From the desk of Fr. Andrew

October 2018

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

We send a lot of time speaking and writing about the importance of being present every Sunday for the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. We do not however spend the same time and effort speaking and writing about the importance of the service that precedes the Divine Liturgy: the Orthros/Matins service. The Orthros service is both a prayerful, inspirational and educational time. Through the beautiful hymns and profound prayers of Orthros service the faithful present not only praise and thank God, but are instructed and illumined about the many truths of the Orthodox faith.

Orthros is not only a time of preparation for the faithful but for the priest as well. Through some of the specific prayers of the Orthros service, the priest is given the opportunity to get focused and to prepare himself for the forthcoming Divine Liturgy. Orthros is also the time when the priest prepares the Gifts placed upon the Holy Altar during the Divine Liturgy. The following few paragraphs offer a brief explanation of some of the preparatory highlights that take place during Sunday morning's Orthros service.

After the traditional prayers of the Trisagion said by the priest and chanter, the chanter then begins to read the Six Psalms (3, 38, 63, 88, 103, 143). The major themes of the psalms are rejoicing in God, forgiveness and courage. While the Six Psalms are being read the priest prays the twelve morning prayers on behalf of the community and more specifically, for those present. The major themes of those prayers are thanksgiving, glorification and illumination. From this point forward there are three major events or activities that take place with regard to priestly responsibilities.

The first event takes place while the resurrection Kathismata (the hymns while sitting) and the Evlogitaria (the blessed hymns) are chanted. Like most hymns, these hymns are hymns of instruction and praise. As these hymns are offered the priest stands on the solea before the Royal Gate and is now ready to take his Kairo (recite his personal prayers of preparation). This prayer of preparation (Kairo) is a brief service in which the priest venerates the icons and asks for forgiveness from both God and any faithful present. The Orthros service continues until the chanting of the Katavasia. The Katavasia are a seasonal set of hymns specific to a certain feast or time of year.

The second event takes place as the Katavasia are being chanted. It is at this time that the priest puts on his vestments. He begins with the Sticharion/tunic (a one piece inner robe). As he prays and pulls the robe over his head, it reminds him of the purity of the/his baptismal garment. The priest then puts the Epitrichelion (Stole) over his neck. The Stole is the sign of his priestly order and constantly reminds him of God's grace. The priest then ties the Zoni (belt) around his waist. The Zoni (belt) reminds the priest that it is God who strengthens, protects and guides him in his ministry. The priest then places the Epimanikia (cuffs) over each of his wrists. The priest then puts the Phelonion (cape) over his head. Having finished vesting the priest then washes his hands. Needless to say throughout the vesting process the priest recites many prayers appropriate to each garment.

The third event takes place just after the morning Gospel reading, the 50th Psalm and the incense that is offered in honor of the Theotokos. Following the offering of incense the priest prepares the bread and wine (the Gifts) which will become the Pure Body and Precious Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Taking a round loaf of bread (Prosforon/the bread offering) the priest begins to pray and extracts three pieces from the top of the bread. He forms a cube from the middle of the bread, which is called the Lamb representing Jesus Christ. He then cuts a triangular piece representing the Theotokos and places it on the left side of the Lamb.

The last piece offered is a small square, which represents the nine orders of saints and places it on the right side of the Lamb. After the appropriate prayers are offered, the priest then says prayers for the living and for the dead. He prays for both the health and well-being, and for the peaceful repose of the servants of God. All these pieces are placed on the disk or paten and along with the chalice filled with wine and water, are what the priest is holding during the Great Entrance. The priest then finishes the Service of Preparation by covering the gifts to be offered (the bread and the wine) with the Kalymata (three-piece embroidered coverings/veils).

As the chanter offers the hymns of praise (The Exapostilaria and the Lauds) the Orthros service is nearing its end. Standing before the Holy Table, the priest offers the last two sets of sentence prayers. As the Doxology begins, the priest censes the whole Church. Returning to the front of the Holy Altar, he asks for God's peace, strength and forgiveness as he begins the Divine Liturgy.

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ, I know that in some cases it is all that we can do to make it on time for the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. We hardly even think about what may come before (and after) that celebration. However, much does come before it and it is important that we are at least aware of it and what basically takes place during that time. As was mentioned above the Orthros service allows us the time to fully prepare for the celebration of the Divine Liturgy, instead of walking in "cold." I pray that you consider joining us for this important time of preparation, inspiration and education which for us begins at 8:30am on Sunday mornings.

I understand that it may not be the "right" time for some of us (doing all we can to get ourselves and/or our kids ready in the morning, driving a long ways to get to St. Spyridon, work responsibilities, etc.) and that is alright for now. However, for those who may not have even been aware of what takes place in the morning and the importance of Orthros, please reconsider, join us and receive the blessings offered throughout the Orthros service.

God's continued blessing, +Fr. Andrew