One can safely say that the wonderful poetic creation of St. Andrew of Crete, “The Great Canon,” contains the very essence of the meaning of Great Lent, the period of time appointed by the Holy Church for repentance, which is the very core of the Orthodox way of life. For this reason the Church gives it a great prominence in its services during the Fast. If during the First Week of Lent, or Clean Week, the Great Canon is divided up during the Great Compline service the first four nights, the whole composition is read in its entirety during Matins of the fifth Thursday, divided up and dispersed during the service along with the reading of the Life of St. Mary of Egypt, perhaps one of the most spectacular examples extant in Church hagiography of repentance. This happens just before the last week of Great Lent, when the Church is already preparing us for Lazarus Saturday and the feast of the Entrance of the Lord into Jerusalem.
As is traditional, the abbot of the monastery, Archimandrite Luke, along with the monastery clergy, read the Great Canon in its entirety in the middle of the church, as mentioned previously, dispersed throughout the Matins service, while the choir chanted. As directed by the rubrics of this service, Fr. Luke read the first half of the life of St. Mary just before the Canon was started, and the second half was read after the first part of the Canon. The Life reflects the meaning of the Canon, which gives wonderful examples of repentance, foreshadowed in the Old Testament.
This service inspires us in our struggles during Great Lent, preparing us for the journey of the Lord’s Passion, leading up to His joyful Resurrection.