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The First Sunday of Great Lent The Sunday of Orthodoxy
The Sunday of Orthodoxy is the first Sunday of Great Lent. The dominant theme of this Sunday since 843 has been that of the victory of the icons. In that year the iconoclastic controversy, which had raged on and off since 726, was finally laid to rest, and icons and their veneration were restored on the first Sunday in Lent. Ever since, this Sunday has been commemorated as the "Triumph of Orthodoxy."
The Seventh Ecumenical Council dealt predominantly with the controversy regarding icons and their place in Orthodox worship. It was convened in Nicaea in 787 by Empress Irene at the request of Tarasios, Patriarch of Constantinople. The Council was attended by 367 bishops.
Almost a century before this, the iconoclastic controversy had once more shaken the foundations of both Church and State in the Byzantine empire. Excessive religious respect and the ascribed miracles to icons by some members of society, approached the point of worship (due only to God) and idolatry. This instigated excesses at the other extreme by which icons were completely taken out of the liturgical life of the Church by the Iconoclasts. The Iconodules, on the other-hand, believed that icons served to preserve the doctrinal teachings of the Church; they considered icons to be man's dynamic way of expressing the divine through art and beauty.
The decree of the Council for restoring icons to churches added an important clause which still stands at the foundation of the rationale for using and venerating icons in the Orthodox Church to this very day: "We define that the holy icons, whether in colour, mosaic, or some other material, should be exhibited in the holy churches of God, on the sacred vessels and liturgical vestments, on the walls, furnishings, and in houses and along the roads, namely the icons of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ, that of our Lady the Theotokos, those of the venerable angels and those of all saintly people. Whenever these representations are contemplated, they will cause those who look at them to commemorate and love their prototype. We define also that they should be kissed and that they are an object of veneration and honour, but not of real worship, which is reserved for Him Who is the subject of our faith and is proper for the divine nature. The veneration accorded to an icon is in effect transmitted to the prototype; he who venerates the icon, venerated in it the reality for which it stands".
A Regional Synod was called in Constantinople in 843. Under Empress Theodora. The veneration of icons was solemnly proclaimed at the Hagia Sophia Cathedral. The Empress, her son Michael III, Patriarch Methodios, and monks and clergy came in procession and restored the icons in their rightful place. The day was called "Triumph of Orthodoxy." Since that time, this event is commemorated yearly with a special service on the first Sunday of Lent, the "Sunday of Orthodoxy".
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Sunday of Forgiveness (Cheesefare)
From the book “Great Lent” by Fr. Alexander Schmemann:
Finally comes the last day, usually called “Forgiveness Sunday”, but whose other liturgical name must also be remembered: the “Expulsion of Adam from the Paradise of Bliss”. This name summarizes indeed the entire preparation for Lent. By now we know that man was created for paradise, for knowledge of God and communion with Him. Man’s sin has deprived him of that blessed life and his existence on earth is exile. Christ, the Savior of the world, opens the door of paradise to everyone who follows Him, and the Church, by revealing to us the beauty of the Kingdom, makes our life a pilgrimage toward our heavenly fatherland. Thus, at the beginning of Lent, we are like Adam:
Adam was expelled from paradise through food; Sitting, therefore, in front of it he cried: “Woe to me ..... One commandment of God have I transgressed,
depriving myself of all that is good; Paradise Holy! Planted for me,
And now because of Eve closed to me; Pray to thy Creator and mine
that I may be filled again with thy blossom. Then answered the Savior to him:
I wish not my creation to perish;
I desire it to be saved and to know the Truth;
For I will not turn away from him who comes to Me ....
Lent is the liberation of our enslavement to sin, from the prison of “this world”. And the Gospel lesson of this last Sunday (Matt. 6: 14-21) sets the conditions for that liberation. The first one is fasting – the refusal to accept the desires and urges of our fallen nature as normal, the effort to free ourselves from the dictatorship of flesh and matter over the spirit. To be effective, however, our fast must not be hypocritical, a “showing off”. We must “appear not unto men to fast but to our Father who is in secret”. The second condition is forgiveness – “If you forgive men their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you”. The triumph of sin, the main sign of its rule over the world, is division, opposition, separation, hatred. Therefore, the first break through this fortress of sin is forgiveness: the return to unity, solidarity, love. To forgive is to put between me and my “enemy” the radiant forgiveness of God Himself. To forgive is to reject the hopeless “dead-ends” of human relations and to refer them to Christ. Forgiveness is truly a “breakthrough” of the Kingdom into this sinful and fallen world.
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From the book, “Thoughts for Each Day of the Year”, St. Theophan the Recluse:
Sunday of the Last Judgment (Meatfare)
Matt. 25: 31 - 46
The Dread Judgment! The Judge comes in the clouds, surrounded by a countless multitude of bodiless heavenly powers. Trumpets sound to all the ends of the earth and raise up the dead. The risen regiments pour into the preordained place, to the throne of the Judge, having a foreboding of what verdict will sound in their ears. For everyone's works are written on the brow of their nature, and their very appearance will correspond to their deeds and morals. The division of those on His right hand and those on His left is accomplished in and of itself.
At last all has been determined. Deep silence falls. In another instant, the decisive verdict of the Judge is heard: to some, "Come," to the others, "Depart." "Have mercy on us, O Lord, have mercy on us! May Thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us!" they shall say, but then it will already be too late to plead. We need to take the trouble now to wash away the unfavorable marks written upon our nature. At the Judgment, we may be ready to pour out rivers of tears in order to wash ourselves, but this would do us no good then. Let us weep now - if not rivers of tears, then at least streams; if not streams, then at least drops. If we cannot find even this much, then let us become contrite in heart, and confess our sins to the Lord, begging Him to forgive them, and promising not to offend Him any more through the violation of His commandments. Then, let us be zealous to faithfully fulfill this promise.
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Sunday of the Prodigal Son

