Holy Week & Pascha 2017

We welcome all to come and celebrate the work of Salvation that culminates in the Resurrection of Our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ.  In the Orthodox Church the last week of Christ’s life is officially called Passion Week. In popular terminology, it is called Holy Week. Each day is designated in the service books as “Great and Holy”, with special services every day of the week for the faithful as they “go up with the Lord to Jerusalem” (Matins of Great and Holy Monday).  His institution of the Last Supper, His Passion in the Garden, the Betrayal, Scourging, the end of His Earthly Life on the Cross, His Burial and the Lamentations become the focus of our worship, prayer and contemplation during the Divine Services offered in anticipation of the Rising of Christ.  All turns to joy, as we begin the Midnight Office in the dark, then candle light procession follows as we visit His Empty Tomb and a world illuminated by the Uncreated Light of His Life-giving Resurrection – the Holy and Glorious PASCHA of our Lord!!

Following is a short summary of the meaning of the services, with a schedule so you can plan your week and hopefully attend as many as possible.

Schedule of Services & Their Meaning

March 31, 8:00 am – Matins, followed by
9:30 am – Divine Liturgy of Lazarus Saturday

On this day, the rising from the dead of St. Lazarus, the righteous friend of Christ, is celebrated. Lazarus Saturday is a Paschal celebration. It is the only time in the entire Church Year that the Resurrectional Service of Sunday is celebrated on another day. At the liturgy of Lazarus Saturday, the Church glorifies Christ as “the Resurrection and the Life” who, by raising Lazarus, has confirmed the universal resurrection of mankind even before his own suffering and death.

March 31, 6:00 pm  – Saturday Evening Great Vespers of Palm Sunday
April 1, 8:30 am – Matins, with Blessing of the Palms (9:45 am)

At the vigil of the feast of Palm Sunday the prophecies of the Old Testament about the Messiah-King are read together with the Gospel accounts of the entry of Christ into Jerusalem. At Matins branches are blessed which the people carry throughout the celebration as the sign of their own glorification of Jesus as Savior and King.

April 1, 10:00 am – Palm Sunday Divine Liturgy

Because of the resurrection of Lazarus from the dead, Christ was hailed by the masses as the long-expected Messiah-King of Israel. Thus, in fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament, He entered Jerusalem, the City of the King, riding on the colt of an ass (Zech 9.9; Jn 12.12). The crowds greeted Him with branches in their hands and called out to Him with shouts of praise: Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! The Son of David! The King of Israel! Because of this glorification by the people, the priests and scribes were finally driven “to destroy Him, to put Him to death” (Lk 19.47; Jn 11.53, 12.10).

April 1, 6:00 pm – Holy Sunday Evening
Bridegroom Matins

“ . . men loved darkness rather than light” The services of Holy Week begin with three days devoted to the final discourses of Christ, speaking with clarity of the end of the age.  Two themes, Darkness brings Judgment, are combined in the Troparia of these three days that begin with: “Behold, the Bride Groom cometh, in the middle of the night . . . “, proclaiming that the nighttime, or darkness of “the world”, is the time for Christians to keep vigil, to watch and pray.

April 2, 6:30 pm – Holy Monday
Liturgy of Presanctified Gifts / Bridegroom Matins

The theme for Monday is that of the sterile fig tree which yields no fruit and is condemned.

April 3, 6:30 pm – Holy Tuesday
Liturgy of Presanctified Gifts / Bridegroom Matins

On Tuesday the accent is on the vigilance of the wise virgins who, unlike their foolish sisters, were ready when the Lord came to them.

April 4, 6:30 pm – Holy Wednesday
Liturgy of Presanctified Gifts / Bridegroom Matins

Wednesday the focus is on the fallen woman who repents. Great emphasis is made in the liturgical services to compare the woman, a sinful harlot who is saved, to Judas, a chosen apostle who is lost. The one gives her wealth to Christ and kisses his feet; the other betrays Christ for money with a kiss.

April 5, 2:00 pm – Holy Thursday Institution of the Eucharist,
Vesperal Liturgy of St Basil

“Do this in remembrance of Me…….”  The Last Supper was the Passover Supper which Christ celebrated with his twelve apostles. The main theme of the day is the meal itself at which Christ commanded that the Passover of the New Covenant be eaten in remembrance of himself, of his body broken and his blood shed for the remission of sins. In addition, Judas’ betrayal and Christ’s washing of his disciples’ feet is also central to the liturgical commemoration of the day.

