FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT — Tone 5. Sunday of Orthodoxy. Martyr Conon of Isauria (1st c.).
Tone 5 Troparion (Resurrection)
Let us, the faithful, praise and worship the Word, co-eternal with the Father and the Spirit, born for our salvation from the Virgin; for He willed to be lifted up on the Cross in the flesh, to endure death, and to raise the dead// by His glorious Resurrection.
Tone 4 Troparion (Sunday of Orthodoxy)
We venerate Your most pure image, O Good One; and ask forgiveness of our transgressions, O Christ our God. Of Your own will You were pleased to ascend the Cross in the flesh and deliver Your creatures from bondage to the Enemy. Therefore with thankfulness we cry aloud to You: “You have filled all with joy, O our Savior,// by coming to save the world.”
Tone 8 Kontakion (Sunday of Orthodoxy)
No one could describe the Word of the Father; but when He took flesh from you, O Theotokos, He accepted to be described, and restored the fallen image to its former state by uniting it to divine beauty.// We confess and proclaim our salvation in words and images.
Tone 4 Prokeimenon (Song of the Fathers)
Blessed are You, O Lord God of our fathers, / and praised and glorified is Your Name forever! (Song of the three Holy Children, v. 3)
V. For You are just in all that You have done for us! (v. 4)
Hebrews 11:24-26, 32-12:2 (Epistle)
By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward. And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again. Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented – of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us. Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!
V. Moses and Aaron were among His priests; Samuel also was among those who called on His Name. (Ps. 98:6)
V. They called to the Lord and He answered them. (Ps. 98:7a)
The following day Jesus wanted to go to Galilee, and He found Philip and said to him, “Follow Me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” And Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit!” Nathanael said to Him, “How do You know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered and said to Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered and said to him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And He said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
The Prayer of Saint Ephraim
Archimandrite Zacharias Zacharou
From the start of the Triodion, our prayer is that the Lord, the Giver of Life, ‘open unto us the gates of repentance’. Desiring to ‘sing praises to the grace of repentance’ that he was granted from above, Saint Sophrony writes that, Repentance alone can deliver us from hell. Repentance is a priceless gift to mankind. Repentance is the God-given miracle that restores us after the Fall – the outpouring of divine inspiration that stimulates us to rise to God, to our Father, for eternal life in the Light of His love. Through repentance is our divinization accomplished – an indescribably momentous event. And this gift is born of Christ’s prayer of Gethsemane, of His death on Golgotha and His Resurrection. Repentance is an all-embracing gift that is ‘tied up with the two commandments of love’ towards God and neighbor, on which ‘hang all the law and the prophets’. In essence, fiery repentance fulfills all the commandments at once. From the first steps of our spiritual life, we recognize the sublime loftiness of these commandments, and so we begin to lament over ourselves, confessing that we cannot offer the Lord the fervent and tender love that we owe Him and which such a God as Christ deserves. Seeing our soul trapped in the prison of our ego, we come to the bitter realization that we are so far from loving our brother ‘as ourself ’. However, this heartfelt confession makes us truthful and attracts the Spirit of Truth
Who comes to lead us ‘into the land of uprightness’. The benefit we acquire through repentance during the struggle of Great Lent is immense, but we cannot preserve it and make it the inalienable treasure of our heart so as not to put to shame the joy of Resurrection, without fulfilling the greatest commandment of the Gospel which the Lord sets forth in the words: ‘When ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.’ Thus, when we will have fulfilled all ordinances and precepts required of us, fasting, bodily hardship, repentance, spiritual mourning, humble prayer, bearing shame in the sacrament of confession, even if we approach the fulfillment of the double commandment of love, we must still confess that we are unprofitable servants: we have only fulfilled our duty and even that not with our own strength, but by the grace of God and the prayers of our Fathers alone.
I would like to briefly refer to the prayer of Saint Ephraim, which we use several times a day in our presentation before God during Great Lent. This prayer teaches us words and ways of repentance before God and shows us how to attract the Spirit of Truth. It helps us precisely to be initiated and trained in the paradoxical spirit of the greatest commandment, giving us a pattern of humility, self-knowledge and self-awareness, so that we may learn ‘not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think’. It keeps us within the confines of humility, which gradually reveals and imparts to us the beauty and graciousness of God.
‘O Lord and master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, of despondency, of lust for power and of vainspeaking’
Already the first words of the prayer help us become aware that although our creation is wondrous, as we were endowed with the gift of free will, yet we never cease to be creatures, servants of God. All the things that surround us are the works of God’s hands. His unfailing Providence, not the so-called ‘natural laws’, created the world and preserves it from destruction. Should God withdraw His hand from creation, all things would return to nothingness, to the abyss of chaos from which they came.
We have our very life on loan from our Creator. The All-good God respects our freedom and does not prevent us from entering ‘at the wide gate’ and walking ‘the broad way, that leadeth to destruction’, if we so choose, just as the Father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son did not utter one word of accusation to his younger son.
However, God never hides from us that we are not horses left without a master in a wild field, but rather that we are accountable before Him and under His judgment for every deed or word or thought. For this reason, with a sharp consciousness of our spiritual poverty and the awareness that ‘without the Lord we can do nothing,’ we present our entreaty before Him and beseech Him to deliver us from the bonds of evil spirits and heal us from the pestilence of sin.
Sloth and vain curiosity are characteristics of despondency (akedia), that passion which literally slays the soul, drowning every aspiration to eternity. Saint Sophrony defined despondency as ‘the lack of care for our salvation, which comes when we allow our life to be entirely absorbed by daily cares and routine chores’. He also noted the lamentable fact that humanity as a whole, with a few exceptions, is sinking ever more deeply into an atmosphere of general despondency. Despondency is a spiritual phenomenon. The other passions are blatant and confront us openly, and when we struggle against them we may receive great grace. Whereas the passion of akedia is subtle; it paralyses the powers of the soul without its presence being even perceived. ‘It comes upon us gradually like a kind of sleep, without provoking any sense of fear, while underneath lies a great danger.’
Archimandrite Zacharias Zacharou. At the Doors of Holy Lent. Patriarchal Stavropegic Monastery of St. John the Baptist, Essex, UK.
Archimandrite Georgios of Gregoriou
Worship isn’t restricted to certain times and places for prayer (Matins, Vespers and so on). The particular times for prayer are a starting-point, from which our soul sets out to transform the whole of our life into worship of God and communion with him.
— Archimandrite Georgios, Abbot of the Holy Monastery of Gregoriou