During this week, the Fifth Week of Great Lent, we celebrate additional church services that are a little longer. This is by design, and helps us intensify our Lenten efforts of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. If a believer is accustomed to attending only the Sunday Liturgy during Great Lent, then the opportunity for a deeper Lenten experience will, alas, be missed.
What should one expect this week?
On Wednesday evening, at the Presanctified Liturgy, the usual antiphonally sung Psalms will be replaced by longer, more penitential Psalms. The usual hymns after “Lord, I call” increase from ten to twenty-four, all with the refrain “…before I perish utterly, save me, O Lord.” It is as if the entire Lenten journey is being reviewed in poetic hymn singing.
Our next service is intended to continue on Wednesday night, however, we move it to Thursday evening as a concession to our busy lives. During this special Matins service, we will chant from the Canon of St. Andrew of Crete.
This canon, an intricate poem of nine odes, was written in the early 8th century. The entire 250-verse canon is a kind of “Walk through the Bible.” Saint Andrew begins with Adam and Eve and goes all the way through the biblical text, as he speaks to his soul, and to us, by applying the stories and characters of the Holy Bible. When speaking of the Great Canon, Father Alexander Schmemann says “…the events of sacred history are revealed as events in my life, God’s acts in the past as acts aimed at me and my salvation, the tragedy of sin and betrayal as my personal tragedy. My life is shown to me as part of the great and all embracing fight between God and the powers of darkness which rebel against Him… The Canon begins on a deeply personal note… one after another, my sins are revealed in their deep connection with the continuous drama of man’s relation to God; the story of man’s fall is my story.” We will also hear and learn from the reading of the Life of St. Mary of Egypt.
On Friday evening, at 6:00, we will celebrate the very festive, uniquely and mystically beautiful Matins of the Akathistos Hymn to the Theotokos. We hear the bright and wonderful refrain “Rejoice, O Bride unwedded,” at the end of each stanza. The place of the Theotokos in Lent is significant, since without her there is no incarnation. I’ve noticed that this Matins of the Fifth Friday is not well-attended; I ask you to set aside an hour and a half and join me in this magnificent Service.
The intensity of the Fifth Week of Lent offers the worshipper great gifts. Those who have not yet attended Lenten Services will find that the Fifth Week is a good time to begin. Be prepared to be tested and challenged, yet nourished and comforted, by the spiritual therapy being offered to each person who comes. Don’t let the week pass you by.
For more on the Biblical stories we’ll hear in the Great Canon, see: http://www.pravmir.com/the-whos-who-of-the-great-canon-of-st-andrew-of-crete/
[Adapted from a note by Archpriest Lawrence Margitich]