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Some Useful Information on Byzantine Lent

Friday, February 24, 2017 14:17
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Our recent series by Henri de Villiers on the origins and traditions of Fore-Lent made a number of references to the Byzantine tradition, so I thought it would be good to follow up on Lent itself with these two graphics. The first comes from a Facebook page called Eastern Catholics for Renewal, and lists the major steps of the “Journey to Pascha.”


Each Sunday of both the Triodion (Fore-Lent) and Lent has a particular theme, and one or more special names. The first three of the Triodion are called from the Sunday Gospels, the Publican and Pharisee, the Prodigal Son, and the Last Judgment; the final one is called generally called Forgiveness Sunday, and the Gospel is Christ’s words about fasting from the Sermon on the Mount. The Sunday of the Last Judgment (which falls on the Roman Sexagesima) is also called Meatfare, since it is supposed to be last day for eating meat, and Forgiveness Sunday is also called Cheesefare, the last day for eating daily products. After Vespers of the latter, all the faithful and clergy present exchange the kiss of peace, and ask each other for prayers and forgiveness.

The Byzantine Rite’s liturgical week runs from Monday to Sunday, rather than from Sunday to Saturday; therefore, the first day of Great Lent is Monday after Forgiveness Sunday. The Divine Liturgy is not celebrated on weekdays, except on the feast of the Annunciation, but the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, Vespers with a Communion rite, is generally said on Wednesdays and Fridays. On the ferial days of Lent, Compline is said in a longer and more complex form known as Great Compline. On the first four days of the first week, the Great Penitential Canon of St Andrew of Crete is added to it, divided into four parts, one for each day, because of its extreme length; the whole is then repeated at Matins of Thursday of the Fifth week. (In practice, much of it will be omitted in a parish.)

The First Sunday of Great Lent is called Orthodoxy Sunday, commemorating the defeat of the iconoclast heresy in 847. Most Byzantine churches will have a procession in which all the faithful carry icons. The Second is dedicated to St Gregory Palamas, the principal theologian of the hesychast movement; before his canonization, it was dedicated to St Polycarp. The Third is called the Sunday of the Veneration of the Cross; a painted crucifix is usually set up in the midde of the church and venerated with a ritual similar to the Roman cross-creeping. The Fourth is dedicated to the great spiritual writer St John Climacus, and the Fifth to St Mary of Egypt. The graphic recommends a spiritual practice consonant with the theme of the Sunday.

The second graphic comes from Our Lady of Fatima Russian Catholic Church in San Francisco, and explains the traditional rules about Lenten fasting. (These are held to rather strictly in monasteries, and often written into their customaries; the faithful may choose to conform to them as best they can or wish to.) Note that wine, oil, dairy products, and fish are also regulated.



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