April 5, 6:30 pm – Holy Thursday Evening Matins,
The Holy and Redeeming Passion of our Lord with the Reading of the 12 Passion Gospels

“We worship Thy passion, O Christ……”  Good Friday celebrates the holy, saving and awesome Passion of Christ at which the twelve Passion Gospels are read. To take away our sins, Christ willingly endured the spittings, scourgings, buffetings, scorn, mocking and the purple robe; the reed, sponge, vinegar, nails, spear and, above all, the Cross and Death. The confession from the cross of the penitent thief, crucified with Christ, is celebrated. This content of the service is dramatic and deeply moving for the devout Christian. Participation in the prayers and the historical sequence of the events, as related in the Gospels and hymns, provides a vivid foundation for the great events yet to come.

April 6, 9:00 am – Holy Friday Morning Royal Hours

“They cast lots upon my vesture…….” According to the Hebrew custom, the “Royal Hours”, four in number, are read at this time. These services consist of hymns, psalms, and readings from the Old and New Testaments, all related prophetically and ethically to the Person of Christ. The entire day is a strict day of fasting from all foods and drink, as we remember the events of his Crucifixion, Death and Burial.

April 6, 4:00 pm – Holy Friday Afternoon
Taking down from the Cross

“Father forgive them for they know not what they do…….” During this service, the removal of the Body of Christ from the Cross is commemorated with a sense of mourning for the terrible events which took place. Once more, excerpts from the Old Testament are read together with hymns, and again the entire story is related, followed by the removal from the Cross and the wrapping of the Body of Christ with a white sheet as did Joseph of Arimathea.  As the priest reads the Gospel, “and taking the body, Joseph wrapped it in a white cloth”, he removes the Body of Christ from the Cross, wraps It in a white cloth and takes It to the altar. Good Friday is the only day in the year on which the Divine Liturgy is not officiated.

April 6, 7:00 pm – Holy Friday Evening Matins,
The Lamentations

“Do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves”.  It consists of psalms, hymns and readings, dealing with the death of Christ, in contrast to His divinity, and in expectation of His Resurrection. The thoughtful, and well-written Odes compare the Compassion of God and the cruelty of man; the Might of God and the moral weakness of man. The Odes picture all Creation trembling when witnessing its Creator hung by His own creatures: “Creation was moved . . . with intense astonishment when it beheld Thee hung in Golgotha”. During this service the Body of Christ is carried in procession around the church. There is a simultaneous praise of both the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ with their purpose of the redemption of man. We no longer lament the sufferings of the Crucified One; we now lament chiefly for our own sins because we are far from God. So these services should have a rather personal meaning of repentance and of strong faith in God. Christians observe Good Friday with strict fasting, prayer, cleanliness, self-examination, confession and good works, in humility and, repentance so that the Grace of the Cross might descend upon them.

April 7, 11:15 pm – Holy Saturday Midnight Office

The faithful gather in the darkened church building, in anticipation of the midnight hour in when the celebration of the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ begins.  Hearing the divine service of the Midnight Office of Holy Pascha, we stand in silence to prepare ourselves for the journey to the Tomb of Life, and the coming Light of His Resurrection.

April 8, 12:00 am – Great & Holy PASCHA: Matins, Divine Liturgy & Blessing of Pascha Baskets, followed by Pascha Feast
The Resurrected Christ, raising up Adam and Eve

On Pascha Sunday (soon after Saturday, midnight) the life-giving Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is celebrated. The priest takes light from the vigil light and gives it to the faithful, who are holding candles. The priest sings: “Come ye and receive light from the unwaning life, and. glorify Christ, who arose from the dead”, and all the people join him in singing this hymn again and again. From this moment, every Christian holds the Paschal candle as a symbol of his vivid, deep faith in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ as Savior. Then comes the breathless moment as the people wait for the priest to start the hymn of Resurrection, which they join him in singing, repeatedly: “Christ is Risen from the dead, trampling down death by Death, and upon the tombs bestowing Life”!   From this moment the entire service takes on a joyous Pascha atmosphere. The hymns of the Odes and Praises of Resurrection which follow are of superb meaning and expression. The people confess, “It is the Day of Resurrection, let us be glorious, let us embrace one another and speak to those that hate us; let us forgive all things and so let us cry, Christ has arisen from the dead”.  The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is then celebrated.

April 8, 2:00 pm – Agape Vespers of Great & Holy PASCHA,
followed by Paschal Feast

“Peace be unto you……..”.  Pascha Sunday afternoon the faithful gather once more for prayer with lighted candles. All sing the hymn, “Christ is Risen from the Dead”. The people greet one another joyously, saying: “Christ is Risen”, the Pascha salutation which is answered, “Truly He is Risen”. They sing, “the dark shadows of the Law has passed away by the coming of grace”, and standing in exaltation they exclaim, “Who is so great a God as our God?”.

