What we Hear in Church

Triodion Hymn of the Matins Service

text box 2

In the four weeks leading up to Great Lent, there is a discernible shift in the hymnography of the Church. This is because from the Vespers service of Sunday of the Tax Collector and the Pharisee and up to Holy Saturday, the chanters use the service book titled, the Triodion. During the preparatory period up to and during Great Lent, this hymn is chanted after the recitation of the 50th Psalm, during the Sunday Matins Service. Psalm 50 is attributed to King David who wrote it after having committed adultery and murder. In its closing refrain, the hymn makes a direct link to the opening verse of the psalm. It opens with a woeful cry of fear at the multitude of sins committed by us, composed by the hymnographer on our behalf as a personal plea to God. In itself, this emotive phrase sets up some interesting questions. Are we judged less harshly if we commit fewer sins? Is it better to sin a little and feel fearful than to commit many sins and feel unapologetic?  This is a legalistic and fatal way of thinking. St Paul says in Romans 3:23,” For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” 

Professor Mantzarides

[1] clarifies further: “The Gospel, as is easily confirmed, does not divide men according to their virtues or vices, but according to their disposition either to repent or to persist in sin. Christ did not call man to become more virtuous or less sinful, but to repent and to accept the grace which He offers them. In so far as men do not repent, they are far from the true source of life and are slaves to decay and death”.

All we have that are ours alone are our sins, offered to God in repentance and confession. Every other thing we may have, be it virtue, be it talents, be it good health, etc, is seen by the Orthodox Christian as a blessing from God. It is only if we feel the heavy weight of our sins that we can cry out for God’s great mercy together with King David, with the Prodigal Son, the tax-collector, the harlot and the many other examples of repentance put forth before us by the Church during Great Lent.


Source: February-March 2015 Lychnos Edition


[1] Giorgios I. Mantzarides, Orthodox Spiritual life, HCOP, Brookline Massachusetts, 1994 p.37