Lent is a period of intense spiritual struggle using repentance, forgiveness, charity, prayer and fasting. The three weeks prior to Great Lent are the weeks of preparation where the Church teaches us what Lent is about and how to get the most out of this beautiful and deeply spiritual period. Each week of Triodion has its own distinct theme which is expressed in the Gospel readings appointed for the Divine Liturgies on these days:
1. Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee (Luke 18:9-14), encourages us to look at ourselves honestly and with humility and to seek mercy from the Lord. It teaches us that to be saved, we must not judge others, but only look at our own failings, understand our own distance from God, and ask Him to have mercy on our soul.
2. Sunday of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), is a moving story that gives us the confidence that whatever has caused us to break our relationship with God is forgivable by God if, and only if, we truly want to re-establish our relationship with Him. To re-establish our relationship with our Father in Heaven, requires the understanding that we have indeed broken the relationship. Of course, it also presupposed that there was a real and loving relationship in the first place. It requires a genuine return on our part. This story confirms for us that our Heavenly Father is always silently waiting for our return, and that He full of love for us.
3. Sunday of the Last Judgment (also called Meatfare Sunday; Matt 25:31-46). Is a strong reminder that love and charity are critical for us to find a place in Heaven. It would seem from this reading that we must reach out to others, give, console, feed, visit and help others just as Jesus would do. Otherwise, all other spiritual endeavours are pointless. Christ wants us to be as He is, an outpouring of love. The prayer, repentance, forgiveness and fasting can help us get there, but the goal is love.
4. Sunday of Forgiveness (also called Cheesefare Sunday); Matt 6:14-21 teaches us to forgive others if we expect to be forgiven. We are advised to pray and fast discreetly, without seeking to promote our spiritual struggle to others, because that defeats the purpose.
The Church eases us into the Lenten discipline of fasting during this period. The first week is free from any fasting. The second week is normal, with fasting on Wednesday and Friday. The last week of Triodion, following Meatfare Sunday, while no meat is eaten, eggs, fish and dairy are permitted on any day.
Forgiveness Sunday brings the Triodion period of preparation to an end. The next day, Clean Monday, is the first day of Great Lent.
In summary, the meaning of the Triodion preparation period for Lent is love others in a real and tangible way, never judge others, forgive everyone, understand your distance from, and seek your return to God. Discreet prayer and fasting will help you.