The Triodion Period
The Triodion Period
“O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, faintheartedness, the lust of power, and idle talk.
“But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to your servant.
“Yea, O Lord, and King grant me to see my own sin and not to judge my brother, for You are blessed from all ages to all ages. Amen”
(Prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian)
The word Triodion: It is a Greek word meaning three odes, that is, three stanzas. The word “ωδή” refers to stanzas of praise or hymns, from the verb of αείδώ “to sing”. This period has been called "Triodion" because the Canons (hymns) of 9 odes (stanzas) are replaced with the liturgical book with Canons of 3 odes called “The Triodion”. (See below explanation of words: Canons - Odes).
The Triodion period takes its name from the book that we use in this ecclesiastical time.
The Triodion begins with Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee and lasts until Holy Saturday.
It is a time of special compunction, a return to oneself and to God, in order to rise with Christ as a new creation in sincere repentance.
It is a time of self-purification when we cry: "O God have mercy on me, a sinner."
This is what we read in the Synaxarion of the beginning of the Triodion: “O Creator of all above and below, as Thou receivest the thrice-holy hymn from the angels, so also from mankind receive the Triodion”.
Heaven and Earth join to form a single choir. Angels and humans come together to praise the "Creator of all", angels sing lauds to the Holy Trinity (Trisagion- the Thrice Holy Hymn) and human beings respond with honorable odes of the Triodion, filled with compunction.
The author of the Triodion, Nikephoros Kallistos Xanthopoulos, says that the three odes were first composed by Cosmas of the Hymnographer, Bishop of Maiuma who arranged them after the model of the life-giving Holy Trinity to be chanted on Holy Week. Then several authors including Theodore and Joseph of the Studite Monastery in Constantinople followed him; they wrote Canons for each week of Great Lent.
The Triodion is characterized by three hymns that are chanted at Matins after the Gospel and Psalm 50, from the Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee to the Sunday of Saint Mary of Egypt.
These hymns form a liturgical unit inspired by Psalm 50; they begin thus:
- “Glory…The gates of repentance, do Thou open unto me…”
- “Both now…Guide me on the paths of salvation, O Theotokos…”
- “Have mercy…As I the wretched one ponder the multitude of evil deeds I have done…”
This period can be divided into three basic phases:
1- The Prelenten period, 2– The Great Lent of forty days 3- Holy Week.
1- First Phase: the Prelenten period (Preparation for Lent)
It is a one-month period that includes 4 Sundays:
-The Publican and Pharisee - The Prodigal Son – The Sunday of Judgement (Meatfare Sunday) -The Sunday of Forgiveness (Cheesefare Sunday).
- This period includes the Saturday of Souls, which precedes the Sunday of Judgment.
- Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday are a period of preparation for Holy Week: we behold the Lord Jesus resurrecting Lazarus from the grave as a premise of His Resurrection.
B- The Triodion Sundays
-The Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee (Luke 18:10-14)
On this Sunday, the gospel reading is the parable given by the Lord about the virtues of repentance and humility. It shows how much these virtues are dear to God, even more than the apparent sacrifices and worship with a spirit of pride and arrogance.
Consequently, the Church warns that the cornerstone of Great Lent is the humility with a spirit of repentance.
Setting the Gospel of the Publican and Pharisee on the first Sunday is mostly to emphasize humility.
When St. Macarius was asked, "What is the greatest virtue?" He replied, "Just as arrogance brought down an angel from the highest and caused the first humans to fall, so does humility raise the person endowed with it from the lowest pit."
Saint Isaac the Syrian says on humility: “The one who sighs every day because of his sins is greater than one who raises the dead. It is better to deserve beholding one’s sins than beholding angels”.
Anyone who views himself as being sinless falls in delusion and pride (1John 8:1). We are in constant need to cry unto God with the Publican "God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ (Luke 18:13).
