Augustine Sokolovski

Great Lent is a special time. It is designed to bring believers out of everyday life, to create a new sense of time, to bring the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ closer. In the liturgical year, Great Lent, as a time, is not alone. He has a time companion with whom he comes into contact on Easter. This is the period from Easter to Pentecost, lasting exactly seven weeks and one day. Like forty days, fifty is a special, sacred, biblical number.

Although in everyday life it is customary to talk about the forty days of Great Lent, in reality it lasts longer. Starting from Forgiveness Sunday, the evening service of which marks the transition to Lenten time, seven weeks must pass until Easter. Interpreters explained this by saying that biblical fasting is a complete abstinence from food and drink during the day. Since the liturgy is celebrated on Saturday and Sunday of Great Lent, and after it plant foods are allowed, they cannot formally be called fast days.

This explanation is important. It reminds us that biblical, and therefore Christian, fasting, the fasting that ancient Christians and Church Fathers fasted with, is not a diet, but a refusal. “Moses entered into the midst of the cloud and went up to the mountain; and Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights” (Exodus 24:18). According to the Gospel, the Lord Jesus fasted for forty days and forty nights (Matt. 4:1; Luke 4:2).

The explanation that Saturday and Sunday are not part of Lent seems to help maintain the continuity of the number forty. But it is not necessary. After all, Great Lent consists of two parts. This is Great 40 Days and Holy Week. The first forty days are a time of ascetic effort and renunciation. The Week of the Lord's Passion is a time of sorrow and remembrance. It is important to remember this so as not to confuse the two times, not to grieve for the Cross of the Lord while grieving for oneself, and not to try to make up for the time of personal asceticism lost during the allotted forty days during the Week of the Holy Passion of Christ.

Holy Days and Holy Week - Great Lent consists of these two parts and thus lasts seven weeks. Lent and Easter time - these periods are equal in number of days. In fact, this creates a direct analogy to the time from Easter to Pentecost, which also takes fifty days. These are the “Two Pentecosts” - one of which is solemn, the other is repentant. The semantics of both periods is colossal; its interpretation creates a special theology of the liturgical calendar.

There is a direct correlation between the time from Forgiveness Sunday to Easter and from Easter to Pentecost. It is manifested both in the proportions of time periods and in the themes of celebrations and key memories. Upon careful consideration of the proportions of the two periods, Great Lent and Easter to Pentecost, such a correlation becomes visible. This is both diachrony and, in a way, parallelization of meanings. At the center of this semantic organization of commemorations is Easter. It is the calendar center, semantic unity and the place of contact of the “two Pentecosts”. Easter is a theological source of meaning.

So, the Easter period from Easter to Pentecost is fifty days. In Lenten time, it corresponds to the period from Forgiveness Sunday to Easter. Thus, liturgical theology, or better, the theology inherent in worship, reproduces the path of the history of salvation for exactly one hundred days. This reproduction begins with the memory of the Expulsion of Adam from Paradise on Forgiveness Sunday and ends on Pentecost with the Descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles. This time can be called the “Holy Hundert Days”.

A week before Forgiveness Sunday, on which the Expulsion of Adam from Paradise is remembered, the Sunday of the Last Judgment is celebrated. Likewise, a week after Pentecost, All Saints Sunday occurs. Formally, these two Sundays are outside the Holy Hundred Days. If you allow yourself to go beyond the “linearity of time” in this way, an interesting detail will be revealed. It turns out that in liturgical logic the Last Judgment “precedes” the Fall. It is the Fall, as a biblical and theological event, that is at the center of the liturgical memory of the Expulsion of Adam from Paradise in the Orthodox liturgy.

In other words, it turns out that if we slightly expand the period of one hundred days in both directions by one week and extend it to the preparatory Sunday of the Last Judgment, then the other semantic pole in the liturgical line of memories will be the Sunday of All Saints.

In Russian and Church Slavonic languages, the Last Judgment is literally called the “Judgment that inspires fear and awe”. This difference still awaits interpretation. It is possible that the roots of this linguistic semantics are in the differences in the doctrine of salvation.

The Last Judgment takes place at the end of history. All the Saints, in whose communion during life and after death the Church believes through the mouth of the Apostles' Creed, intercede for the world. “God wants all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth,” writes the author of First Timothy (1 Tim. 3:3-4).

The saints intercede for the world, so that while the world awaits the Last Judgment, the grace of justification in Jesus Christ reaches the hearts of all people. It is important to remember that, in a strictly dogmatic sense, the Church does not pray to the saints, for prayer, according to Scripture, can only be addressed to the One God, but calls upon their intercession for salvation. The Church prays to God to hear this intercession of the saints. Grace is communication, that is, communion between people and God and communion between people. The prayerful intercession of the saints asks for the entry into this communion of the divine-human fullness of all.

The Holy Hundred Days continues from the Expulsion of Adam until the Descent of the Holy Spirit. It is preceded by the memory of the Last Judgment and ends with All Saints' Day. Within the framework of this theological significance of the saints’ petition for salvation, it becomes clear why the Week of the Last Judgment does not complete the preparatory period for Great Lent, but precedes Forgiveness Sunday, that is, the Week of Adam’s Expulsion from Paradise.

The First Sunday of Great Lent occupies a special place in the sequence of memories. This is the Sunday of Orthodoxy. As in the case of the Last Judgment, the name of the first Lenten Sunday sounds differently in Russian and Western European languages. Thus, in English, in French and German, it is literally called the “Triumph of Orthodoxy.” Therefore, in order to avoid ambiguity in understanding, this phrase is often conveyed: “Sunday of Orthodoxy.”

