Matins, a preparatory service to the Divine Liturgy on Sundays and feast days, is packed with instructive hymns and readings. Matins is a complex service of the liturgical life of the Church, especially because it changes its format dramatically from weekdays to Sundays and on the Great Feasts. Following Psalm 50(51), also known as the Repentance Psalm, the cantor sings a set of three hymns, which change completely for Triodion and Great Lent.
The first hymn asks the Lord Jesus Christ, addressing Him by the descriptor Giver of Life, to open the gates of repentance within us. This is a striking statement considering that repentance requires us to take action; rather than something being done on our behalf. Indeed, the next segment of the hymn specifies that we, of our own will, hurry to enter the Lord’s Temple in order to bring the temples of our bodies to His. Immediately after, the hymn has a confessional nature because it presents the recognition that our bodies are defiled by our sinfulness. The hymn closes with our prayer asking the compassionate and merciful Christ to cleanse the temples of our bodies so that we may be united to His Temple.
This poetic imagery of the hymn alternates between the proclamation of Christ’s purity and the realization of our need for purity in order to be one with God. Admission of illness is the first step of healing and this preparatory hymn for Great Lent helps us internalize this clarity for our minds and souls. The imagery is further beautified when we realize that we bring our physical bodies to the physical temple of Christ’s Body and in turn Christ’s Body and Blood enter into the temples of our bodies at the Eucharist. How Awesome our Lord is!
At first glance this word is just another word originating from the Greek language and is used commonly in liturgical life of the Church. However, this word has taken on a number of meanings especially among North American Orthodox Christians.
We use the word “Triodion” to refer to a particular liturgical book used primarily by the cantors but also the clergy. This book contains all the special hymns and readings for the variety of services during the period of three weeks of preparation before, the six weeks of Great Lent, and (sometimes) the holy and great Week leading up to Pascha.
The second use of the word is in reference to a period of time, but that itself is confusing. Some people use the word Triodion to mean the entire nine weeks of preparation and Great Lent. Others prefer to use the term only in reference to the three weeks before the start of Great Lent. It’s difficult to call any of the above practices incorrect, while simultaneously recognizing that more preciseness may be desirable.
The word itself stems from the word “three” in Greek and it was originally used to identify that in the service of Matins the Canon is composed in three odes each. This specific rubric of our Matins service is prescribed throughout the entire period of nine weeks.
However, the most important aspect is to understand and internalize is not the detailed meaning of a term rather that this brings us into a period of time which prepares at first our minds, then bodies, and all together our entire being for the Resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ. Each Sunday has a theme which serves as a new rung on the ladder that raises us toward Pascha. We begin the Triodion this Sunday with the commemoration of the Publican and Pharisee! Blessed Triodion!
The feast of the Meeting of the Lord celebrated every year on February 2, 40 days after Christ’s birth, instills in us a beautiful image because of our tradition of Churching Prayers for newborn babies. It’s one of the most joyous occasions for a priest also, and it is a beautiful sight for the entire congregation as the priest walks down the center of the church all the way to the Altar holding the baby, presenting him to the Lord and the community and praying the beautiful prayers. We can imagine this with the baby Jesus in the arms of the Righteous Simeon at the Temple in Jerusalem with the Prophetess Ana as witness.
The central teaching of this event is that Simeon and Ana were waiting in expectation for the Anointed One of God who would bring peace and comfort to the people of Israel. The Holy Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he would live until the Christ was to be shown him. The righteous old man immediately recognized the baby Jesus Christ as the Messiah, the One sent to console the people of Israel. Likewise, Ana recognized Him, the Anointed One, and proclaimed Him to the people as the redemption for Israel. Many others of their time were looking for the consolation of their nation but their search was fruitless because their hearts wanted an earthly consolation that would save them from their Roman occupation or the struggle of everyday life. Simeon and Ana immediately recognized their source of redemption and consolation in the baby Jesus because their hearts desired a divine redemption and the consolation of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Let us wait in expectation for the consolation of God’s people through heavenly gifts, not temporary earthly accomplishments.
For reasons often difficult to comprehend individuals, groups, even entire societies developed a disdain for the rich. It’s an interesting phenomenon among us, humans, because given the choice to be richer than we currently are each of us would choose to be richer. It’s indeed interesting and even disturbing.
This pursuit of undermining the rich even developed into a political system - Communism - which wreaked havoc across the world during the twentieth century. But this isn’t just some political contriving to dominate large groups of people, other political systems conquered and oppressed people. Actually, the disdain for the rich exists in many of us, perhaps in all of us to some degree. This human experience is present in the Bible also. There are some who would accuse Jesus Christ of discriminating against the rich based on His statement from the St. Luke’s gospel (18:25) “For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” One chapter further St. Luke relates the story of Zacchaios (Luke 19:1-10) where we see a rich man given a great blessing. Of course, this rich man is a shining example of searching for the Lord Jesus and opening his heart and his family home to welcome Him.
I firmly believe the Lord Jesus isn’t at all concerned with our earthly net worth, rather with our hearts, minds, and lives in relation to everything we earn and spend. The renewed Zachaios considered it a privilege to be able to share his wealth with those in need. Being poor or rich doesn’t affect our salvation. The rich, just like the poor, are called to holiness through love, repentance, compassion, and charity. This is how our lives are deemed worthy of the kingdom of God.
Today’s Gospel reading from the Evangelist Luke 17:12-19 forces us to examine ourselves. The brief passage relates the story of the ten lepers who are healed by the Lord Jesus Christ at their fervent request. Sadly, only one of them returns to thank his healer. Jesus asks, rhetorically, where the other nine lepers who were healed are.
Of note is the fact that the ten men who were severely ill suffered from an illness separated them from their homes and families. The second notable detail opens the reading in verse 12 where all the lepers recognize Jesus as their Master who can offer them healing. They approach Him calling out: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” Showing that they recognized Him as a source of goodness and compassion for their lives.
Interestingly, unlike other healings that Jesus performed for people, in this case the Lord sends the ten ill men to show themselves to the priests. This would have been a requirement for them as people suffering from leprosy were deemed religiously unclean in addition to being social outcasts. However, they are all healed as they head to show themselves to the priests.
Unfortunately only one of them, a foreigner to the people of Israel, returns filled with thanksgiving and gratitude to the Lord Jesus the source and instrument of his healing.
We often forget where the source of good in our lives lies! Once all goes well in our lives we seem to easily forget both our previous suffering as well as how fervently we prayed asking for God’s mercy on us. Examining our lives we easily find times when we have acted like the ungrateful nine lepers rather than the one who returned. May we be blessed to mindfully remember to be thankful for the mercy and blessings of our Lord Jesus and Master who has mercy on us.