not embark upon it without our spiritual father's blessing.
Such has been the practice since the early centuries of the Church's life:
Abba Antony said: 'I know
of monks who fell after much labor and lapsed into madness, because they
trusted in their own work and neglected the commandment that says: "Ask
your father, and he will tell you.'" (Deut. 32: 7)
Again he said: 'So far as
possible, for every step that a monk takes, for every drop of water that
he drinks in his cell, he should consult the gerontes, in case he makes
some mistake in this.' 18
These words apply not only
to monks but also to lay people living in the 'world', even though the
latter may be bound by a less strict obedience to their spiritual father.
If proud and willful, our fasting assumes a diabolical character, bringing
us closer not to God but to Satan. Because fasting renders us sensitive
to the realities of the spiritual world, it can be dangerously ambivalent:
for there are evil spirits as well as good.
In the fourth place, paradoxical
though it may seem, the period of Lent is a time not of gloom but of joyfulness.
It is true that fasting brings us to repentance and to grief for sin,
but this penitent grief, in the vivid phrase of St. John Climacus, is
a 'joy-creating sorrow' . 19 The Triodion deliberately mentions
both tears and gladness in a single sentence:
Grant me tears falling
as the rain from heaven, O Christ,
As I keep this joyful day of the Fast. 20
It is remarkable how frequently the themes of joy and light recur in the
texts for the first day of Lent:
With joy let us enter upon the beginning of the Fast.
Let us not be of sad countenance. . . .
Let us joyfully begin the all-hallowed season of abstinence;
And let us shine with the bright radiance of the holy commandments. .
All mortal life is but one day, so it is said,
To those who labor with love.
There are forty days in the Fast;
Let us keep them all with joy. 21
The season of Lent, it should
be noted, falls not in midwinter when the countryside is frozen and dead,
but in spring when all things are returning to life. The English word
'Lent' originally had the meaning 'springtime'; and in a text of fundamental
importance the Triodion likewise describes the Great Fast as 'springtime':
The springtime of the
Fast has dawned,
The flower of repentance has begun to open.
O brethren, let us cleanse ourselves from all impurity
And sing to the Giver of Light:
Glory be to Thee, who alone lovest mankind. 22
Lent signifies not winter
but spring, not darkness but light, not death but renewed vitality. Certainly
it has its somber aspect, with the repeated prostrations at the weekday
services, with the dark vestments of the priest, with the hymns sung to
a subdued chant, full of compunction. In the Christian Empire of Byzantium
theatres were closed and public spectacles forbidden during Lent; 23 and
even today weddings are forbidden in the seven weeks of the fast. 24 Yet
these elements of austerity should not blind us to the fact that the fast
is not a burden, not a punishment, but a gift of God's grace:
Come, O ye people,
and today let us accept
The grace of the Fast as a gift from God. 25
Fifthly and finally, our
Lenten abstinence does not imply a rejection of God's creation. As St.
Paul insists, 'Nothing is unclean in itself' (Rom. 14: 14). All that God
has made is 'very good' (Gen. I: 31): to fast is not to deny this intrinsic
goodness but to reaffirm it. 'To the pure all things are pure' (Titus
I: I S), and so at the Messianic banquet in the Kingdom of heaven there
will be no need for fasting and ascetic self-denial. But, living as we
do in a fallen world, and suffering as we do from the consequences of
sin, both original and personal, we are not pure; and so we have need
of fasting. Evil resides not in created things as such but in our attitude
towards them, that is, in our will. The purpose of fasting, then, is not
to repudiate the divine creation but to cleanse our will. During the fast
we deny our bodily impulses - for example, our spontaneous appetite for
food and drink - not because these impulses are in themselves evil, but
because they have been disordered by sin and require to be purified through
self-discipline. In this way, asceticism is a fight not against but for
the body; the aim of fasting is to purge the body from alien defilement
and to render it spiritual. By rejecting what is sinful in our will, we
do not destroy the God-created body but restore it to its true balance
and freedom. In Father Sergei Bulgakov's phrase, we kill the flesh in
order to acquire a body.
But in rendering the body
spiritual, we do not thereby dematerialize it, depriving it of its character
as a physical entity. The 'spiritual' is not to be equated with the non-material,
neither is the 'fleshly' or carnal to be equated with the bodily. In St.
Paul's usage, 'flesh' denotes the totality of man, soul and body together,
in so far as he is fallen and separated from God; and in the same way
'spirit' denotes the totality of man, soul and body together, in so far
as he is redeemed and divinized by grace. 26 Thus the soul as well
as the body can become carnal and fleshly, and the body as well as the
soul can become spiritual. When St. Paul enumerates the 'works of the
flesh' (Gal. 5: 19-21), he includes such things as sedition, heresy and
envy, which involve the soul much more than the body. In making our body
spiritual, then, the Lenten fast does not suppress the physical aspect
of our human nature, but makes our materiality once more as God intended
it to be.