The historical reason for this celebration was the victory of the Orthodox Church over the heresy of iconoclasm. In a historical sense, iconoclasm was a phenomenon in the Byzantine Church. Historians and theologians have still not come to a consensus about the reasons for its occurrence. It is believed that it represented one of the first attempts at religious reformation of Christianity.

The tragic paradox of that time was that Leo and other iconoclast emperors were sincere Christians. Moreover, they shared not only the so-called common religiosity, but also tried to believe dogmatically. Thus, to legitimize his position against icon veneration, Constantine V (741–775), one of the most cruel iconoclasts, convened an Ecumenical Council. Subsequently, it was recognized as false, or, as they say in theological language, a latrocinium.

The rapid spread of Islam then plunged the Byzantine emperors into panic. Apparently, they were looking for a religious justification for this. Due to the prohibition in Islam of the image of a person, they believed that the veneration of icons among Orthodox Christians was to blame for the success of the Arab conquests. Leo III the Isaurian (717–741), who reigned in the first half of the 8th century, and his successors, persecuted and destroyed sacred images for a century.

The trust of Christian believers in the Empire was shaken. The Roman Church, whose territories were largely outside the jurisdiction of the Emperors of Constantinople, remained Orthodox. At the same time, the iconoclast emperors removed Greece from its jurisdiction. Christians in Syria, Palestine and Egypt, under the rule of the Arab Caliphate, began to look at the Byzantine Empire with fear and caution. Iconoclasm became one of the powerful factors in the subsequent division of the Churches and all of Christianity.

Supporters of icon veneration were subjected to severe persecution. There was no justification for such persecution of Christian iconoclasts against Christians who venerated icons. Our liturgical calendar contains the names of many martyrs and confessors of this persecution. It became the longest systematic persecution for faith in the history of the Orthodox Church. Among the martyrs there were many monastics and laymen. The monks kept holy icons; those in power believed that the monasteries served as a refuge for those who did not want to serve in the bureaucracy and army of the Roman Empire.

Among the confessors is the holy monk Theokteristus (+770), in whom tradition sees the author of the prayer canon to the Mother of God “We are supported by many adversities.” The rare Greek name of the saint is translated into Russian as “approved by God.” The iconoclasts destroyed the monastery in Bithynia, where he was abbot, and the holy father himself was sent into exile, after which he was doused with boiling tar and tortured. When reading the prayer canon inscribed with his name, it is useful for the soul and mind to remember the author-confessor, whose words were written from genuine experience.

On the Sunday of Orthodoxy in the divine service, not only the historical remembrance of the event is performed, but the theological significance of the holiday itself is comprehended. In 843, at the Local Council in Constantinople, icon veneration was finally approved, and iconoclasm was condemned and rejected. It was this date that became the moment of the establishment of the Sunday of Orthodoxy.

Before the Byzantine iconoclasm of the 7th–8th centuries, icon painting, and icon veneration were simply the Bible for the illiterate. The persecution of icon veneration in that period made such argumentation insufficient. Therefore, the VII Ecumenical Council in Nicaea in 787 formulated the dogma of icon veneration. From now on, the icon became proof of the truth of the incarnation. The first Sunday of Great Lent is a solemn remembrance of the VII Ecumenical Council, which became the last in Orthodox church history.

Over time, this historical remembrance during the First Sunday of Great Lent began to acquire additional theological contours. Thus, on this day we remember the Ecumenical Councils, the Fathers of the Councils, as well as those Fathers of the Church who did not take part in them, but whose contribution to the formation of Orthodox doctrine was colossal. According to tradition, their names are pronounced in a separate prayer song during the service. Then dogmatic truths are proclaimed and those who deny them are dogmatically condemned.

But let us return to the theme of the “Two Pentecosts”. Just as the Week of the Last Judgment correlates with All Saints' Day, and the Remembrance of Adam's Expulsion with Pentecost, the Triumph of Orthodoxy has a “twin holiday” in the period from Easter to Pentecost.

After all, a week before the Descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles, the Memory of the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council is celebrated. At this Council, which also took place in Nicaea, the main dogmatic truth of Christianity was proclaimed - the doctrine of the consubstantiality of the Son of God with God the Father. It is important that the new proportion of the temporal distance of celebrations during both periods always becomes Easter Day.

An Ecumenical Council is a meeting of the episcopate of the Roman Empire, and some bishops from outside it, convened and authorized by the emperor. This is one of the formal definitions of this important event in the life and history of the Church. However, in Orthodoxy, the Ecumenical Councils, from the First to the Last, with a total of 7, are something much more.

Ecumenical Councils are unique milestones in the history of salvation, when the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of the Council Fathers, proclaimed the dogmas by which the Church lives in history. A characteristic feature of the Orthodox tradition is the fact that the memory of the Ecumenical Councils, each individually or all together, as well as the first six together, is celebrated during divine services throughout the year. This fact attracted the attention of researchers back in the 19th century. In modern times, the phrase “Church of the Seven Councils” has become one of the self-definitions of Orthodoxy. It is significant that during the period of the Holy Day, the memory of the I and VII Ecumenical Councils is celebrated on the first and last Sunday, respectively.

It is significant that during the period of 100 Holy Days, the “Two Pentecosts”, penitential and solemn, the memory of the I and VII Ecumenical Councils is celebrated on the first and last Sunday of this most important period of the liturgical year, respectively.

Obviously if such a sequence of times and memories was calculated by the holy fathers and compilers of liturgical sequences, then one must be surprised at its thoughtfulness. If it arose spontaneously, then we must reverently recognize how grace itself determines the times and seasons in serving God in Spirit and Truth (cf. John 4:23-24). These are the moments of the Orthodox theology of the calendar. These are the moments of Orthodox theology of calendar time.