No matter how many virtues we acquire, let us always remember that we are sinners and ask God for mercy and forgiveness.
Kondakion for the Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee
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.
- Sunday of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32)
On this Sunday, the gospel reading is the parable given by the Lord about the profligate son who wasted his father’s wealth, but then repented and returned to him.
This parable is mainly about the endless love of God who awaits our return to Him. We are all children of God by adoption, while true repentance is a kind of resurrection and life.
Most beautiful in this proverb is the expression "he came to himself". Coming to oneself is a turning and correction point. When a person calms down from the inside, they begin to think about their condition and discover that there is no peace, no salvation, nor tranquility except in returning to the embracing paternal home, especially after they realize the bitterness of alienation from God and the sweetness of returning to Him.
Kontakion for the Sunday of the Prodigal Son (Tone Three)
When I disobeyed in ignorance Thy fatherly glory, I wasted in iniquities the riches that Thou gavest me. Wherefore, I cry to Thee with the voice of the prodigal son, saying, I have sinned before Thee, O compassionate Father, receive me repentant, and make me as one of Thy hired servants.
- Sunday of Judgement (Meatfare Sunday) (Matthew 25:31-46)
On this Sunday, we read the Gospel of Judgment, just as Jesus Christ describes His Second Coming in the Gospel of Matthew. He compares the humans whom He created to cattle, because the image of the shepherd is common about God in the Old Testament, and it is also a common image of priests (see the prophecies of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel 34:11).
In the New Testament, Christ likens himself to the Shepherd, knowing that it is also the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world. Since He suffered for our sake, only His love can judge the ingratitude of the world.
This gospel on Meatfare Sunday is meant to make us realize the importance of true love towards others because our neighbor is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself; it is as we are standing before Him.
One is his own judge; all his actions are revealed plainly before God's righteous judgment.
St Jerome (4th century) says: Remember Christ each time you stretch your hand to give… The true temple of Christ is the believer's soul; adorn this, clothe it, offer gifts to it, welcome Christ in it. What use are walls blazing with jewels when Christ in His poor Matthew 25:40 is in danger of perishing from hunger?
St Cyprian of Carthage highlights the importance of adhering to Christ with all our life, says: “But it may be, dearest brethren, that Christ himself is the kingdom of God, for whose coming we daily ask. For since He is our resurrection since in him we rise again, so also the kingdom of God may be understood to be himself since it is in him that we shall reign”.
On this Sunday we stop eating meat (food without blood) to enter little by little the peaceful condition of the kingdom of God like the first humans before the Fall.
Kontakion for Meatfare Sunday (First Mode)
When Thou comest, O God, upon the earth with glory, the whole world will tremble. The river of fire will bring men before Thy judgment seat, the books will be opened and the secrets disclosed. Then deliver me from the unquenchable fire, and count me worthy to stand on Thy right hand, Judge most righteous.
The Sunday of Forgiveness (Cheesefare)
It is also the memory of Adam's expulsion from Paradise. On this Sunday before the commencement of Great Lent, the Church assigns to read a Gospel from the Sermon on the Mount, and stresses the importance of mercy and reconciliation with people before the sacrifice of fasting is brought near.
This gospel on Sunday before the beginning of Lent is meant to help us realize the importance of forgiveness. We ask God to forgive us our sins after having forgiven others; it is a sine qua non. We cannot fast while hating others! God does not accept the prayer of a person who holds grudges!
Fasting is a journey of reconciliation with God. But the Lord equals us to Himself; he even equals our neighbor to Himself saying: If you do not reconcile with your relative, you cannot reconcile me, and vice versa.
The Lord Jesus did not comment on any request in the Lord’s Prayer other than asking for forgiveness: “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (Matthew 6:14-15).
Starting this Sunday, complete fasting begins to stop dairy and meat food.
