28 February 2010
Before the forty days of Great Lent commence, there is a three-week Pre-Lenten season, to prepare the faithful for the spiritual work they are to accomplish during the Great Fast. During this period many of the themes which will be developed in the liturgical texts of the forty days are introduced. Each week runs from Monday to Sunday and is named for the Gospel theme of the Sunday which concludes it.
In the Slavic tradition, with the addition of Zacchaeus Sunday, some regard the pre-Lenten period as lasting four weeks, but there are no liturgical indications that the week following the fifth Sunday before Lent (whether preceded by Zacchaeus Sunday or otherwise) is in any way Lenten, because Zacchaeus Sunday falls outside the Triodion, the liturgical book which governs the pre-Lenten period and Lent itself.
In the Slavic liturgical traditions, Zacchaeus Sunday occurs on the fifth Sunday before the beginning of Great Lent (which starts on a Monday). Though there are no materials provided in the Lenten Triodion for this day, it is the very first day that is affected by the date of the upcoming Pascha (all the preceding days having been affected by the previous Pascha). This day has one sole Pre-Lenten feature: the Gospel reading is always the account of Zacchaeus from Luke 19:1-10, for which reason this Sunday is referred to as "Zacchaeus Sunday" (though the week before is not called "Zacchaeus week"). This reading actually falls at the end of the lectionary cycle, being assigned to the 32nd Week after Pentecost. However, depending upon the date of the upcoming Pascha, the readings of the preceding weeks are either skipped (if Pascha will be early) or repeated (if it will be late) so that the readings for the 32nd Sunday after Pentecost always occur on the Sunday preceding the Week of the Publican and the Pharisee.
In the Byzantine ("Greek") liturgical traditions, the Gospel reading for Zacchaeus remains in the normal lectionary cycle and does not always fall on the fifth Sunday before Lent.
The Lenten significance of the Gospel account of Zacchaeus is that it introduces the themes of pious zeal (Zacchaeus' climbing up the sycamore tree; Jesus' words: "Zacchaeus, make haste"), restraint (Jesus' words: "come down"), making a place for Jesus in the heart ("I must abide at thy house"), overcoming gossip ("And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner"), repentance and almsgiving ("And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord: Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold"), forgiveness and reconciliation ("And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham"), and the reason for the Passion and Resurrection ("For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost").
The Epistle reading for Zacchaeus Sunday is 1 Timothy 4:9-15, which in and of itself has no Lenten theme, other than as an admonition to righteous behaviour.
The reading on the Sunday which concludes this week is the Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee (Luke 18:10-14). The Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee is the first day the Lenten Triodion is used (at Vespers or All-Night Vigil on Saturday night), though it is only used for the Sunday services, with nothing pertaining to weekdays or Saturday. The theme of the hymns and readings on this Sunday is dedicated to the lessons to be learned from the parable: that righteous actions alone do not lead to salvation, that pride renders good deeds fruitless, that God can only be approached through a spirit of humility and repentance, and that God justifies the humble rather than the self-righteous. The week which follows the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee is a fast-free week, to remind the faithful not to be prideful in their fasting as the Pharisee was (Luke 18:12).
The Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee is also the first day that structural changes (as opposed to simply substituting Lenten hymns for normal hymns from the octoechos or menaion) are made to the Sunday services.
The theme of this week is the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). Again, the Triodion does not give propers for the weekdays. The Gospel Reading on Sunday lays out one of the most important themes of the Lenten season: the process of falling into of sin, realization of one's sinfulness, the road to repentance, and finally reconciliation, each of which is illustrated in the course of the parable.
The Saturday of this week is the first Saturday of the Dead observed during the Great Lenten season. The proper name in the typikon for the Sunday of this week is The Sunday of the Last Judgment, indicating the theme of the Gospel of the day (Matthew 25:31-46). The popular name of "Meatfare Sunday" comes from the fast that this is the last day on which the laity are permitted to eat meat until Pascha (Orthodox monks and nuns never eat meat).
During Cheesefare Week the eating of dairy products is permitted on every day (even Wednesday and Friday, which are normally observed as fast days throughout the year), though meat may no longer be eaten any day of the week. On the weekdays of this week, the first Lenten structural elements are introduced to the cycle of services on weekdays (the chanting of "Alleluia", the Prayer of Saint Ephrem, making prostrations, etc.). Wednesday and Friday are the most Lenten, but some Lenten elements are also observed on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. Cheesefare Saturday has no Lenten elements to it (as, in fact, is true of Saturdays throughout the Lenten period), but the hymns of the day celebrate the "Holy Ascetic Fathers". That is to say, all of the Holy Fathers (and Holy Mothers) who have shown forth in the monastic life.
