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Passia

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 Christ.

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 content.

The Prayer of St. Ephraim of Syria.

    • Lord and Master of my life, drive away from me the spirit of idleness, despondency, ambition and idle talk.
    • But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love to Thy servant.
    • Yea, 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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