This Sunday was originally dedicated to Saint Polycarp of Smyrna (February 23). After his glorification in 1368, a second commemoration of Saint Gregory Palamas (November 14) was appointed for the Second Sunday of Great Lent as a second “Triumph of Orthodoxy.”
Saint Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonica, was born in the year 1296 in Constantinople. Saint Gregory’s father became a prominent dignitiary at the court of Andronicus II Paleologos (1282-1328), but he soon died, and Andronicus himself took part in the raising and education of the fatherless boy. Endowed with fine abilities and great diligence, Gregory mastered all the subjects which then comprised the full course of medieval higher education. The emperor hoped that the youth would devote himself to government work. But Gregory, barely twenty years old, withdrew to Mount Athos in the year 1316 (other sources say 1318) and became a novice in the Vatopedi monastery under the guidance of the monastic Elder Saint Nicodemus of Vatopedi (July 11). There he was tonsured and began on the path of asceticism. A year later, the holy Evangelist John the Theologian appeared to him in a vision and promised him his spiritual protection. Gregory’s mother and sisters also became monastics.
Despite the teaching about icons defined at the Seventh Ecumenical Council in 787, the Iconoclasts began to trouble the Church again. After the death of the last Iconoclast emperor, Theophilos, his young son Michael III, with his mother the regent Theodora, and Patriarch Methodios, summoned the Synod of Constantinople in 843 to bring peace to the Church. At the end of the first session, all made a triumphal procession from the Church of Blachernae to Hagia Sophia, restoring the icons to the church. This occurred on 11 March, 843 (which that year was the first Sunday of Lent). The Synod decreed that a perpetual feast on the anniversary of that day should be observed each year on the First Sunday of Great Lent, and named the day, “the Sunday of Orthodoxy” (ἡ Κυριακὴ τῆς Ὀρθοδοξίας).
The name “Orthodoxy” has gradually affected the character of the feast. Originally commemorating only the defeat of Iconoclasm, the commemoration has gradually come to be understood in a more general sense as opposition to all heterodoxy. In this way, though its first occasion is not forgotten, the feast has become one in honour of the true Faith in general. This is shown by its special service.
Our service schedule for the first week of Great Lent is as follows:
- Tuesday, February 28, 6:00PM: Great Canon of Saint Andrew of Crete
- Wednesday, March 1, 6:00PM: Divine Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts
- Thursday, March 2, 6:00PM: Great Canon of Saint Andrew of Crete
- Friday, March 3, 6:00PM: Sorokousty – Commemoration of the living and the dead
- Saturday, March 4, 5:00PM: Great Vespers
As we begin the Great Fast, the Church reminds us of Adam’s expulsion from Paradise. God commanded Adam to fast (Gen. 2:16), but he did not obey. Because of their disobedience, Adam and Eve were cast out of Eden and lost the life of blessedness, knowledge of God, and communion with Him, for which they were created. Both they and their descendents became heirs of death and corruption.
Let us consider the benefits of fasting, the consequences of disobedience, and recall our fallen state. Today we are invited to cleanse ourselves of evil through fasting and obedience to God. Our fasting should not be a negative thing, a mere abstention from certain foods. It is an opportunity to free ourselves from the sinful desires and urges of our fallen nature, and to nourish our souls with prayer, repentance, to participate in church services, and partake of the life-giving Mysteries of Christ.
At Forgiveness Vespers we sing: “Let us begin the time of fasting in light, preparing ourselves for spiritual efforts. Let us purify our soul, let us purify our body. As we abstain from food, let us abstain from all passion and enjoy the virtues of the spirit….”
Kontakion — Tone 6
Master, Teacher of wisdom, / Bestower of virtue, / you teach the thoughtless and protect the poor: / Strengthen and enlighten my heart. / Word of the Father, / let me not restrain my mouth from crying to you: / Have mercy on me, a transgressor, / O merciful Lord!