The first week of Great Lent is distinguished by its special
strictness and its lengthy services. On the first four days (Monday, Tuesday,
Wednesday and Thursday) the canon of St. Andrew of Crete is read at Great
Compline with the refrain between each verse, "Have mercy on me, O God,
have mercy on me."
On Friday of the first week, at the Liturgy after
the Prayer before the Ambo, the blessing of "koliva" (a mixture of
boiled wheat with honey) takes place in memory of the holy Great Martyr St.
Theodore Tyro, who granted supernatural help to Christians to help them keep
the fast. In 362 A.D., the Byzantine Emperor, Julian the Apostate, ordered that
the blood of sacrifices offered to idols be secretly sprinkled on the
provisions for the city of Constantinople. The Great Martyr St. Theodore, who
was burned alive in 306 for his confession of the Christian faith, appeared in
a dream to the bishop of Constantinople, Eudoxius, and exposed the secret plot
of Julian. He ordered him not to buy food for the entire week at the city
market, and to instruct his flock to live on koliva.
On the first Sunday of Great Lent the
"Triumph of Orthodoxy" is celebrated, which was established by the
Empress Theodora in 842 A.D. in memory of the restoration of the veneration of
the holy icons. At the conclusion of the Liturgy a Service of Intercession
("Moleben") is held in the center of the church before icons of the
Saviour and the Theotokos, asking that the Lord confirm Orthodox Christians in
the faith and bring back to the path of truth all those who have apostatized
from the Church. The deacon reads the Creed solemnly and pronounces the
anathemas, proclaiming that all those who have presumed to distort the true Orthodox
Christian Faith are separated from the Church. He then intones "Eternal
Memory" for all the reposed defenders of the Orthodox Faith, and finally,
"Many Years," for all those who are living. This service is
customarily done in the presence of a bishop.
On the second Sunday of Great Lent the memory of
St. Gregory Palamas is celebrated. A bishop of Thessalonica who lived in the
fourteenth century, he continued the battle against Western, Latin distortions
of the Christian faith by teaching the importance of the deifying power of the
uncreated Grace of God and preserving the true balance between immanence and
transcendence with the doctrine of the relationship between the
"essence" and "energies" of God. In accordance with the
Orthodox Faith he taught that the ascetic endeavor of fasting and prayer,
particularly the practice of the Jesus Prayer according to the teachings of the
hesychastic Fathers, prepares one to receive the grace-filled light of the
Lord, which is like that which shone on Mt. Tabor at the Lord's
Transfiguration. In other words, if God wills, according to one's striving, one
can partake of divine blessedness while still on this sinful earth. Thus the
second Sunday of Great Lent has been set aside to commemorate this great Church
Father, who made explicit the teaching which reveals the power of prayer and
On the third Sunday of Great Lent, during the All
Night Vigil after the Great Doxology, the Holy Cross is brought forth from the
Altar and placed in the center of the church for the veneration of the
faithful. During the prostrations made before the Cross (which often contains a
portion of the True Cross) the church chants, "Before Thy Cross, we bow
down, O Master, and Thy holy Resurrection we glorify." This hymn is also
chanted at the Liturgy instead of the Trisagion. The Church has placed this
event in the middle of Great Lent in order that the recollection of the
suffering and death of the Lord might inspire and strengthen those fasting for
the remainder of the ascetic struggle of the fast. The Holy Cross remains out
for veneration throughout the week until Friday, when, after the hours and
before the beginning of the Presanctfied Liturgy, it is returned to the Altar.
Thus the third Sunday and fourth week of Great Lent are termed those of the
"Adoration of the Holy Cross."
On the fourth Sunday of Great Lent St. John of the
Ladder is commemorated, the author of the classic ascetic text, The Ladder, in
which he indicates a ladder, or succession of virtues which lead us up to the
Throne of God. On Thursday of the fifth week at Matins, the Great Canon of St.
Andrew of Crete is read, along with the reading of the life of St. Mary of
Egypt. The commemoration of the life of St. Mary of Egypt, who formerly had
been a great sinner, is intended to serve as an example of true repentance for
all and convince us of the ineffable compassion of God. On Saturday of the
fifth week (Matins on Friday evening) we celebrate the "Laudation of the
Theotokos," which consists of the reading of the Akathist to the
Theotokos. This service was initiated in Greece in gratitude to the Theotokos
for her numerous deliverances of Constantinople from its enemies. The Akathist
is read here for the confirmation of the faithful in their reliance upon the
heavenly Mediatress, who, delivering us from visible enemies, is even more an
aid to us in our battle with invisible enemies.
