February 22, 2023

The Triodion and our Spiritual Life

 By Metropolitan Athanasios of Limassol

The period of the Triodion is a miniature of the entire spiritual life of man. It is enough for one to follow the meanings of the hymns of the days, to see the course of the struggle that man has made before him. It begins from the foundation of the spiritual life to the end, which is the sanctification and deification of man. The Triodion is a very rich spiritual period, and due to the particular circumstances of each person, living within the various obligations that each person has, it is not easy to completely follow all the spiritual opportunities that this period gives us.

The course of the Triodion is divided into three periods. One before the beginning of the fast, the other is the period of the holy fast and then the Great Week of the Holy Passion of the Lord and the Resurrection. The period before fasting is a preparatory period, which shows us how we can struggle and what is the real way that man can enter into this spiritual struggle. The basis of all life in Christ is nothing else but the attitude of repentance. Repentance is born of humility.

The first Sunday of the Triodion is the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee. There the Lord clearly shows us a man full of sin, completely immoral, who is justified before God. At the same time, it shows us a moral man, pious and "religious", who observes all the provisions of the law, but instead of being justified by God, he is condemned, because he did not find the key with which he can open the door of spiritual life. This key is the key of repentance and humility. These go together. No man without humility can repent; the proud man cannot repent. Only the humble truly repents, because repentance means the breaking of the heart of man, and through this breaking man must call on the name of God, which is the only thing that can save him. Repentance is agony, pain. But this is how you reform. Repentance is the key that opens the door of God's mercy. For human nature is such that it can never attain sinlessness. Only Christ as a man was sinless and by grace the Most Holy Theotokos, who received this gift from God. We cannot have a vision of one day becoming sinless, because it is impossible. Since sin is a given and practically unavoidable for us, that which will be able to present us before God is not our works and our virtue but our real repentance. This is how we dispel the myth that we will become moral and virtuous, because no matter how moral we are, we certainly have sins. Therefore our relationship with God cannot be built on the fact that we will escape from sin but on the fact of repentance. We learn to repent and stand right before God in a spirit of repentance.

Thus, repentance is born from humility. The humble man repents and makes no excuses. Once an attempt at self-justification is made, one cannot repent. When he supplies himself with extenuating circumstances, he at the same time lessens the flame of repentance. That is why the fathers did not accept any excuse, not that there is no excuse when someone sins, since all of us when we sin are subject to some event. However, if one faces sin with pain of heart and stands like the Saints without excuse before God and learns the ethos of the Publican, then this is the basis of success. Everything is leading us to this state.

The second Sunday is the Sunday of the Prodigal Son, which shows the greatness of God's love for man, how God accepts the returning man. There is no way to expel the penitent man. There is no way you can go back to God and God will cast you out.

The third Sunday with the narration of the Second Coming shows us that faith is not something abstract but concrete through works of love and spiritual struggle.

On the fourth Sunday, the Lord shows us the true way of fasting and that we must move our heart to where our treasure is.

The first week of the fast is followed with the Sunday of Orthodoxy. Historically there is a reason for the issue of iconoclasm, which plagued the Church for more than a century and then, after it was put to an end historically and theologically, the Church celebrates this day. However, as the fathers say, it is not a historical event. The fact of iconoclasm always remains before us, because iconoclasm struck at the very center of man's salvation. It was the original heresy that is repeated each time in a different form. The heresy said that God did not truly become man. Thus, since God did not truly become man, neither can man truly become God by grace. When these people refused to venerate and look upon the icons and the fathers and the Church insisted on them, it is not because some were pious and feared that they were idols and the others did not bother and underestimated the situation. It certainly wasn't like that.

They stood on the fact that from the moment Christ, the Word of God, became man and was perfect man and perfect God, we can describe and paint Christ. This is because our entire faith stands on the true incarnation of God's Word, in what John the Evangelist says, that "the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us; and we saw His glory", we saw the incarnation of God. In other words, this heresy essentially struck at the same depth of the faith. Within the space of the Church we are not dealing with ideas or theories or philosophy, but with a person called Jesus Christ. These are not ideas of the Gospel, however beautiful they may be. Within the Church we do not worship love and freedom as ideas, but we have to develop a relationship with the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. This Christ who became man and remains in the Church as the person we saw. We never beheld the Father. But we beheld God the Word and in seeing God the Word we have seen the Father, because Christ is the image of the Father and man is the image of Christ. That is why Christ became a man, because we are His image and He is the one who created everything.

Thus within the space of the Church we have this fact of Christ's presence. Since we have a person, then our attitude towards that person is not an attitude of faith. It is not enough to tell Christ that you believe in Him. In ideologies and systems of ideas, in worldviews and party ideologies, you can say what you believe. But this cannot be done in the Church. What happens is that, yes, you step on the ladder of faith, but you don't stay there, but you ascend towards love. Within the Church you are called to develop a relationship of love with Christ, you also need the acceptance of the truth of Christ and the gospel which is the first step. But you can't stop at that. You have to go to the finish line. The Apostle says that in the end both hope and faith will be abolished and love will remain. A young person who searches and searches to see where the truth is, must understand that if he compares the Church with other truths and considers it as one truth, no matter how well-intentioned he may be, he cannot understand that the Church does not speak of a truth, but it speaks of Christ who is the truth of the world. Christ is truth, freedom, justice, peace, he is the Alpha and Omega, he is everything in the Church. Therefore, everything we do in the area of the Church, all the struggles we do are to be able to love Christ with all our hearts, so that we can develop our own love relationship with Christ.

But how is this done? The first thing is to investigate to find out who this person is. That is why, at the beginning of the spiritual life, study helps a lot. So much so that the fathers say that for beginners study helps more than prayer or at least the same. It is very important to read spiritual books, lives of the saints, to see how these people who fell in love with God and struggled in their lives, wherever they were, baptized their lives in this course of their relationship with God. Then the process of spiritual life begins. The observance of God's commandments begins. And we remain in God's love through this keeping of His commandments. These commandments are not orders of whim but are medicines. It is the healing treatment of our Church which, as soon as a person adheres to it, it has results. As long as man keeps the commandments of God, zeal is produced which is strength, which gives man the attraction to be able to struggle more. As soon as the observance of God's commandments begins to decrease, the energy also begins to fall until it is extinguished, that is, the spiritual struggle stops. God gives His grace freely in the beginning. Once someone enters the Church, everything is easy. Studying the lives of saints, participating in various services, observing fasts, everything becomes so easy. Next, man must strive to receive this grace.

God, therefore, who became a true man and is the incarnate God the Word, is the model of each of us and the center of our love. We are called to have a personal relationship with Him and in this process we rebuild our broken self, which definitely has one result: to restore the image of God that the devil broke through the fall. Within the Church with all this healing treatment we must see the fact of our healing, which is specific and has specific fruits.

Source: This excerpt from a recorded lecture was translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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