Such is the way in which
we interpret our abstinence from food. Bread and wine and the other fruits
of the earth are gifts from God, of which we partake with reverence and
thanksgiving. If Orthodox Christians abstain from eating meat at certain
times, or in some cases continually, this does not mean that the Orthodox
Church is on principle vegetarian and considers meat-eating to be a sin;
and if we abstain sometimes from wine, this does not mean that we uphold
teetotalism. When we fast, this is not because we regard the act of eating
as shameful, but in order to make an our eating spiritual, sacramental
and eucharistic - no longer a concession to greed but a means of communion
with God the giver. So far from making us look on food as a defilement,
fasting has exactly the opposite effect. Only those who have learnt to
control their appetites through abstinence can appreciate the full glory
and beauty of what God has given to us. To one who has eaten nothing for
twenty-four hours, an olive can seem full of nourishment. A slice of plain
cheese or a hard boiled egg never taste so good as on Easter morning,
after seven weeks of fasting.
We can apply this approach
also to the question of abstinence from sexual relations. It has long
been the Church's teaching that during seasons of fasting married couples
should try to live as brother and sister, but this does not at all signify
that sexual relations within marriage are in themselves sinful. On the
contrary, the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete - in which, more than
anywhere else in the Triodion, we find summed up the significance of Lent
states without the least ambiguity: Marriage is honorable, and the marriage-bed
undefiled. For on both Christ has given His blessing, Eating in the flesh
at the wedding in Cana, Turning water into wine and revealing His first
The abstinence of married
couples, then, has as its aim not the suppression but the purification
of sexuality. Such abstinence, practiced 'with mutual consent for a time',
has always the positive aim, 'that you may give yourselves to fasting
and prayer' (1 Cor. 7: 5). Self restraint, so far from indicating a dualist
depreciation of the body, serves on the contrary to confer upon the sexual
side of marriage a spiritual dimension which might otherwise be absent.
To guard against a dualist
misinterpretation of the fast, the Triodion speaks repeatedly about the
inherent goodness of the material creation. In the last of the services
that it contains, Vespers for Holy Saturday, the sequence of fifteen Old
Testament Lessons opens with the first words of Genesis, 'In the beginning
God created the heaven and the earth... : all created things are God's
handiwork and as such are 'very good'. Every part of this divine creation,
so the Triodion insists, joins in giving praise to the Maker:
The hosts of heaven give
Before Him tremble cherubim and seraphim;
Let everything that has breath and all creation
Praise Him, bless Him, and exalt Him above all for ever.
O Thou who coverest Thy high places with the waters,
Who settest the sand as a bound to the sea and upholdest all things:
The sun sings Thy praises, the moon gives Thee glory,
Every creature offers a hymn to Thee,
His Author and Creator, for ever.
Let all the trees of the forest dance and sing. . . .
Let the mountains and all the hills
Break forth into great rejoicing at the mercy of God,
And let the trees of the forest clap their hands. 28
This affirmative attitude
towards the material world is founded not only on the doctrine of creation
but also on the doctrine of Christ. Again and again in the Triodion, the
true physical reality of Christ's human nature is underlined. How, then,
can the human body be evil, if God Himself has in His own person assumed
and divinized the body? As we state at Matins on the first Sunday in Lent,
the Sunday of Orthodoxy:
Thou hast not appeared
to us, O loving Lord, merely in outward semblance,
As say the followers of Mani, who are enemies of God,
But in the full and true reality of the flesh. 29
Because Christ took a true
material body, so the hymns for the Sunday of Orthodoxy make clear, it
is possible and, indeed, essential to depict His person in the holy icons,
using material wood and paint:
The uncircumscribed Word
of the Father became circumscribed,
Taking flesh from thee, O Theotokos,
And He has restored the sullied image to its ancient glory,
Pilling it with the divine beauty.
This our salvation we confess in deed and word,
And we depict it in the holy icons. 30
This assertion of the spirit-bearing
potentialities of the material creation is a constant theme during the
season of Lent. On the first Sunday of the Great Fast, we are reminded
of the physical nature of Christ's Incarnation, of the material reality
of the holy icons, and of the visible, aesthetic beauty of the Church.
