Yes, Great Lent will soon be here.
The Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee, January 28, 2018, is the first Sunday of a three-week period prior to the commencement of Great Lent. It marks the beginning of a time of preparation for the spiritual journey of Lent, a time for Orthodox Christians to draw closer to God through worship, prayer, fasting, and acts of charity. It is also on this day that the Triodion is introduced, a liturgical book that contains the services from this Sunday, the tenth before Pascha (Easter), to Great and Holy Saturday.
The Gospel reading is from Luke18:10-24. This Gospel tells the story of the Publican and the Pharisee and shows us how conceit and pride in one's virtues do not count in God's eyes. A sinner, if he is humble and owns up to his faults and repents, is nearer God's love than the person who prides himself on his outward good works and despises his fellowmen. The hyms and canon of the Week of the Publican and Pharisee speak to us of humility.
The day is named after one of Jesus’ Parables as told in the Gospel of Luke. This week is followed by that of the Prodigal Son, then by Meatfast and then Cheesefast (Forgiveness Sunday)and then Great Lent begins on February 19.
Jesus spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:
Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector [or Publican]. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’
And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying: ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’
I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
(From: Luke 18:9-14)
The week that follows the Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee is designated by the Church as a non-fasting week. All foods are allowed on everyday of the week, including Wednesday and Friday. This dispensation from fasting is offered as a way of indicating that Great Lent and a more intense fasting period is approaching.
O Lord, You condemned the Pharisee who justified himself by boasting of his works, and You justified the Publican who humbled himself and with cries of sorrow begged for mercy. For You reject proud-minded thoughts, O Lord, but do not despise a contrite heart. Therefore in abasement we fall down before You Who have suffered for our sake: Grant us forgiveness and great mercy.
Let us flee the proud speaking of the Pharisee and learn the humility of the Publican, and with groaning let us cry to the Saviour: Be merciful to us, for You alone are ready to forgive.
To move our hears to penitence, special penitent prayers to Jesus Christ and His Mother are sung:
'Open Thou the gates of repententance to me, O Lifegiver, for my soul longs for thy holy Temple, though its own bodily temple is wholly defiled. But Thou, in Thy bounty, cleanse it according to Thy loving kindness.'
'O Mother of God, lead me into the path of salvation, for I have hardened by soul by shameful sins, and have spent all my life in laziness. Save me, by Thy prayers, from all imputiry.'