PAGE 3: Alexander Schmemann – Lent in the Orthodox Tradition
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5. The Psalter
The Psalms occupy a very central position in Orthodox worship. But in Lent the use of the psalter is doubled. Normally it is read once every week; during Lent it is read twice. Of course this is done mainly in monasteries, yet it is important to know that the Church considers the psalms to be an essential spiritual food for the Lenten season.
6. The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts
On weekdays of Lent (Monday through Friday) the celebration of the Divine Liturgy is strictly forbidden. They are non-liturgical days (with one possible exception, the Feast of Annunciation). The reason for this rule is that the Eucharist is by its very nature a festal celebration, the joyful commemoration of Christ’s Resurrection and glorification and His presence among His disciples. But twice a week, on Wednesday and Fridays, the Church prescribes the celebration after Vespers, i.e., in the evening, of the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts. It consists of solemn Great Vespers and communion with the Holy Gifts consecrated on the previous Sunday. These days being days of strict fasting (theoretically: complete abstinence), are “crowned” with the partaking of the Bread of life, the ultimate fulfillment of our efforts….
“… When Thou has freed us and Thy faithful people from all impurities, sanctify the souls and bodies of all of us with a sanctification not to be taken away; that with a clear conscience, peaceful presence and enlightened hearts we may participate in those divine Sacraments, and be quickened through them and become one with Thy Christ Himself, our true God, Who said: Who so eats My Flesh and drinks My Blood, abides in Me and I in Him. So that by Thy Word dwelling in us and walking with us we may become, O Lord, a temple of Thine all-holy and adored spirit …”
(Prayer at the Presanctified Liturgy)
7. Liturgical Music and Vestments
The spirit of Lent is also expressed in the liturgical music. Special lenten tones and melodies are used for responses at litanies, for the “Alleluias” and the hymns of the Presanctified Liturgy. Slow, deep and solemn, these melodies provoke in us a longing for purity, and also the sadness for not living up to the “pristine beauty” for which we were created….
And finally, as an external symbol of this state of repentance, preparation and humility, dark purple vestments are used in the Church.
8. Saturdays and Sundays of Lent
Lenten Saturdays, with the exception of the first, dedicated to the memory of the Holy Martyr Theodore Tyron, and the fifth, the Saturday of the Akathistos, are days of commemoration of the departed. And it would be good to restore this practice of one weekly universal commemoration of all Orthodox Christians departed this life, of their integration in the Eucharist which is always offered “on behalf of all and for all.”
Each Sunday in Lent, although it preserves its basic meaning: that of the weekly feast of Resurrection, has its own special theme:
The First Sunday—Triumph of Orthodoxy—commemorates the victory of the Church over the last major heresy: Iconoclasm (842).
The second Sunday is dedicated to the memory of St. Gregory Palamas, a great Byzantine mystic and theologian of the 14th century, who centered his teaching on the high calling of man, on his “deification” in Christ.
The third Sunday is the Sunday “of the Veneration of the Holy Cross.” At Matins the Cross is brought in a solemn procession from the sanctuary and placed in the center of the Church, where it remains for the whole week. This rite announces the approaching of the Holy Week, with its commemoration of Christ’s Passion. A special veneration of the Cross takes place at the end of each service.
Fourth Sunday—St. John of the Ladder, one of the greatest Ascetics, who in his “Spiritual Ladder” described the various stages of spiritual life.
Fifth Sunday—St. Mary of Egypt, whose life is a most wonderful example of repentance.
On Saturdays and Sundays, days of Eucharistic celebration, the dark vestments are replaced by light ones, the Lenten melodies are not sung and the prayer of St. Ephrem with prostrations is omitted. The order of services is not of the Lenten type, yet fasting remains a rule and cannot be broken. Each Sunday night at Great Vespers a special Great Prokimenon (verses from a psalm) inaugurates a new week in the penitential effort.