First week of Great Lent
St. Andrew of Crete originally came from Damascus and was born in mid-7th century. At the age of 14, in accordance with the wishes of his pious parents, St. Andrew went to Jerusalem to serve God, and became a member of the patriarchal clergy. His outstanding talents attracted the attention of the Patriarch of Jerusalem, who provided him with a superior theological education, which St. Andrew later put to brilliant use in his works.
In 680 A.D. St. Andrew took part in the 6th Ecumenical Council in Constantinople, and through his learnedness and his knowledge of church dogmas became well-known both to the council fathers and to the Emperor himself. St. Andrew worked hard at fighting heretics, both at the council and in his bishopric on the island of Crete after he was consecrated bishop of Crete. During his tenure there he wrote many canons to the saints and glorified the Holy Virgin. But he attained everlasting glory in composing the Great Canon, which is read in parts during the first four days of the first week of Lent, and in its entirety in the fifth week. St. Andrew of Crete is commemorated on July 4th (by the old calendar).
The canon of St. Andrew is called great not only because of its volume (it consists of 266 verses, whereas regular canons usually contain 30), but also because of its inner content. It affects the soul in such a way that this canon is also called “penitential” or “remorseful.” In it St. Andrew collected all the events of the Old and the New Testaments, from the fall of Adam to the death of Christ the Saviour on the cross, and expressed them in a manner of deep and heartfelt grief. The Great Canon is an extraordinary example of spiritual poetry. In it St. Andrew masterfully applies each event to the soul’s sinful state, and from each event he extracts a powerful impulse towards repentance and moral improvement. The moving poetry of the Great Canon can soften even the most hardened soul and predispose it towards goodness. At the end of the canon St. Andrew appeals to God on behalf of each Christian soul: “Grant me, O Lord, ever a penitent heart and spiritual meekness, that I may offer them as a propitious sacrifice to Thee, sole Saviour”; “My Judge! When Thou comest with the angels to judge the world, then look upon me with Thy kind eyes. Have mercy upon me, Jesus, and save me.”
The content of the Great Canon responds to all the needs of a Christian soul. Whoever seeks knowledge of God will find it in the theological teaching of St. Andrew, who uses Old Testament events to explain the New Testament, and confirms the teaching of the New Testament with historical images from the Old Testament. Clergymen turn to this canon to study the characteristics of man’s fallen and restored nature, which reveals itself in various good and evil actions, and they also learn to understand the heart, from which man brings out good or evil, depending on his disposition. Finally, every Christian sees in the canon a vast spiritual painting which depicts all his sinful actions and impels him to cry out: “Have mercy upon me, O God, for I have sinned before Thee; cleanse me Thyself!”