Thus begins Bright Week, free of fasting, with the Royal Doors open wide in celebration of the empty Tomb from now until Thomas Sunday.

The Meaning of Candles

Based on Their Twelve Properties

  1. Candles give light. They remind us of Christ Our Savior, Who said “I am the Light of the world.” (John 9:5) They also remind us that we must also shine as lights, for Christ said that we, too, are the light of the world. For He said: “You are the light of the world.” And, “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matt 5:14-16).
  2. Candles give warmth. They remind us that we must also give warmth to those around us, especially those who are cold and needy—to warm them with our love.
  3. Candles burn with fire. They remind us of the eternal fires of hell, which await us if we do not repent and do not follow God’s commandments.
  4. Candles are beautiful but dangerous. They shed a beautiful soft light in the Church makes the icons glow and that makes it so much easier to concentrate in prayer. However, if not monitored, they can also ignite the church furnishings and cause the church to burn down and all of the icons be destroyed. They teach us to be ever vigilant and careful, because lack of vigilance can bring terrible consequences.
  5. Candles are not permanent. They remind us that our time of life here on earth is fleeting, and that every day our life grows shorter until it is extinguished. Candles call us, therefore, to repentance, for our time here on earth is not forever.
  6. Candles are straight. They remind us that we must stand straight before the Eyes of the Lord., that our deeds must be straightforward and righteous. A candle that is not standing straight up will not burn properly. So we too must be straight in our ways, leaning neither to one side or the other.
  7. Candles bend but do not break. A wax candle has the wonderful property of being able to be bent in a full circle without breaking, but can then be straightened out again. They remind us that we must be able to withstand challenges and sorrows that we face in our lives without breaking. Though these sorrows may bend our resolve, we, through contrition and repentance, can become straight once again.
  8. Candles can be both hard and soft. They are hard when they are cold, but become soft when they are warmed. In the same way, our hearts are hard when cold, and we must warm them with love of God and of our fellow man in order for them to be soft again.
  9. Candles shed tears. When burning, the wax of a candle causes little drips to form and run down the candle that look like tears running down our face. They remind us that we must shed tears over our sins, and out of compassion for others.
  10. Candles are gift of the animal world. Candles are made from wax, which is the product of the labor of thousands of honeybees working together. Candles remind us that we must also be industrious and not lazy, and that we must love all of God’s creatures, big and small and be thankful to them when we use the fruit of their labors for our benefit.
  11. Candles are useful but simple. Candles are not complex. They are simple in nature, but perform their task well. Especially in our age where we are surrounded by complex technology, candles remind us that the simple things are often the best. Throughout the ages, candles have made it possible to perform services in the hours when it is dark outside. They make it possible for the priest to read the prayers in his service book, for readers and chanters to be able to assist in the services. Without candles, there would have been no All-Night Vigils, no Midnight Offices, no Paschal Midnight Matins and liturgies. Candles remind us that we too must do our jobs well, to live our lives well in accordance with God’s commandments, without complications.
  12. Candles are useless without a spark. They remind us that we all are dead and useless unless we are lit with the spark of the Holy Spirit, which ignites the flame of life. Candles remind us of the Holy Spirit, Who appeared to the Disciples in the form of a flame. They remind us that we must ask the Holy Spirit to come and abide in us, and cleanse us of every impurity that our souls may be saved.

According to St. Nikolai of Ochrid:

 Vigil lights are lit for many reasons:

  1. Because our faith is light. Christ said: “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). The light of the lampada reminds us of that  light by which Christ illumines our souls.
  2. In order to remind us of the radiant character of the saint before whose icon we light the lampada, for saints are called sons of light (John 12:36, Luke 16:8).
  3. In order to serve as a reproach to us for our dark deeds, for our evil thoughts and desires, and in order to call us to the path of evangelical light; and so that we would more zealously try to fulfill the commandments of the Savior: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works” (Matthew 5:16).
  4. So that the lampada would be our small sacrifice to God, Who gave Himself completely as a sacrifice for us, and as a small sign of our great gratitude and radiant love for Him from Whom we ask in prayer for life, and health, and salvation and  everything that only boundless heavenly love can bestow.
  5. So that terror would strike the evil powers who sometimes assault us even at the time of prayer and lead away our thoughts  from the Creator. The evil powers love the darkness and tremble at every light, especially at that which belongs to God and to  those who please Him.
  6. So that this light would rouse us to selflessness. Just as the oil and wick burn in the lampada, submissive to our will, so let our souls also burn with the flame of love in all our sufferings, always being submissive to God’s will.
  7. In order to teach us that just as the lampada cannot be  lit without our hand, so too, our heart, our inward lampada, cannot be lit without the holy fire of God’s grace, even if it were to  be filled with all the virtues. All these virtues of ours are, after all,  like combustible material, but the fire which ignites them proceeds from God.
  8. In order to remind us that before anything else the Creator of the world created light, and after that everything else in order: “And God said, Let there be light: and there was light”  (Genesis 1:3). And it must be so also at the beginning of our  spiritual life, so that before anything else the light of Christ’s truth  would shine within us. From this light of Christ’s truth subsequently every good is created, springs up and grows in us.

