The last Orthodox service to arise was Passia
(Greek for "suffering"), and it was compiled in the mid-17th
century by the Kievan Metropolitan Peter (Mogila), the developer of many
liturgical forms. At first, passias were served widespread in the southern
regions of Russia,
but by the 20th century they were being served throughout.
The service of Passia occurs four times in the
year (according to the number of evangelists): on the second, third, fourth,
and fifth Sunday of Great Lent, in the evening. From its title it is clear that
these services remember the salutary sufferings of the Lord Jesus Christ. A
Gospel reading related to them is read at each passia: in the first, the 26th
and 27th chapters of Matthew, in the second, the
14th and 15th of Mark, in the third, the 22nd
and 23rd chapters of Luke, in the fourth, the 18th and 19th
of John. According to tradition, the praying stand with lit
candles in hand during the Gospel readings.
Besides this, we hear several touching chants
from the services of Great and Holy Friday — the day of the Lord’s physical
death. Thus, we hear the stichera "Come and worship Joseph eternally
remembered…," which is sung during the kissing of Christ’s Shroud; before
the reading of the Gospel we hear the prokimen, "They parted My garments among them, and upon My vesture did they cast
lots…" These and other prayers carry us to Golgotha,
again and again reminding us of the final goal of Lent — co-crucifixion with
During the Passia a sermon containing a lesson
about Expiation is necessarily read. The early form of this service did not
stipulate any parts, but the people’s piety added, to the Gospel and sermon,
the akathist to Christ’s Cross or the Lord’s Passion, which is usually sung not
only by the choir, but by all present. It is not surprising that Russian
Orthodox Christians so love the Passia.
True, in certain circles the opinion exists that
the Passia is of Catholic origin. Some find a similarity to the Catholic masses
of Bach for the Passion week (the well-known
"Passions of Matthew," "Passions of John"). This opinion is
unfounded. On the contrary, the Metropolitan Peter compiled the order in
contrast to the pomp of the Catholic services, because of which many adherents
of magnificence accepted the Unia (the union with the Roman-Catholic
faith). The spirit of passia is completely Orthodox: the incidental similarity
to Catholic services in form is dissolved by the deep spiritual and moral
The Prayer of
St. Ephraim of Syria.
and Master of my life, drive away from me the spirit of idleness,
despondency, ambition and idle talk.
give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love to Thy
O Lord and King, grant me to see mine own transgressions and not to judge
my brother, for Thou art blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.
During Great Lent the faithful read this
prayer regularly. During the period from Monday to Friday it is pronounced at
every church service.
The prayer of St. Ephraim of Syria
is read twice. During the first reading, after the words "idle talk,"
"Thy servant," and "Amen" one must prostrate himself once
each time. Then it is necessary to bow at the waist twelve times, saying the
prayer "God, cleanse me, a sinner!" Then the prayer is repeated in
its entirety, at the end of which one prostration is performed.
This prayer is for us in a way a "memorandum
notebook," assistance for our personal Great Lent efforts, aiming to free
us from certain spiritual illnesses which deter us from turning to God, destroy
our inner being and separate us from our neighbors.
Why perform prostrations? The Church never
separated the soul from the body. In falling away, humans turned away from God,
and now must be reborn. The body is holy, so holy, that God "became
flesh." Salvation and repentance — are not disdain for the body, are not
neglect of the body, as some claim, but instead, the reestablishment of the
body to its true function — as the church of the Spirit. Christian ascetism —
is not a battle against the body, but for it. Therefore the entire person
repents — soul and body. Prostrations — are signs of repentance and humility,
obedience and homage to God.
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