Great and Holy Lent: A Time for
Reflection, Repentance and Progress
An Interview with Rev. Fr. Fanourios Pappas
By Evagelos Sotiropoulos*
February 25, 2014
Fr. Fanourios Pappas was born in Chania, Crete, and studied at the University of Thessaloniki School of Theology. He earned his BA (2007) and MA (2010) in liturgics and is currently completing his doctoral studies examining the liturgical movement in 20th-century Greece. In 2008, Fr. Fanourios was ordained to the Diaconate by His Eminence Metropolitan Damaskinos of Kydonia and Apokoronon. He was the Metropolitan’s Archdeacon Assistant for three years before being ordained to the Priesthood in 2011. Since September 2013, Fr. Fanourios has been the Parish Priest of the Church of St. Nicholas in Toronto.
Can you talk about the different periods that take place beginning from the Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee to Pascha?
There is much to be said about the different periods of the Triodion, each one of them so rich and beneficial for the faithful; today I will provide only a brief overview.
The beginning of Great Lent is preceded by three weeks of preparation which begins as you note on the Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee; this Sunday until Holy Saturday is ten weeks. The Triodion derives its name from an ecclesiastical book used during this holy period which directs services be chanted in three odes, not in the usual nine odes.
With regards to fasting, from a historical perspective, the tradition of the 40-day fast was put into place in the 4th century and aligns with the fasting of Moses, the Prophet Elias and Christ Himself. In the 6th century, a preparatory period – initially two weeks, then three – was added in advance of the fasting period.
Afterwards, the Church confirmed the period of the Triodion and of the Holy Week, until Holy Saturday. Taken as a whole, we see the Triodion divided into three segments: the three weeks from the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee until Cheesefare Sunday; Holy and Great Lent, which is from Clean Monday until Palm Sunday; and, Holy Week.
What is the purpose of the three week Triodion period and how should the faithful use it to prepare themselves for Great Lent and Pascha?
The reason for the three week Triodion period before Great Lent is one of preparation for the faithful. We are all familiar that in the world of athletics there is practice or a so-called “warm-up” period before the actual game or match begins which allows the athlete to be better prepared and to better perform his duties.
Similarly, in the spiritual struggle for virtue that we experience in the Lenten period, the “athletes” – the faithful, that is – are provided with a three week spiritual preparatory period. What does this mean? Among other things, it means that the faithful should give greater attention to the beautiful Gospel readings of this period; to become more humble, to change our mentality, to start looking inwardly. Through these exercises we will begin to see the challenges and problems we face so that we can earnestly try to battle and improve them during Great Lent.
Can you briefly discuss the special services conducted during the Lenten period?
The Lenten period is the richest and the most magnificent liturgical period of the year; all of the akolouthies (services) – each one of them separately is so beautiful with its own moving and spiritually uplifting hymns. In every akolouthia there exists a wonderful climate of piety and peace; for example, the Pre-sanctified Divine Liturgy which is celebrated every Wednesday evening and Friday morning. There are others as well, such as the service of the Great Compline, the Sunday evening Vespers service, the Hours and the Salutations to the Theotokos. One could say so much on each of these akolouthies but I think the best way to understand them is to attend and participate in them in order to live and experience them firsthand.
Among other things, Great Lent calls us to focus on repentance, prayer and fasting. How should people properly approach these issues since they are means to a more holy life and not its end?
The Church in its infinite love for us invites us during the Lenten period to exert spiritual and physical effort using specific methods. This includes repentance and ascesis (e.g., prayer and fasting) and our preparation for, and participation in, the Holy Mysteries (Sacraments) of the Church. These are our spiritual weapons. This is our spiritual armor. The Church does not want to trouble us and to make things difficult; the Church instead wants to protect us and to make our struggle worthwhile. The Church ties our struggle and its protection harmoniously together. How can one want, for example, to undertake spiritual struggle and humble themselves while at the same time being a slave to their stomach?
Great Lent is in reality an immense opportunity for man to test himself; to test his spiritual strength, an opportunity to live a different life. Of course we can live two months without eating meat and of course we can live two months without consuming dairy products, like we do in the other major Church prescribed fasting periods (Christmas; the Apostles’ Fast; Dekapentavgoustos). And, of course we can live for two months striving for a more repentant and prayerful life.
The Lenten period and the celebration of Holy Pascha is the climax of our faith and spirituality; how can the faithful use this great blessing to live a repentant (changed) life throughout the year?
At the conclusion of the wonderful journey that is Holy and Great Lent, the upward climb to Golgotha begins. The road of martyrdom, sacrifice and extreme humility begins. But after a short while all of these things will be blanketed by the anespero light, the Resurrection, the miracle of life! All things will become new – man, nature and the whole of creation will be transfigured. Not in theory but in reality, in essence. Here therefore is our opportunity; here is our opportunity which is given to us each year to live a real life. This requires us to travel, to live this holy journey. We must go together with Christ to Jerusalem to die with Him so that we may be resurrected with, and by, Him. This joy of the Resurrection can be maintained within us throughout the year because this is the Passion of the Cross and joy of the Resurrection repeated at every Divine Liturgy. This is the great lesson of Great Lent. This is the way we can learn humility so that we can savour the splendour of Pascha.
If we live all of this it will mean that we will have made progress, that we took a big step forward. We will have learned to fight so as to maintain the progress we made so that throughout the year and during the next Lenten period we can achieve even greater things. The goal is to learn to spiritually battle, not only during Great Lent, but always, every day.
With these thoughts I hope that we will all have a blessed Lenten period. Καλό αγώνα!