On the fifth Sunday of Great Lent we commemorate
our holy Mother Mary of Egypt. As mentioned above, the Church finds in her an
image of true repentance and a source of encouragement for those engaged in
spiritual endeav ors, by virtue of the example of the ineffable mercy of God
shown towards her a repentant sinner.
The sixth week, which directly precedes Palm
Sunday, is dedicated to the preparation of those fasting for a worthy meeting
with the Lord and for the commemoration of the Passion of the Lord.
On Saturday of the sixth week the resurrection of
Lazarus by Jesus Christ is commemorated. This day is termed "Lazarus
Saturday." During Matins the "Troparia on the Blameless" are
chanted: "Blessed art Thou, O Lord, teach me Thy statutes..." and at
the Liturgy instead of "Holy God" we chant "As many as have been
baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Alleluia," for those catechumens
who are baptized according to custom on this day.
The sixth Sunday of Great Lent is one of the
twelve great feasts, in which we celebrate the solemn Entry of the Lord into
Jerusalem for His voluntary Passion. This feast is also termed Palm Sunday.
After the reading of the Gospel at the All Night Vigil, we do not chant
"Having seen the Resurrection of Christ," but the 50th Psalm is read
immediately, and after being sanctified with prayer and holy water, bundles of
palms, flowers, and (in the Russian Church) pussy willows, are distributed to
the faithful, who then remain standing until the end of the service holding
these bundles with lit candles as a sign of the victory of life over death.
At Vespers on Palm Sunday the dismissal begins
with the words, "May Christ our true God Who for our salvation went to His
Passion Week is the term for the last week before
Pascha. It has this name because it is consecrated to the commemoration of the
last days of the earthly life of the Saviour, His suffering, death on the
Cross, and burial. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of this week are dedicated to
the commemoration of the last conversations of the Lord Jesus Christ with the
people and His disciples.
The specifics of the services of the first three
days of Passion Week are as follows: at Matins, after the Six Psalms and the
"Alleluia," we chant the troparion, "Behold the Bridegroom
cometh at midnight ......" and after the Canon is read we chant the
exapostilarion, "I behold Thy chamber, O my Saviour..." On each of
these three days we serve the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts with readings
from the Gospels.The Gospel is also read at Matins.
The service of Great Thursday is dedicated to the
commemoration of the Mystical Supper, the washing of the feet of the disciples
by Jesus Christ, the prayer of Jesus Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane and His
betrayal by Judas.
At Matins after the Six Psalms and the
"Alleluia" we chant the troparion, "When the glorious disciples
were enlightened at the washing of the feet."
The Liturgy served is that of St. Basil the Great
and is combined with Vespers in commemoration of the fact that the Lord
established the Mystery of Communion during the evening. Instead of the
Cherubic Hymn and the communion verses, "Let our mouths be filled,"
we chant the hymn, "Receive me today, O Son of God, as a communicant of
Thy mystical supper."
In the Moscow Cathedral of the Dormition and in
the Kiev Caves Lavra on this day after the Liturgy, and in the Greek Church
during Matins of Great Wednesday, there is performed the Sanctification of
Chrism, which is used for the Mystery of Chrismation, and in the consecration
of churches and Antiminsia.
The services of Great Friday are dedicated to the
commemoration of the sufferings on the Cross of the Saviour, His death and
burial. At Matins, which is served on the evening of Great Thursday (as all
services of this week are held the night before the actual day), the Reading of
the Twelve Gospels takes place in the middle of the church. These readings are
selections from the four Gospels which proclaim the Passion of the Saviour,
beginning with His final conversation with the disciples at the Mystical
Supper, and ending with His burial in the garden by Joseph of Arimathea and the
setting of the military watch over His Tomb. During the readings, the faithful
stand with lit candles, which are symbols both of the glory and magnificence
which the Lord did not lose during the period of His suffering, and of the
ardent love we should have for our Saviour.
On Great Friday the Royal Hours are served, but
Liturgy is never served, since on this day the Lord offered Himself as a
Vespers is served at the ninth hour of the day (3
P.M.), which is the hour of the death of Jesus Christ on the Cross. In this
service His removal from the Cross and His burial are commemorated.