Kontakion for Cheesefare Sunday(Tone Plagal Second)
O Master, Guide to wisdom, Giver of prudent counsel, Instructor of the foolish and Champion of the poor, make firm my heart and grant it understanding. O Word of the Father, give me words, for see, I shall not stop my lips from crying out to Thee: I am fallen, in Thy compassion have mercy on me.
2- Second phase: Great Lent
This phase includes 5 Sundays: The Sunday of Orthodoxy- The Sunday of Saint Gregory Palamas- The Sunday of the Veneration of the Holy Cross- The Sunday of Saint John Climacus- The Sunday of St Mary of Egypt
During this period, we pray:
- Great Compline (Monday to Thursday)
-The Akathist Hymn for the Mother of God (partly read each Friday night of the first four weeks and read as a whole on the fifth week called the Service of the Great Akathist).
-The Canon of Saint Andrew the Crete (Canon of Repentance). It is read in part during Great Compline every day of the First week of Lent and in whole on Thursday of the fifth week which is called Thursday of Repentance.
-Sunday of Orthodoxy
It is the first Sunday of Great Lent. We commemorate the hanging in churches and venerations of holy icons after many years of what was called “war against icons” in the 8th and 9th century and ended with the 7th (787) and 8th (879) Ecumenical Councils.
This war against icons lasted for 120 years. A huge number of icons were destroyed. The blood of monks and faithful was shed as they defended the theology of icons and its relation to the Mystery of the Incarnation. This bloody persecution had many causes, some of which were from inside the Church, while others were from outside, instigated by the enemies of the Church who were clinging to different doctrines against the true Christian faith. They all had one essence: denying the Incarnation of Christ and hence undermining the plan of God for salvation and mutilating the Christian doctrine, which is a Satanic deed, for sure.
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Sunday of Saint Gregory Palamas
Our Holy Fathers set the second Sunday of Lent each year, to commemorate one great Fathers of the Church, St. Gregory Palamas, because of the importance of the lives and teachings of the Holy Fathers.
Saint Gregory Palamas was a monk and a hermit in the Holy Mountain of Athos in Greece. Then he became Archbishop of Thessaloniki. Being renowned for his passion for God, this Father left many writings. One of the most important topics that St. Gregory Palamas spoke about is the topic of grace, the grace of God, His Glory and Light. He wanted to tell us that those who follow the Lord with love and strive to be with Him are rewarded with the light of his divine glory. He also reminds us of what happened with the disciples on the day of the Transfiguration, when the Lord appeared before them and revealed His glory. His garments turned into bright white, whiter than snow, and His light was stronger than the sun. This is the glory and light of God in which we have been immersed, being His beloved ones who please Him in our lives on earth. (For more explanation click here)
-The Sunday of the Veneration of the Holy Cross
After the cross had been a synonym of punishment, it has now become a synonym for pride and respect. The cross was previously a place of shame and torment, but now it has become a cause of glory and honor. On the cross, God has been glorified willingly and offered himself a ransom and sacrifice for each one of us.
The cross is placed in the middle of Lent to strengthen the faithful, just like the goal and the crown are placed in front of those who compete in a race to encourage them. The Cross is a glory asserted by Christ: “And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was (John 17:5).
The cross is the pinnacle of our salvation and the source of thousands of blessings. Thanks to the Cross, those who were despised were adopted as sons.
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-The Sunday of St John Climacus
On the first two Sundays of Great Lent, the Church stresses the importance of the right faith and sound doctrine. On the last two Sundays, it highlights the beauty of virtues through two great saints: Saint John Climacus, the teacher of monastics, and Saint Mary of Egypt, the exemplary hermits, and model of repentance.
In one of St. John the Peaceful, the Church calls our attention to the importance of spiritual life and spiritual jihad.
This Sunday bears the name of a holy father from the 7th century A.D., who lived in Sinai and was an example of monastic life and a teacher of virtue. He wrote the book “The Ladder of Divine Ascent” after being urged by one of the Abbots.
