Now you have observed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions, my sufferings, what befell me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra, what persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. Indeed all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceivers and deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 2 Timothy 3: 10-15 (Epistle from Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee)
The Orthodox Church year contains feastday that have fixed dates—the Nativity is December 25, Theophany is January 6, etc.—all of these feasts are celebrated on the same date each year. There are also feasts that are movable. Every year they fall on a different date, moving according to when Pascha (Easter) is celebrated. In 2020, Pascha is on April 19. Palm Sunday is April 12. Great Lent begins on March 21. And on February 9, ten Sundays before Pascha, we begin what is called the Triodion, a four-Sunday period which we could call “Pre-Lent.” In total, there are 19 Sundays per year that revolve around Pascha:
~Four Sundays of Triodion
~Five Sundays in Great Lent
~Five Sundays of the Paschal season
~Sunday of the Holy Fathers
In 2020, this cycle begins February 9 and will end with All Saints on June 14.
In modern Christianity, Lent has become about deprivation. Pre-Lent is when you dread what you will deprive yourself of. Lent is when you suffer deprivation. Easter is when you celebrate the end of deprivation. And the rest of the year, you regress to what you were before Lent, happy that the experience is over.
This is not how the Lenten journey is set up in the Orthodox Church, at least ideally. The period of the Triodion is supposed to be a period of planning the changes we hope to make during Great Lent. Great Lent is the time when we enact these changes. Pascha is the time we celebrate the changes we’ve made. And the rest of the year is a time to maintain our spiritual changes. The cycle then should repeat each year, so that as the years pass, we see marked spiritual growth.
The Epistle lesson from today brings several thoughts to my mind. In his letter to Timothy, Saint Paul mentions how “you have observed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness.” (2 Timothy 3:10) As we begin our journey to the Resurrection, look at each of these things and give yourself a rating on the scale of 1-10 (1 being poor, 10 being excellent). How are you doing on teaching? (Both learning about the faith and teaching others) Is your conduct in line with Christian moral principles? What is your top aim in life—is it salvation or something else? How strong is your faith? How would you rate yourself on patience? Love? Are you steadfast (faithful) in your Christian walk? These are some great questions (albeit challenging ones) to consider as we begin our journey to renewal for Great Lent.
A second point that Paul makes is that “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (3:12) Have you felt “persecuted” over your faith in the past year? If the answer is no, ask yourself why? Do others know about your faith? Does everyone approve? Have you ever told someone you couldn’t do something because it wasn’t Christian? What was their response?
In 3:14, he reminds us to “continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed.” Great Lent is not a time to throw out everything we know, but to build upon what we have learned. Finally, in 3:15, he reminds us that “from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” Yes, many of us have been acquainted with Christ since childhood. Great Lent, beginning with the Triodion, is a call to deepen our understanding and grow our relationship with Christ.
Let us flee the Pharisee’s exalted parlance; let us learn the Publican’s humble demeanor, and with sighs unto the Savior cry out and say, To us be gracious, O only forgiving Lord. (Kontakion of the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee, 4th Tone, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Spend a few minutes evaluating yourself according to the questions above.