The ‘Triodion’, opened for the first time this year on Saturday evening (the eve of the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee) is the service book which provides the hymns and services, from this week, all the way through Great Lent and Holy Week, leading to Pascha. The hymns of the Church change as we commence this period, offering us, the faithful, a profound notion of, or rather point us in the direction towards, repentance, spiritual growth and renewal, confession, self-sacrifice, the cultivation of prayer, philanthropy and fasting.
On Sunday we heard this beautiful hymn during the service of Matins, prior to the Divine Liturgy:
‘The doors of repentance do Thou open unto me, O Giver of life,
for my spirit waketh at dawn toward Thy holy temple,
bearing a temple of the body all defiled.
But in Thy compassion, cleanse it by the loving-kindness of Thy mercy.’
This past Sunday’s Gospel reading (Luke 18:10-14) demonstrated two possible approaches to our relationship with God. The Pharisee, as a diligent observer of the law, believed he was worthy before God, that he led an exemplary life of holiness and that he was unquestionably better than others. On the other hand, the Publican, or tax collector, recognised his unworthiness before God (hence he remained at the back of the temple), his sinful nature, his need of prayerful repentance and he truly believed he was, as St Paul saw himself, amongst other saints throughout history, ‘the worst of sinners.’ (1 Tim 1:15-16)
We can all recite these words easily and publically claim to be the worst of sinners, but humility is not solely measured by our words, nor our external, pious actions or appearance. ‘A contrite heart God will not despise,’ (Ps 50) proclaims the Prophet and King David, following the acknowledgement of his own sinfulness before the Prophet Nathan (2 Sam 12). God sees beyond all illusions, facades and pretentious piety and focuses on the human heart – just as He did with the Pharisee. The prerequisite of fruitful, healthy spiritual growth, is humility. As the esteemed writer C.S Lewis tells us, ‘humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.’ (Mere Christianity) Humility and repentance are, thus, the doors through which we enter this period of the Triodion, toward Lent and Holy Week.
This past Sunday’s hymn stated: ‘Let us flee the proud speaking of the Pharisee and learn the humility of the Publican, and with groaning let us cry unto the Savior: Be merciful to us, for Thou alone art ready to forgive.’ (Kontakion)
As young Orthodox Christians, we may be disillusioned with the current global situation and with the fact we cannot enjoy the riches and blessings of youth, of school or college and of our social circles. Surely the commencement of the ‘Triodion,’ is the ideal opportunity to use our time fruitfully and wisely, while we await the return of ‘normality’ or ‘better days,’ in order to grow in faith and in love – for this, the greatest commandment (Lk 10:27) will give us the ideal foundations, not only for the Lenten period but for life.
Wishing you all a blessed Triodion!