With the chanting of the troparion, "The
Noble Joseph, having taken Thy most pure body down from the Tree," the
clergy take up the Burial Shroud (an icon) of Christ lying in the tomb (called
"Plaschanitsa" in Russian, "epitaphion" in Greek), from the
Holy Table as it were, from Golgotha, and carry it from the Altar, into the
center of the church, preceded by candles and incense. It is placed on a
specially prepared stand that resembles a tomb, and the priests and all those
present prostrate themselves before it and kiss the wounds of the Lord depicted
upon it, the pierced side and the imprint of the nails in the hands and feet.
The Burial Shroud is left in the church for three
days, from Friday afternoon through Saturday and until the first moments of
Sunday, in commemoration of the three day entombment of Christ.
The divine services of Great Saturday are dedicated
to the commemoration of the time Jesus Christ remained "in the grave
bodily, but in hades with Thy soul as God; in Paradise with the thief and on
the throne with the Father and the Spirit wast Thou Who fillest all things O
Christ, the Inexprdssible," and finally, the Resurrection of the Saviour
from the grave.
At Matins on Great Saturday, after the Great
Doxology, the Burial Shroud is borne out of the church by the priests,
accompanied by the chanting of "Holy God," as at a normal burial
service. The people all join in following it while it is carried around the
church in commemoration of the descent of Christ into hell and His victory over
hell and death. After it is brought back into the church, it is taken through
the open Royal Gates into the Altar as a symbol that the Saviour remained
inseparable from God the Father, and that with His suffering and death He again
opened the gates of Paradise. During this moment the choir chants, "When
the noble Joseph."
When the Burial Shroud is again placed on the tomb
in the center of the church, a litany is said and the prophecy of the Prophet
Ezekiel is read, concerning the resurrection of the dead. The Epistle instructs
the faithful that Jesus Christ is the true Pascha for us all, and the Gospel
relates how the high priest with the permission of Pilate placed a watch over
the Lord's tomb and sealed it.
The Divine Liturgy on this day is later than any
other day of the year and is combined with Vespers. After the Vespers Entry and
the chanting of "O Gentle Light..." we begin the reading of fifteen
lessons from the Old Testament, which contain all the foreshadowings and
prophecies of the salvation of mankind through the Passion and Resurrection of
After these readings and the Epistle reading, the
forefeast of the Resurrection of Christ begins. The choir begins to chant
slowly "Arise, O God, judge the earth, for Thou shalt have an inheritance
among all the nations..," while in the Altar and throughout the church,
the black vestments are replaced with white ones. This change is a symbol of
the event in which the Myrrhbearers, early in the morning "while it was
still dark," saw before the tomb of Christ the angel in radiant vestments
and heard from him the joyful proclamation of the Resurrection of Christ.
The deacon, now clad in bright vestments like an
angel, goes out into the center of the church and before the Burial Shroud
reads the Gospel which proclaims to mankind the Resurrection of Christ.
The Liturgy of St. Basil the Great then continues
in its usual order. Instead of the Cherubic Hymn we chant the following,
"Let all mortal flesh keep silence," and instead of "It is truly
meet..." we chant, "Weep not for Me, O Mother, beholding in the tomb
Thy Son..." The communion verse chanted is, "The Lord awoke as one
that sleepeth and is risen, saving us."
Following the Liturgy there is a blessing of bread
and wine for the nourishment of those praying. A few hours later the reading of
the Acts of the Apostles begins in the Church and continues until the beginning
of the Midnight Office.
An hour before midnight the Midnight Office is
served during which the Canon of Great Saturday is read. At the end of this
service the priests silently take the Burial Shroud from the center of the
church and into the Altar through the Royal Gates and place it upon the Altar
Table, where it remains until the Ascension of the Lord, in commemoration of
the forty day abiding of Jesus Christ on the earth after His Resurrection from
The faithful now reverently await the hour of
midnight when the radiant, Paschal joy of the greatest feast, the Resurrection
of the Lord our Saviour Jesus Christ begins.
This paschal joy is a sacred rejoicing of which
there is no likeness nor equal on earth. It is the endless joy and blessedness
of eternal life. It is of this joy that the Lord spoke when He said, "Your
heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you" (John
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