Cheesefare Week is concluded on Cheesefare Sunday. The proper name for this Sunday is The Sunday of Forgiveness, both because of the Gospel theme for the day (Matthew 6:14-21) and because it is the day on which everyone asks forgiveness of their neighbor. The popular name of "Cheesefare Sunday" derives from the fact that it is the last day to eat dairy products before Pascha. On this Sunday, Eastern Christians identify with Adam and Eve, and forgive each other in order to obtain forgiveness from God, typically in a Forgiveness Vespers service that Sunday evening. During Forgiveness Vespers (on Sunday evening) the hangings and vestments in the church are changed to somber Lenten colours to reflect a penitential mood. At the end of the service comes the "Ceremony of Mutual Forgiveness" during which all of the people one by one ask forgiveness of one another, that the Great Fast may begin in a spirit of peace. During the ceremony the choir chants the Irmoi from the Canon of Pascha.
The forty days of Great Lent last from Clean Monday until the Friday of the Sixth Week. Each of the Sundays of Great Lent has its own special commemoration, though these are not necessarily repeated during the preceding week. An exception is the Week of the Cross (the Fourth Week), during which the theme of the preceding Sunday—the Veneration of the Cross—is repeated throughout the week. The themes introduced in the Pre-Lenten period continue to be developed throughout the forty days.
The first week of Great Lent starting on Clean Monday, the first day of Great Lent. The name "Clean Week" refers to the spiritual cleansing each of the faithful is encouraged to undergo through fasting, prayer, repentance, reception of the Holy Mysteries and begging forgiveness of his neighbor. It is also traditionally a time for spring cleaning so that one's outward surroundings matches his inward disposition.
Throughout this week fasting is most strict. Those who have the strength are encouraged to fast completely, eating only on Wednesday and Friday evenings, after the Presanctified Liturgy. Those who are unable to keep such a strict fast are encouraged to eat only a little, and then only xerophagy (uncooked food) once a day. Meals are served on Saturday and Sunday, but these are fasting meals at which meat and dairy products are forbidden.
At Great Compline during the first four days of the Fast (Monday through Thursday) the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete is divided into four parts and one part is chanted each night).
The First Saturday is called "St. Theodore Saturday" in honor of St. Theodore the Recruit, a fourth century martyr. At the end of the Presanctified Liturgy on Friday (since, liturgically, the day begins at sunset) a special canon to St. Theodore, composed by St. John of Damascus, is chanted. Then the priest blesses kolyva (boiled wheat with honey and raisins) which is distributed to the faithful in commemoration of the following miracle worked by St. Theodore on the First Saturday of Great Lent: Fifty years after the death of St Theodore, the emperor Julian the Apostate (361-363), as a part of his general policy of persecution of Christians, commanded the governor of Constantinople during the first week of Great Lent to sprinkle all the food provisions in the marketplaces with the blood offered to pagan idols, knowing that the people would be hungry after the strict fasting of the first week. St Theodore appeared in a dream to Archbishop Eudoxius, ordering him to inform all the Christians that no one should buy anything at the marketplaces, but rather to eat cooked wheat with honey (kolyva).
The First Sunday of Great Lent is the Feast of Orthodoxy, which commemorates the restoration of the veneration of icons after the Iconoclast controversy, which is considered to be the triumph of the Church over the last of the great heresies which troubled her (all later heresies being simply a rehashing of earlier ones). Before the Divine Liturgy on this day, a special service, known as the "Triumph of Orthodoxy" is held in cathedrals and major monasteries, at which the synodicon (containing anathemas against various heresies, and encomia of those who have held fast to the Christian faith) is proclaimed. The theme of the day is the victory of the True Faith over heresy. "This is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith" (1 John 5:4). Also, the icons of the saints bear witness that man, "created in the image and likeness of God" (Genesis 1:26), may become holy and godlike through the purification of himself as God's living image.
The First Sunday of Great Lent originally commemorated the Prophets such as Moses, Aaron, and Samuel. The Liturgy's Prokeimenon and alleluia verses as well as the Epistle and Gospel readings appointed for the day continue to reflect this older usage.
On the Second Sunday of Great Lent commemorates St. Gregory Palamas, the great defender of the Orthodox Church's doctrine of Hesychasm against its attack by Barlaam of Calabria.