On the second Sunday we keep the memory of St. Gregory Palamas (1296-1
359), who taught that all creation is permeated by the energies of God,
and that even in the present life this divine glory can be perceived through
man's physical eyes, provided that his body has been rendered spiritual
by God's grace. On the third Sunday we venerate the material wood of the
Cross; on the sixth Sunday we bless material branches of palms; on Wednesday
in Holy Week we are signed with material oil in the sacrament of Anointing;
on Holy Thursday we recall how at the Last Supper Christ blessed material
bread and wine, transforming them into His Body and Blood.
Those who fast, so far from
repudiating material things, are on the contrary assisting in their redemption.
They are fulfilling the vocation assigned to the 'sons of God' by St.
Paul: 'The created universe waits with eager longing for the revealing
of the sons of God. . . . The creation will be set free from its bondage
to decay and will obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail until now'
(Rom. 8 : 19-22). By means of our Lenten abstinence, we seek with God's
help to exercise this calling as priests of the creation, restoring all
things to their primal splendor. Ascetic self-discipline, then, signifies
a rejection of the world, only in so far as it is corrupted by the fall;
of the body, only in so far as it is dominated by sinful passions. Lust
excludes love: so long as we lust after other persons or other things,
we cannot truly love them. By delivering us from lust, the fast renders
us capable of genuine love. No longer ruled by the selfish desire to grasp
and to exploit, we begin to see the world with the eyes of Adam in Paradise.
Our self-denial is the path that leads to our self-affirmation; it is
our means of entry into the cosmic liturgy whereby all things visible
and invisible ascribe glory to their Creator.
1 Bishop Nikolai (Velimirovich), Missionary
Letters: abbreviated from the translation in The Journal of the Fellowship
of St. Alban and St. Sergius, no. 24 (1934), pp. 26-7.
2 The Lenten Triodion is so entitled because on weekdays in the Great
Fast the Canon at Mattins usually has only three Canticles, instead of
eight as at other times of the year. To avoid confusion, we shall follow
the Greek practice, reserving the name 'Triodion' to the volume for the
Lenten period, and always referring to the volume for the period after
Easter by the title 'Pentekostarion'.
3 Vespers for Saturday of the Dead.
4 See V. Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church (London,
1957), p. 216.
5 For details, see below, pp. 35-6
6 Homilies on the Statues, iii, 3-4 (P.G. [PatroloOia Graeca] xlix, 51-3).
7 Homilies on Fasting, i, 10 (P.G. xxxi, 181B).
8 Vespers for Sunday evening (Sunday of Forgiveness); Vespers for Monday
and Tuesday in the first week.
9 The Diary of a Russian Priest (London, 1967), p. 128.
10 Mattins for Tuesday in the first week.
11 Vespers for Saturday evening (Sunday of the Last Judgement).
12 Compare what is said in Mother Mary and Archimandrite Kallistos Ware,
The Festal Menaion (London, 1969). p. 16.
13 See below, p. 183.
14 Similitudes, V, iii, 7.
15 Vespers for Wednesday in the first week.
16 Mattins for the Sunday of the Last Judgement; Vespers for Sunday evening
(Sunday of Orthodoxy).
17 Canticle Two, troparion 25".
18 Apophtheomata Patrum, alphabetical collection (P.G. lxv), Antony 37
and 38. The Greek term geron (in Russian, starets) means literally an
old man - old, not necessarily in years, but in spiritual experience and
wisdom. He is one endowed by the Holy Spirit with the gift of seeing into
men's hearts and offering them guidance.
19 The Ladder of Paradise, Step 7, title.
20 Vespers for Monday in the first week.
21 All these quotations are from Mattins for the first Monday.
22 Vespers for Wednesday in the week before Lent.
23 Photius, Nomocanon, Tit. vii, c. I. Might not this rule be applied
by contemporary Orthodox to television?
24 Council of Laodicea (c. A.D. 364), Canon 52. Dispensations from this
rule require episcopal permission, which should not be granted except
for grave reasons.
25 Mattins for Monday in the first week.
26 The liturgical texts, however, do not always conform to this Biblical
usage, but sometimes employ the word 'flesh' as a synonym for 'body'.
27 Canticle Nine, troparion 12.
28 The Great Canon, Canticle Eight, irmos; Compline for Holy Thursday;
Mattins for the Sunday of the Cross; Mattins for Palm Sunday.
29 The Persian Mani (c. 216-76), founder of Manichaeism, advocated an
uncompromising dualism. He considered that there is no salvation for man's
body or for the rest of the material creation; the particles of light
imprisoned in man are to be released through strict asceticism, including
Copyright: Faber and Faber: London, 1977;
Source: THE LENTEN TRIODION
Editor: Mother Mary and Bishop Kallistos Ware
[Back to top]