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Sundays of Lent

Each of the Sun­days of Great Lent has its own spe­cial theme. The first Sun­day is called the Feast of the Tri­umph of Ortho­doxy. It is a his­tor­i­cal feast com­mem­o­rat­ing the return of the icons to the church­es in the year 843 after the heresy of icon­o­clasm was over­come. The spir­i­tu­al theme of the day is first of all the vic­to­ry of the True Faith. “This is the vic­to­ry that over­comes the world, our faith” (1 Jn 5:4). Sec­ond­ly, the icons of the saints bear wit­ness that man, “cre­at­ed in the image and like­ness of God” (Gen 1:26), becomes holy and god­like through the purifi­ca­tion of him­self as God’s liv­ing image.

The Sec­ond Sun­day of Lent is the com­mem­o­ra­tion of St Gre­go­ry Pala­mas. It was St. Gre­go­ry (d.1359) who bore liv­ing wit­ness that men can become divine through the grace of God in the Holy Spir­it; and that even in this life, by prayer and fast­ing, human beings can become par­tic­i­pants of the uncre­at­ed light of God’s divine glory.

The Third Sun­day of Lent is that of the Ven­er­a­tion of the Cross. The cross stands in the midst of the church in the mid­dle of the lenten sea­son not mere­ly to remind men of Christ’s redemp­tion and to keep before them the goal of their efforts, but also to be ven­er­at­ed as that real­i­ty by which man must live to be saved. “He who does not take up his cross and fol­low me is not wor­thy of me” (Mt 10:38). For in the Cross of Christ Cru­ci­fied lies both “the pow­er of God and the wis­dom of God” for those being saved (1 Cor 1:24).

The Fourth Sun­day of Lent is ded­i­cat­ed to St John of the Lad­der (Cli­ma­cus), the author of the work, The Lad­der of Divine Ascent. The abbot of St Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai (6th cen­tu­ry) stands as a wit­ness to the vio­lent effort need­ed for entrance into God’s King­dom (Mt 10: 12). The spir­i­tu­al strug­gle of the Chris­t­ian life is a real one, “not against flesh and blood, but against… the rulers of the present dark­ness… the hosts of wicked­ness in heav­en­ly places …” (Eph 6:12). Saint John encour­ages the faith­ful in their efforts for, accord­ing to the Lord, only “he who endures to the end will be saved” (Mt 24:13).

The Fifth Sun­day recalls the mem­o­ry of Saint Mary of Egypt, the repen­tant har­lot. Mary tells us, first of all, that no amount of sin and wicked­ness can keep a per­son from God if he tru­ly repents. Christ him­self has come “to call sin­ners to repen­tance” and to save them from their sins (Lk 5:32). In addi­tion, Saint Mary tells us that it is nev­er too late in life—or in Lent—to repent. Christ will glad­ly receive all who come to him even at the eleventh hour of their lives. But their com­ing must be in seri­ous and sin­cere repentance.