The Veneration of the Cross is celebrated on the third Sunday. The veneration comes on this day because it is the midpoint of the forty days. The services for this day are similar to those on the Great Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross (September 14). During the All-Night Vigil the priest brings the cross out into the center of the church, where it is venerated by the clergy and faithful. It remains in the center of the church through Friday of the week following (the Fourth Week of Great Lent).
This week is celebrated as a sort of afterfeast of the Veneration of the Cross, during which some of the hymns from the previous Sunday are repeated each day. On Monday and Wednesday of the Fourth Week, a Veneration of the Cross takes place at the First Hour (repeating a portion of the service from the All-Night Vigil of the previous Sunday). On Friday of that week, the veneration takes place after the Ninth Hour, after which the cross is solemnly returned to the sanctuary by the priest and deacon.
The Sunday which ends the fourth week is dedicated to St. John Climacus, whose work, The Ladder of Divine Ascent has been read throughout the Great Lenten Fast.
On Thursday of the Fifth Week, the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete is chanted. This is the longest Canon of the church year, and during the course of its nine Odes, most every person mentioned in the Bible is called to mind and tied to the theme of repentance. In anticipation of the Canon, Vespers on Wednesday afternoon is longer than normal, with special stichera added in honor of the Great Canon. The Great Canon itself is recited during Matins for Thursday, which is usually celebrated by anticipation on Wednesday evening, so that more people can attend. As a part of the Matins of the Great Canon, the Life of St. Mary of Egypt by St. Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem (634 - 638) is read, for her example of repentance and overcoming temptation. On this day also is chanted the famous kontakion, "My soul, my soul, why sleepest thou..." by St. Romanos the Melodist. The next day (Thursday morning) a special Presanctified Liturgy is celebrated, and the fast is relaxed slightly (wine and oil are allowed) as consolation after the long service the night before.
Saturday of the Fifth Week is dedicated to the Theotokos (Mother of God), and is known as the "Saturday of the Akathist" because the Akathist to the Theotokos is chanted during Matins on that day (again, usually anticipated on Friday evening).
The Fifth Sunday is dedicated to St. Mary of Egypt, whose Life was read earlier in the week during the Great Canon. At the end of the Divine Liturgy many churches celebrate a "Blessing of Dried Fruit", in commemoration of St. Mary's profound asceticism.
During the Sixth Week the Lenten services are served as they were during the second and third weeks.
Great Lent ends at Vespers on the evening of the Sixth Friday, and the Lenten cycle of Old Testament readings is brought to an end (Genesis ends with the account of the burial of Joseph, who is a type of Christ). At that same service, the celebration of Lazarus Saturday begins. The resurrection of Lazarus is understood as a foreshadowing of the Resurrection of Jesus, and many of the Resurrection hymns normally chanted on Sunday (and which will be replaced the next day with hymns for Palm Sunday) are chanted at Matins on the morning of Lazarus Saturday.
Palm Sunday differs from the previous Sundays in that it is one of the Great Feasts of the Orthodox Church. None of the normal Lenten material is chanted on Palm Sunday, and fish is permitted in the trapeza. The blessing of palms (or pussywillow) takes place at Matins on Sunday morning, and everyone stands holding palms and lit candles during the important moments of the service. This is especially significant at the Great Entrance during the Divine Liturgy on Palm Sunday morning, since liturgically that entrance recreates the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. The themes of Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday are tied together, and some of the same hymns (including one of the apolytikia) are chanted on both days. The Holy Week services begin on the night of Palm Sunday, and the liturgical colours are changed from the festive hues of Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday back to somber Lenten colours.
Although technically, Holy Week is separate from Great Lent, its services mirror those of Great Lent and are contained in the same book, the Lenten Triodion. Whereas, during Great Lent each week has its own theme, during Holy Week each day has its own theme, again based upon the Gospel readings for the day:
Holy and Great Monday—Joseph the all-comely as a type of Christ, and the account of The Fig Tree (Matthew 21:18-22)
Holy and Great Tuesday—the Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13)
Holy and Great Wednesday—The anointing of Jesus at Bethany (Matthew 26:6-16)
Holy and Great Thursday—The Mystical Supper
Holy and Great Friday—The Passion
Holy and Great Saturday—The Burial of Jesus and the Harrowing of Hell
During Holy Week, the order of services is often brought forward by several hours: Matins being celebrated by anticipation the evening before, and Vespers in the morning. This "reversal" is not something mandated by the typicon but has developed out of practical necessity. Since some of the most important readings and liturgical actions take place at Matins, it is celebrated in the evening (rather than early in the morning before dawn, as is usual for Matins) so that more people can attend. Since during Holy Week Vespers is usually joined to either the Presanctified Liturgy or the Divine Liturgy, and since the faithful must observe a total fast from all food and drink before receiving Holy Communion, it is celebrated in the morning (Vespers on Good Friday is an exception to this, usually being celebrated in the afternoon).