Luke 15:11-32

The Sunday of the Prodigal Son says so much to us! It speaks about our peace and abundance in the house of the Heavenly Father, about our mad departure from the Father's guardianship to unbridled freedom, about the richness of the heritage given us despite our disobedience, about its reckless waste on all sorts of indecencies, and about our utter impoverishment as a result. But then it talks also about how one recovers his senses and coming to himself, decides to return to his greatly merciful Father. It talks about how he returns, how he is received. lovingly and is restored to his first state. Who will not find this lesson profitable? If you abide in your Father’s house, do not strive for freedom. You see how a similar experience ended! If you have run away and are squandering all, stop this quickly. If you have already squandered everything and are living in poverty, resolve quickly to return - and then, return. There every lenience and the former love and prosperity await you. This last step is the most necessary one. But there is no point in enlarging upon this. All has been said concisely and clearly. Come to your senses, resolve to return, arise and hasten to the Father. His embrace is open and ready to receive you.
From the book, “Celebration of Faith”, Fr. Alexander Schmemann:

This parable is read in church as believers are beginning to prepare themse1ves for Great Lent, the time of repentance. And perhaps nowhere else in the gospels is the essence, of repentance better revealed. The prodigal son left home and went into “a far country," and it is this "far country," this foreign land which shows us the deepest essence also of our own life, of our own condition. Only if we have understood this can we begin the return to authentic life. The person who has never felt this distance, even once in his life, who has never felt himself to be in a spiritual wasteland, separated, exiled, can never understand the meaning of Christianity.
A person who is totally "at home" in this world, who has never experienced longing for a different reality, cannot comprehend remorse and repentance. These are not simply the formal enumeration of one's shortcomings, mistakes and even crimes. No, remorse and repentance are born from an experience of alienation from God and from joy in communion with him. It is relatively easy to admit my mistakes and shortcomings, but how much more difficult it is suddenly to realize that I have broken, betrayed and lost my spiritual beauty, that I am such a long way from my true home, from my true life; that something in the very fabric of my own life, something priceless, pure and beautiful has been destroyed and torn apart. But this realization is precisely repentance, and therefore necessarily involves a deep desire to go back, to return, once again to find the lost home.
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From the book, “Thoughts for Each Day of the Year”, St. Theophan the Recluse:

Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee

Luke 18: 10-14

Yesterday the Gospel reading taught us persistence in prayer, and now it teaches humility, or the feeling that we have no right to be heard. Do not assume that you have the right to be heard, but approach prayer as one unworthy of any attention, allowing yourself only the boldness needed to open your mouth and raise up your prayer to God, knowing the Lord's boundless condescension toward us poor ones. Do not even allow the thought to come to your mind, "I did such and such - so give me such and such." Consider whatever you might have done as your obligation. If you had not done it you would have been subject to punishment, and what you did deserves no reward; you did not do anything special. That Pharisee enumerated his rights to be heard and left the temple with nothing. The bad thing is not that he actually did as he said, for indeed he should have done it. The bad thing is that he presented it as something special; whereas, having done it he should have thought no more of it. Deliver us, O Lord, from this sin of the Pharisee! People rarely speak like the Pharisee in words, but in the feelings of their heart they are rarely unlike him. For why is it that people pray poorly? It is because they feel as though they are just fine in the sight of God without praying.
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