The First Sunday of Great Lent

The Fig Tree Icon- representative of today's gospel reading John 1:43-51.  Photo by Fr. Ted on Flickr.
The Fig Tree Icon- representative of today's gospel reading John 1:43-51. Photo by Fr. Ted on Flickr.

Great Lent started, for Orthodox Christians, last Sunday evening (Clean Monday) following Forgiveness Vespers. The Lenten Season is upon us! This Holy Great Fast is a special time of prayer and repentance. The services during Great Lent are a little longer (Liturgy of St. Basil the Great) and generally has less chanting and longer readings from the Psalter and extra prayers meant to move us towards repentance. There are also extra services during the week including the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts. There are also full prostrations during each service as we say the penitential prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian:

O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power, and idle talk.

But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant.

Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions, and not to judge my brother, for blessed art Thou, unto ages of ages. Amen.

On this first Sunday of Lent we celebrate the “Triumph of Orthodoxy” which commemorates the triumph over Iconoclasm (beginning around 726 AD) and the historic restoration of  icons in Constantinople in 843 AD. We proclaim to the world, “This is the Apostolic Faith!”

The Orthodox sing about what we believe to be true of icons during the vespers service:

“The grace of truth has shone out, the things once foreshadowed now are revealed in perfection. See, the Church is decked with the embodied image of Christ, as with beauty not of this world, fulfilling the tent of witness, holding fast the Orthodox faith. For if we cling to the icon of him whom we worship, we shall not go astray. May those who do not so believe be covered with shame. For the image of Him who became human is our glory: we venerate it, but do not worship it as God. Kissing it, we who believe cry out: O God, save your people, and bless your heritage.”

Orthodox Christians venerate icons by burning candles in front of them, using incense and by kissing the icon (much as one might kiss the photograph of a deceased loved one). There is a clear doctrinal distinction between how we venerate icons and the worship due to God. Let me be clear: Orthodox Christians do not worship icons. There is no idolatry in our hanging of icons in our homes to remind us of the saints who have lived and gone before us. There is a big distinction between our veneration of the saints and our absolute worship of God.

Scripture readings during divine Liturgy for the Sunday of Orthodoxy are Hebrews 11:24-26,32-40 and John 1:43-51.

Dismissal Hymn (Tone Two):

O Christ our God, begging forgiveness of our sins, we venerate your pure image O Good One. Of Your own will You condescended to ascend upon the Cross in the flesh and delivered those you created from the bondage of the enemy. Wherefore, thankfully we cry out: When You came to save the world You filled all things with joy, O our Savior.

A Personal Note:

I love the season of Lent! While we should and do work on our relationship with God every day of the year, this season gives us a special sense of awareness as we prepare and look forward to the celebration of the resurrection. There are extra services, fasting, and other methods the church offers us to develop our relationship with God – placing ‘seeking the kingdom’ as a first priority in our lives and bring us to repentance.

Lent is the season that we focus on what the upcoming resurrection celebration means to us. It gives us ample opportunity to not just hear the words of the gospel, but to consistently contemplate and act on them. It gives us opportunity to not just be amazed at the story as my son was the other day when we read the story of Lazarus – but to know God and understand that to be a Christian is to not just accept the resurrection as true, but to live as Christ lived.

Lent is the season we recall that He alone is our master and living the life of a true Christian is what He is calling us to do. Lent is the time to not only hear the words He spoke, but to act on that word in whatever way we can- living the life of a true Christian and asking for His forgiveness when we fail.

What do you do during the Lenten season to make sure you are living the life Christ intended for you?



Read More Using These Sources:

The First Sunday of Lent: The Sunday of Orthodoxy

The Church Year :  The Sundays of Lent

Sunday of Orthodoxy

1st Sunday of Great Lent