SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 13: Everyone knows about Carnival and Mardi Gras as preparations for Lent, but Eastern Orthodox Christians are beginning a much longer and more spiritually reflecive period known as the Lenten Triodion. The name, “Triodion,” is the title of the liturgical guidebook for the weeks leading up to Great Lent.
The world’s Orthodox Christians begin their preparation today by focusing on humility. This Sunday recalls the story from Luke 18:10-14 about two men Jesus described as they prayed. One man was proud of his righteousness and showed off as he invoked God’s blessing. The other man was a “tax collector,” sometimes called a “Publican,” and “stood off at distance and did not think he was good enough even to look up toward heaven. He was so sorry for what he had done that he pounded his chest and prayed, ‘God have pity on me! I am such a sinner.’” Jesus’ point in this story was that people should approach prayer with the utter humility of the tax collector.
Before the Triodion ends, Feb. 20 is the Sunday of the Prodigal Son, emphasizing the need for loving forgiveness. Sunday Feb. 27 is the Sunday of the Last Judgment. Sunday March 6 ends the pre-Lenten period with Cheesefare Sunday. Why Cheese-fare? Just as Western Christians enjoy feasting before their version of Lenten fasting begins, Eastern Christians know that Clean Monday is coming on March 7—the real start of Great Lent’s fast.
In a rare worldwide convergence of Easter calendars this year, Western Christians chime in that same week with Ash Wednesday falling on March 9 this year.
If you care to follow the Orthodox calendar even more closely, here’s a handy online liturgical calendar from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. Among other online resources, if you’re intrigued by this form of pre-Lenten preparation, there’s this page with links to various readings in the cycle of the Triodion. And the Orthodox Church in America posts PDFs of some music and chanting texts used in the Triodion.