During Great Lent, we Orthodox Christians make a special attempt to evaluate our calling as Christians; to listen to the voice of the God and heed its commandments; to accept the constant invitation to enter Christ's Kingdom.
In our Orthodox Church calendar, the four weeks which precede Great Lent are considered preparatory. These four weeks, along with the eight weeks of Lent, are referred to as the Triodion, the name of the Service Book used during this period. The four Sundays preceding Lent are known as:
1) Sunday of the Tax Collector (Publican) and Pharisee (the Parable, Gospel Lesson - Luke 18:10-14);
2) Sunday of the Prodigal Son, (the Parable, Gospel Lesson - Luke 15:11-32;
3) Meat-Fare Sunday (Final Judgment, Gospel Lesson - Matthew 25:31-46); and
4) Cheese-Fare Sunday (Adam's expulsion from Paradise, Gospel Lesson - Matthew 6:14-21).
Sunday of the Tax Collector (Publican) and the Pharisee.
Arrogance is the opposite of repentance and the corruption of the conscience of man. The Church designated this Parable to be read on the first Sunday of the preparation period. The Pharisee boasted of his deeds and considered himself better that others who, according to him, were sinners. The more he boasted, the more he condemned himself through arrogance. The tax collector was repentant and prayed, "God be merciful to me a sinner." The attitude of the tax collector made him a steward of divine gifts. The Church teaches on this first Sunday of the Triodion period, through the Parable, the arrogance should be uprooted and replaced with the virtue of humbleness.
Sunday of the Prodigal Son.
Prodigality is willful extravagance. The prodigal son of the Gospel parable squandered his entire inheritance and was lost in corruption. The main subject in the parable is, however, the warm parental love of the Father. The son exchanged his prodigality for his repentance. At the moment of his repentance, arrogance was expelled. The Church teaches in this Gospel Lesson that prodigality is the consequence of arrogance and that the love of God the Father embraces all that sincerely repent.
It is a belief of the Church that Christ will come a second time into the world, not to save the world, but with glory to judge the world. The teaching of the Church through the Gospel of this third Sunday of the preparatory period is that there is a Supreme Judge for those who committed iniquities and wrong-doings without punishment or discovery while on earth. We Christians are admonished, as we approach Lent and Easter, to correct our faults, praying and almsgiving. The Last Judgment will be made according to the good works of each person as a result of his faith in and worship of God. These good works are directed to the "least," those in need, as Christ Himself says, "as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me." This is the last day prior to Lent that the believer eats meat.
The theme of this Sunday refers to the expulsion of Adam from Paradise. The Church in its hymnology presents Adam outside of Paradise as weeping. The Gospel passage of this Sunday refers to the manner of praying, fasting, almsgiving and all good works. These are to be done in secret, without boasting. This is the last day on which we eat cheese, milk and dairy products as Great Lent begins on the next day, Monday.