The significance of the four Sundays.
The word Triodion is used frequently and it is used to denote the three-odes used during the matins canon that are specifically Lenten. During the time before Lent, the Church in Her wisdom offers us five preparatory Sundays (Russian Tradition) to get us ready to enter the season of Great Lent. The Lenten Triodion officially begins with the Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee.
First Sunday: Sunday of the Pharisee and the Publican
To get our attention, the Church's Gospel this week focuses on true and false repentance by comparing actions and words. The Pharisee correctly 'practiced the faith' in regards to Jewish prayer and fasting, but within him the love of God was not present. The publican ourwardly lived a sinful life as a tax collector for Rome, but inwardly realized the sin that was dominating him. The Pharisee demanded God's approval while the publican pleaded for God's mercy. The lesson for us is to diligently practice the 'outward' ascpects of our Faith while inwardly realizing nothing we can do will earn God's favor and that we need to constantly seek His mercy. The central theme of this Gospel is the need for humility.
Second Sunday: Sunday of the Prodigal Son
Modern dictionaries often translate ‘repentance' as ‘regret' or 'feeling sorry' for having done something. However, the true meaning of the word metanoia (repent) in the New Testament is to 'change one's mind (nous) or purpose' (Vines). Just as the Prodigal son left his father, realized the misery of his 'new’ life, and returned to ask forgiveness, we too must realize that we have left our Father for the world and need to 'change' our life and return to Him. This Gospel gives us the assurance that God the Father will joyfully welcome us back if we turn from the sin in our life. This Sunday emphasizes repentance and the loving embrace of the Father.
Third Sunday: Sunday of the Last Judgement
James 2:17 states "...faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead." The corporal (physical) works of mercy, which the Lord uses to pass judgement, are a reflection of the love or lack thereof in the hearts of the 'sheep and goats'. Individual repentance and love of God has been emphasized in the first two Sundays: love of neighbor, 'icons of Christ', is the central focus here. Giving alms and other exterior actions of love are also a vital part of the Lenten journey. This parable does not not imply that we can 'work' our way into heaven but rather if our soul shows no active love for man then we really don't have true love of God.
Fourth Sunday: Forgiveness Sunday
This Sunday summarizes the readings of the previous three weeks and prepares us for Lent. Like the Prodigal we must turn and leave behind the things of the world, of the past. We must forgive others or God will not forgive us. Why? Because we ask God to do that each time we pray the Lord's Prayer! We must not be like the Pharisee and draw attention to our fasting by trying to gain sympathy or praise of men. Finally, we must begin to store spritual treasure in heaven by using our earthly treasure to help others through alms and other works of mercy. With this attitude we are ready for a successful Lent.
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