Saint John wrote, "The Ladder," after a famous ascetic struggle that lasted for about forty years. His book is still one of the most important spiritual and monastic writings that have inspired holy and faithful fathers throughout the centuries. (For more explanation click here)
Sunday of St Mary of Egypt
Before entering Holy Week, the Church presents to our hearts the image of this repentant figure, biographed by Saint Sophrony of Jerusalem in hope that we return to Jesus before Pascha, to be able to grasp the light of His face on the Cross. The Church would like to say that the life of this saint, helps us realize how we can wash away our sins with tears, otherwise, our good deeds and fasting will remain a fake appearance.
Mary lived as a prostitute since her adolescence in Alexandria in the 4rth century. But as she crossed the threshold of the church in Jerusalem, God prevented her, so she stood aghast and burst into tears. She did not know at the time that these tears were a new baptism, a new resurrection, and a new life. She took off the garment of sin, and headed to the desert, to live as an ascetic for forty-seven years. The result of this long ascetic life was becoming an angelic being. At the end of her life, she partook of Holy Communion by the hand of priest Zossimas and reposed in peace. Thus she became a living book for generations to learn faith, patience, spiritual struggle and repentance. (For more explanation click here)
This Saturday is a foretaste of the glorious resurrection. It is characterized by saying the resurrection prayers that are usually for Sundays. In the Little Entrance, the priest says the Antiphon: "Save us, O Son of God, who rose from the dead” and not “who are wondrous among Your saints”.
Jesus declares His victory over death because Lazarus had been dead in the tomb for 4 days.
-Palm Sunday (The Lord’s Entry to Jerusalem)
After celebrating the event when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, known as the Saturday of Lazarus, the Church celebrates Jesus' entry into Jerusalem. Hosanna in the highest, save us, O coming King. The liturgical service is distinguished as being not a Sunday service, but rather the service of a Lord’s feast.
In fact, Jesus enters Jerusalem as king and ascends the cross as His throne.
What a great day! The king of glory, God Incarnate, Who became a human being, comes deliberately to Jerusalem to be crucified.
The Lord entered Jerusalem, and there He found humankind nailed by sins. He took humankind with his hands and descended them from their cross, then carried all the sins of men together, and willfully opened His hands on the cross, to resurrect us with Him to eternal life.
3- Third Phase: Holy Week
This phase starts on Palm Sunday with the first service of “the Bridegroom” until Holy Saturday.
Canons: In the daily Matins, we read Canons. They are a group of hymns, that consist of 9 odes each, following the 9 canticles of the Old Testament.
The Triodion is used very Saturday eve and Sunday Morning starting from the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee in Vespers.
On Meatfare Sunday, we start using the Triodion daily until Saturday of Holy Week.
The prayers of Cheesefare week are a combination of the Triodion and the Octoechos, except for Wednesday and Friday, when they are just like in Great Lent.
The three odes are used with the beginning of Great Lent, every day: the 8th and 9th ode, with one other daily ode. Monday, for example, we read the 1rst, 8th, and 9th odes. Tuesday, we read the 2nd, 8th, and 9th odes.
The Ode in Orthodox Liturgy is a chanted stanza of the Canon that is recited in Matins.
A Canon has nine odes; yet, the 2nd ode is only read in Great Lent.
The nine odes are inspired and based on the biblical canticles that can be found in the Great Horologion:
8. The Song of the Three Holy Children (The Benedicite, Daniel 3:57-88)*
*These odes are found only in the Septuagint. Verse numberings according to Psalter, which differs from Brenton.
The writer of the odes draws inspiration from the Bible, but he reformulates the biblical ideas in a way to teach us the mystery of repentance. He remembers and confesses his many sins, senses the day of judgment and fears it, but he believes deeply in God and yields himself to His great mercies.
This faith and this hope moved by repentance are salvific, as David was saved when he cried: "Have mercy on me, O God, according to your great mercy." This is the true resurrection.