From the desk of Fr. Andrew

February 2018

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Great and Holy Lent is once again upon us. The time for self-examination through prayer and fasting is once again here. The time for "renewal" has come. The time to be more "Christlike" is an ever-present reality but during the Lenten period the concern and intensity increases. Along with the devotional practices of fasting, prayer, and good works is the participation in the many and varied Lenten services. The most celebrated services of the Lenten season are: the Great Compline offered on Monday evenings, the Divine Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts offered on Wednesdays, and the (Four) Salutations to the Theotokos and the Akathist Hymn offered on Friday evenings. The following is a few brief words about each Lenten service.

The service of Great Compline can be offered on many days through the Lenten period but Monday evenings seems to be the custom in many of our Greek Orthodox parishes. The Greek word for Compline is Απόδειπνον ("Apόdeipnon"). It was/is a corporate prayer offered after (από) the evening meal (δείπνον). The Compline service has monastic roots, which have been adapted and adopted for use in the parish setting. The monks (and, of course, any lay person) can begin and end his day in prayer. After the evening meal is taken the Compline / Apόdeipnon is offered before the monk retires into his cell for private meditation and / or study. So, Compline is a prayer that is offered after the evening meal, which basically completes the day of corporate prayer.

On Wednesdays during Great and Holy Lent we will celebrate the "Liturgy" of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts. The title of the service may lead us to the understanding that we are celebrating a Divine Liturgy, but in essence, the structure of the service basically follows that of a Vespers service. During the service there is no consecration of the Gifts. This consecration has already taken place within the precious Sunday's Divine Liturgy; hence the term Pre-Sanctified Gifts. Therefore, it could be said that the service is a Lenten Vespers service with Holy Communion being offered.

During Great and Holy Lent, the Divine Liturgy is not offered Monday through Friday. This is so, because at its very core the Divine Liturgy remembers the joy of the Resurrection (on Sundays). The Lenten season is seen as a reflective, solemn, and sober time. Therefore, the "joy" of the Resurrection is basically limited to the day of resurrection, which of course is Sunday. However, the early Christians made it a practice to receive Holy Communion regularly, for many, at every Divine Liturgy. Coupled with the understanding that many fasted very strictly, the early Christians felt a great need to receive the Sacrament during the week. Thus, out of pastoral concern and in her wisdom, the Church developed what has come to be known as the Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts, instituted for the strength and nourishment of her faithful as they await Sunday's celebration.

It has been said that the Ακάθιστος Ύμνος (Akathist Hymn/The Hymn Without Sitting) is the most beautiful service of Great and Holy Lent. The Akathist Hymn is an ecclesiastical poem, which relates the relationship the Virgin Mary has with God and with us. The Akathist Hymn is a hymn, which consists of twenty-four stanzas. The twenty-four stanzas are broken into four sections, each consisting of six stanzas. Each of the four sections is chanted individually on the first four Friday evenings of Great and Holy Lent.

On the fifth Friday of the Lenten Period the entire hymn (all twenty-four stanzas) is chanted without sitting. Hence, the title Akathist Hymn, which in Greek means, without sitting.

I need to say a few brief words about another Lenten service: the celebration of Saint Basil the Great's Divine Liturgy offered on the Sundays of Great and Holy Lent. It is thought that St. Basil's Liturgy pre dates St. John Chrysostom's and in the earlier years was basically used for every Sunday celebration. However, it is a little longer and was eventually replaced by St. John's Liturgy. So, in today's usage St. Basil's Liturgy is only used ten times throughout the ecclesiastical year: on Christmas Day, on the feast day of St. Basil (January 1st), on Epiphany Day, the five Sunday's throughout Great and Holy Lent, and on Great and Holy Thursday and Saturday. The main reason St. Basil's Liturgy is a bit longer is because of the Αγία Αναφορά ("Holy Anaphora" - the main Thanksgiving Prayer). It is extended and profound recounting the history of salvation, per se.

The Anaphorά speaks of God's greatness, as the Creator, His Holiness, His great love, mercy, and His grace, etc. It takes us back to explain our predicament, per se: ...For having made man by taking the dust of the earth, and having honored him with your divine image, you placed him in a garden of delight, promising him eternal life and the enjoyment of everlasting blessings in the observance of your commandments. But when he disobeyed you, the true God, you who had created him, and was led astray by the deception of the serpent becoming subject until death, through his own transgression, in your righteous judgment you expelled him from paradise into this world returning him to the earth from where he was taken, yet (and here is the Good News) providing for him the salvation and regeneration in Christ....

The prayer of the Anaphorά continues in this way for many more beautiful verses reminding the faithful about where we were, how we got to where we are, and the way back home through the gift of knowing Christ and His saving work through the Church. Yes, the Anaphorά and the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great is a bit longer but it is a lot more profound, enlightening and encouraging as well.

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ, may this very brief explanation of the Lenten services give us all a better understanding of our communal prayer life. May this explanation be for a greater participation in our corporate worship experience. May it help us to stay continually focused upon Christ our God, for our spiritual growth and His glorification.

God's continued blessing, +Fr. Andrew