The Matins services for Holy Monday through Thursday are referred to as "Bridegroom Prayer" because the troparion of the day and the exapostilarion (the hymn that concludes the Canon) develop the theme of "Christ the Bridegroom" (Thursday has its own troparion, but uses the same exapostilarion). The icon often displayed on these days depicts Jesus as the Man of Sorrows, and is referred to as the Bridegroom because the crown of thorns and the robe of mockery are parallel to the crown and robe worn by a bridegroom on his wedding day (Thursday has its own icon showing either the Mystical Supper or the Washing of Feet, or both). The Passion of Christ is seen as the wedding of the Saviour with his bride, the Church.
The first three days of Holy Week (Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday), the services all follow the same pattern and are nearly identical to the order followed on weekdays during the Great Forty Days; however, the number of Kathismata (sections from the Psalter) is reduced and the Old Testament readings are taken from different books. The Presanctified Liturgy is celebrated on each of the first three days, and there is a Gospel reading at each one (during the Forty Days there was no Gospel reading unless it was a feast day). There is also a Gospel reading at Matins on each day and the Canon chanted at Matins is much shorter, consisting of only three or four odes rather than the usual nine.
In addition to the Gospel readings at Matins and Vespers, there is a reading of all four Gospels which takes place during the Little Hours (Third Hour, Sixth Hour and Ninth Hour) on these first three days. Each Gospel is read in its entirety and in order, beginning with Matthew 1:1, and continuing through John 13:30 (the rest of the Gospel of John will be read during the remainder of Holy Week). The Gospels are divided up into nine sections with one section being read by the priest at each of the Little Hours.
The Prayer of Saint Ephrem is said for the last time at the end of the Presanctified Liturgy on Holy and Great Wednesday. From this moment on, there will be no more prostrations made in the church (aside from those made before the epitaphios) until Vespers on the afternoon of Pentecost.
In some churches, the Holy Mystery (Sacrament) of Unction is celebrated on Holy and Great Wednesday, in commemoration of the anointing of Jesus' feet in preparation for his burial (Matthew 26:6-13).
The remaining three days of Holy Week retain a smaller degree of Lenten character, but each has elements that are unique to it.
Holy and Great Thursday is a more festive day than the others of Holy Week in that it celebrates the institution of the Eucharist. The hangings in the church and the vestments of the clergy are changed from dark Lenten hues to more festive colours (red, in the Russian tradition). Whereas the Divine Liturgy is forbidden on other Lenten weekdays, the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil (combined with Vespers) is celebrated on this day. Many of the standard hymns of the Liturgy are replaced with the Troparion of Great Thursday. In some churches, the Holy Table (altar) is covered with a simple white linen cloth, in commemoration of the Mystical Supper (Last Supper). During this Divine Liturgy, the reserved Mysteries are renewed (a new Lamb being consecrated, and the old Body and Blood of Christ being consumed by the deacon after the Liturgy). Also, when the supply of Chrism runs low, it is at this Liturgy that the heads of the autocephalous churches will Sanctify new Chrism, the preparation of which would have been begun during the All-Night Vigil on Palm Sunday.
After the Liturgy, a meal is served. The rule of fasting is lessened somewhat, and the faithful are allowed to partake of wine in moderation during the meal and use oil in the cooking.
That night, the hangings and vestments in the church are changed to black, and Matins for Great and Holy Friday is celebrated.
Holy and Great Friday is observed as a strict fast day, on which the faithful who are physically able to should not eat anything at all. Some even fast from water, at least until after the Vespers service that evening.
The Matins service (usually celebrated Thursday night) is officially entitled, "The Office of the Holy and Redeeming Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ", and is commonly known as the "Matins of the Twelve Gospels", because interspersed throughout the service are twelve Gospel readings which recount the entire Passion of Christ from the Last Supper to the sealing of the tomb. Before the Sixth Gospel (Mark 15:16-32) which first mentions the Crucifixion, the priest carries a large cross into the center of the church, where it is set upright and all the faithful come forward to venerate it. The cross has attached to it a large icon of the soma (the crucified body of Christ) At the beginning of each Gospel, the bell is rung according to the number of the Gospel (once for the first Gospel, two for the second, etc.). As each Gospel is read the faithful stand holding lighted candles, which are extinguished at the end of each reading. However, after the twelfth Gospel, the faithful do not extinguish their candles but leave them lit and carry the flame to their homes as a blessing. There, they will often use the flame to light the lampada in their icon corner.
