In many Orthodox Churches and communities, the first week of Great Lent is commonly known as “clean week”, where an extra emphasis is placed on the cleaning of ones conscience, through prayer, service, fasting and humility. It starts on the Sunday when we go around to each other asking forgiveness, and likewise forgiving those who ask us; and it continues on the Monday when we hear or read the first of the many Old Testament lessons appointed for Great Lent.
Wash yourselves and ye shall be clean; put away the wicked ways from your souls before Mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well. Seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, consider the fatherless, and plead for the widow. Come then, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: Though your sins be as scarlet, I will make them white as snow; and though they be red like crimson, I will make them white as wool (6th hour of Clean Monday Isaiah 1:16-18)
Although this movement continues through to Palm Sunday (one could say it continues through our whole lives), the character of Great Lent is formed in these first few days; Clean week. To help us form this character we are given the opportunity to “seek judgement, relieve the oppressed, consider the fatherless, and plead for the widow”; and by it encounter the Lord who has come to save us, through the witness of scripture (both old and new Testament) in the hymns and prayers of the Canon of St. Andrew of Crete.
The service is a dialog between St. Andrew and his soul (and by extension each of us and our soul) where the theme is an urgent exhortation to change one’s life. St Andrew always mentions his own sinfulness in striking contrast to God’s abundant mercy, through the use of literally hundreds of references to good and bad examples from scripture, to “convince himself” to repent (and by extension each of us and our soul).
St. Andrew’s service, offers us a chance to “Imitate the God-loving deeds of the righteous and shun the sins of the wicked” (Tuesday: Ode 8), and greet the proclamation of “Christ is Risen” on the Lord’s saving Pascha, with truly a clean conscience.
May the Lord bless.