The Doxastiko at Lauds on the 3rd Sunday in Lent

27 March 2020

The 3rd Sunday is also known as the Sunday of the Veneration of the Cross, and according to the Calendar of Feasts (Synaxari): on that day, the third Sunday of Lent, we celebrate the veneration of the of the precious and life-giving cross. The Sunday was given this name- the Sunday of the Veneration of the Cross- because on that day the Precious Cross is in the forefront of worship and is placed in the center of churches for the faithful to venerate, in order to strengthen them in the continuation of the fast and in  the struggle to defeat the passions, as the note to the feast in the Synaxari says: ‘by its power, Christ our God, protect us from the assaults of the enemy and enable us to venerate your divine Passion and Resurrection, on the successful completion of the forty-day struggle. And have mercy upon us, you who alone are good and the lover of humankind.

All the hymns for the day, starting with the stichera at Vespers, the doxastiko at Vespers, the dismissal hymn, the Matins canon, the intermediate sessional hymns, the kontakio and ikos, the exapostilaria and the praises have as their reference point, their exclusive content and sole subject matter: the life-giving Cross of the Lord. On the one hand, the hymns praise the Lord’s Cross, thus reminding the faithful of the importance which the Cross has in their lives; and, on the other, continuous reference is made to the Lord’s Passion, through which the human race was ransomed from sin.

An exception to the above features of the hymns is the doxastiko at Lauds in the Service of Matins, which makes not the slightest reference to the Lord’s Cross but, on the contrary, mentions an entirely different occasion. It reads as follows:

In a parable, the Lord of all taught us to reject the boastful thoughts of the wicked Pharisees and not to think beyond our bent. Having become an example and pattern, he emptied himself even unto the Cross and death. In thanks, therefore, let us say with the Publican: God who suffered for us and remained impervious to the passions, deliver us from the passions and save our souls’.

So, what is the subject of the doxastiko at Lauds? Clearly, the contrast between the Public and the Pharisee, a distinction made in the famous parable narrated at 18, 10-14 in the Gospel according to Saint Luke. It’s with this parable that the period of the Triodio begins, stretching over 10 weeks, if we include Great Week. The book of the Triodio is used for all the Church services of this time and is closed on the morning of Holy and Great Saturday.

As is implied in the above doxastiko, the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee didn’t use to be the first Sunday of the period of the Triodio, but was the third Sunday of Lent proper, at the mid-point of which the Church accentuated the difference between two ways of life. It attempted to demonstrate to the faithful that we aren’t saved merely by observing the Law, but that we also require moral and spiritual purity, in combination with other virtues. Then we acquire the grace of God and are saved.

It was at a later time that the 3rd Sunday was appointed to be the day of the veneration of the Cross, perhaps because of the transfer of the feast of the Finding of the Precious Cross and Nails, which we celebrate on March 6 (On this day, the commemoration of the Precious Cross and Nails by blessed Helen, Synaxari 6 March). Because March 6  usually falls on a day in Lent when the feast cannot be officially celebrated [i.e. Monday-Saturday], it was moved to the 3rd Sunday of the fast, and most of the previous content of the hymns for this day was altered.

So the doxastiko at Lauds in Matins and also the first aposticho at Vespers* in the evening of that Sunday are both remnants from the days when the 3rd Sunday in Lent was dedicated to the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee.

*I am wretched and because of my wicked acts, I dare not turn my eye to heaven, but as the Publican, I sigh and cry to you: God, cleanse me, sinner that I am, and deliver me from Pharisaical hypocrisy, for you alone are merciful.