On the morning of Great Friday, the Royal Hours are served. This is a solemn service of the Little Hours and Typica to which antiphons, and scripture readings have been added. Some of the fixed psalms which are standard to each of the Little Hours are replaced with psalms which are of particular significance to the Passion.
Vespers on Good Friday is usually celebrated in the afternoon, around the time of Jesus' death on the Cross. After the Little Entrance the Gospel reading is a concatenation of the four Evangelists' accounts of the Crucifixion and the Descent from the Cross. At the point during the reading which mentions Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, two clergymen approach the large cross in the center of the church, remove the soma, wrap it in a piece of white linen, and carry it into the sanctuary. Later, during the Troparion, the clergy carry the epitaphios (a cloth icon symbolizing the winding sheet in which Jesus was prepared for burial) into the center of the church, where it is venerated by all the faithful.
That night, the Matins of Lamentation is normally celebrated in the evening.
Holy and Great Saturday (known also as the Great Sabbath, because on it Jesus "rested" from his labours on the Cross) combines elements of deep sorrow and exultant joy. This, like Good Friday is also a day of strict fasting, though a meal may be served after the Divine Liturgy at which wine (but not oil) may be used.
The Matins of Lamentation (usually celebrated on Friday evening) resembles the Orthodox funeral service, in that its main component is the chanting of Psalm 118 (the longest Psalm in the Bible), each verse of which is interspersed with laudations (ainoi) of the dead Christ. The service takes place with the clergy and people gathered around the epitaphios in the center of the church. Everyone stands holding lighted candles during the psalm. Next are chanted the Evlogitaria of the Resurrection, hymns which are normally chanted only on Sundays. This is the first liturgical mention of the impending Resurrection of Jesus. At the end of the Great Doxology the epitaphios is carried in procession around the outside of the church, and then is brought back in. As the clergy carrying the epitaphios enter back into the church, they raise the epitaphios at the door, so that all may pass under it as they enter in, symbolically entering into the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Gospel (Matthew 27:62-66) is not read at its normal place during Matins, but instead is read at the end of the service, in front of the epitaphios.
The next morning (Saturday), the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil is celebrated (combined with Vespers). At the beginning of the service, the hangings and vestments are still black. The service is much longer than usual, and includes 15 Old Testament readings recounting the history of salvation, and showing types of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Many parts of the liturgy which are normally chanted in front of the Holy Doors are instead done in front of the epitaphios. Just before the Gospel reading, the hangings and vestments are changed to white, and the entire atmosphere of the service is transformed from sorrow to joy. In the Greek practice, the priest will strew the entire church with fresh bay leaves, symbolizing Christ's victory over death. This service symbolizes the Descent of Christ into Hades and the Harrowing of Hell. Thus, according to Orthodox theology, Jesus' salvific work on the Cross has been accomplished, and the righteous departed in the Bosom of Abraham have been released from their bondage; however, the Good News of the Resurrection has not yet been proclaimed to the living on earth (this will occur during the Paschal Vigil). For this reason, the faithful do not yet break their fast nor exchange the paschal kiss.
At the end of the Divine Liturgy, the priest will bless wine and bread which are distributed to the faithful. This is different from the Sacred Mysteries (Holy Communion) which were received earlier in the service. This bread and wine are simply blessed, not consecrated. They are a remnant of the ancient tradition of the church (still observed in some places) whereby the faithful did not leave the church after the service, but were each given a glass of wine, and some bread and dried fruit to give them strength for the vigil ahead. They would listen to the reading of the Acts of the Apostles, read in full, and await the beginning of the Paschal Vigil.
The last liturgical service in the Lenten Triodion is the Midnight Office which forms the first part of the Paschal Vigil. During this service the Canon of Great Saturday is repeated, at the end of which the priest and deacon take the epitaphios into the sanctuary through the Holy Doors and lay it on the Holy Table (altar), where it will remain until the feast of the Ascension. After the concluding prayers and a dismissal all of the lights and candles in the church are extinguished, and all wait in silence and darkness for the stroke of midnight, when the resurrection of Christ will be proclaimed.