PAGE 2: Alexander Schmemann – Lent in the Orthodox Tradition
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A characteristic feature of Lenten services is the use of the Old Testament, normally absent from the daily cycle of worship. Lessons from three books of the Bible are read daily throughout Lent: Genesis and Proverbs at Vespers, Isaiah at the Sixth Hour. These readings indicate that Lent is a time of preparation, a spiritual return to the Old Testament, which announced and prepared the coming of Christ and the inauguration in Him of a new life. The book of Genesis tells us the story of Creation, Fall and the beginnings of the history of salvation. Proverbs teach us the Wisdom of God as revealed to man and leading him to repentance and renewal. Finally, Isaiah is the great prophet of Redemption and Salvation, the announcer of the Kingdom of God.
4. The Lenten Hymns
The liturgical book of Lent is the Triodion. Besides the biblical readings, it contains special Lenten hymns to be sung every day at Matins and Vespers. Of a special beauty are the “idiomela” of St. Theodore of Stoudion, short penitential hymns, one sung at Matins and one at Vespers, which more than anything else express the Lenten spirituality of the Orthodox Church. Here are a few examples:
“Let us begin, O people the spotless fast, for it is the salvation of our souls.
Let us make our devotion to the Lord in fear, anointing our heads with the oil of good works and washing our faces with pure water,
Not many worded in prayer, but saying as we have been taught to say.
Our Father Who art in heaven! Forgive us our trespasses,
For Thou art the lover of mankind.”
(Tuesday Matins, First Week)
“O come ye faithful, let us work the works of God in light,
Let us walk honestly as in the day, let us cast away from ourselves every unjust writing against our neighbor, and not put a stumbling block as an occasion for his falling on the way;
Let us put away the pleasures of the flesh;
Let us increase the graces of our souls;
Let us give bread to those in need;
Let us draw near to Christ in penitence, crying out:
“Have mercy on us, O our God!”
(Friday Vespers, First Week)
“Why art thou idle, O my soul? And why dost thou dedicate thyself to sin?
Why art thou weak yet not come to the physician?
Now is the fruitful time, and now is the real day of salvation.
Arise! Wash thyself in the tears of repentance and enlighten thy lamp with the oil of good works,
That thou mayest obtain from God forgiveness and great mercy.”
(Tuesday Matins, Second Week)
“Arriving midway on that road of fasting which leads to Thy venerable cross,
And hoping for a glimpse of that day when Abraham caught up Isaac from the grave
We entreat Thee to make us partakers of Thy mystical supper
Who are saved by faith and cry out to Thee:
O our Light and our Saviour, glory to Thee.”
(Wednesday Matins, Fourth Week)
The Triodion unfortunately has not yet been translated into English. Its wonderful riches are still hidden: short three-ode canons (hence the name “Triodion”), kathismata (stanzas sung after the psalms), hymns to the Holy Trinity, etc. Of all the liturgical books it is one of the most inspiring, most directly connected with the spiritual needs of man.