From St. John of Kronstadt:

The candles burning on the altar represent the non-created Light of the Trinity, for the Lord dwells in an unapproachable light. They also represent the fire of Divinity which destroys our ungodliness and sins.

The candles lit before the icons of:

  • the Savior signify that He is the True Light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world (John 1:9); at the same time, He is a Fire which engulfs and revives our souls and bodies.
  • the Theotokos are a symbol of the fact that She is the Mother of the Unapproachable Light, and also of Her most pure and burning love for God and Her love for mankind.
  • the saints reflect their ardent love for God for Whose sake they gave up everything that man prizes in life, including their very lives, as did the holy apostles, martyrs and others. These candles also mean that these saints are lamps burning for us and providing light for us by their own saintly living, their virtues and their ardent intercession for us before God through their constant prayers by day and night.

The burning candles also stand for our ardent zeal and the sincere sacrifice we make out of reverence and gratitude to them for their solicitude on our behalf before God.

The Deeper Meaning in the Blessing of Homes

This little article was written by a pious priest, who has since reposed.  It is not about what you already know about blessing homes – get a candle, get some holy water if you have it, get an icon, write out a list of all the living you want the priest to pray for, write out a list of the departed too, turn off the television and radio and other electronic devices… you know all that, or should. This is instead a message about the deeper meaning of this, deeper preparation, deeper cognizance of the whole event – a serious application of the blessing to our lives.

The tradition of blessing homes is of special beauty and significance. It is not simply a sentimental custom without meaning, nor is it a custom whose meaning we have forgotten. This tradition was usually attached to a special event in our parish – the parish nameday or some other holy celebration. In some cases*, it was done at the time of the feast of the Lord’s Baptism – reminding us of not only our baptisms, but also of the need of baptizing the world in which we live, including what we might call “my world” – ‘my personal space.’

When an Orthodox Christian believer moves into a new home, he dedicates it not only as the abode of a follower of Christ, but also as a shining example to the community of good clean Christian life. He asks that God, the source of all goodness and the Giver of every perfect gift, bless his house and all that is within it; he recalls that Jesus Christ, His Son, came to bring Salvation to it, even as He brought Salvation to the house of Zacchaeus, the house of Mary and Martha and Lazarus, and the house of Saint John the Evangelist when He sent his holy Mother to live with him; he prays that the Holy Spirit may abide in it, guiding those who dwell in it in the Paths of righteousness. And he brings into his home holy icons of the Savior and his Mother, and of the saints and of holy events. He brings candles and incense blessed in church. This blessing at the establishment of a house is usually celebrated by the priest in the presence of the entire family, or by the head of the household if the priest is unavailable.

On the Feast of the Parish or the Feast of Theophany we rededicate our home for its original purpose, just as we must periodically rededicate our life to Christ. We do it especially on this Feast because this is the day on which we remember in the Church Year the coming of Christ who began His Ministry when He descended into Jordan to be Baptized by Saint John the Forerunner and Baptist. He enters again into our lives reminding us that we must “repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.”

An Orthodox Christian must dedicate not only himself and his house to the Lord, but his daily work and all his efforts as well. All things are to be done to the glory of God. That is why in the Christian Orthodox Church, not only religious objects, such as icons, crosses, churches and vestments, are blessed, but also homes, fields, animals, clothing and all objects which are used in our daily lives for the good of man. In this the Church expresses its faith that the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying action extends over the whole Creation.

At the Nativity of Our Lord, we sing a carol which tells us ‘Let every heart prepare Him room.’ We know that this means not only to ‘make a space for’ but it means to clean and cleanse and purify our homes and get ready for Him to come to us, not only in our homes but also, and more especially, into our hearts.

We prepare our hearts and souls and heads, cleaning them of all sinfulness so that when He comes, the place will be refreshed and ready. When someone comes to stay in your guest room (which you may not use often, or may use only to store lots of ‘stuff’), we normally air the room out, dust it and change the bed linens which may have become somewhat musty. We might even wash the windows to let the light shine in, clean the floor, and make room by shoving all the ‘stuff’ into closets (or under the bed). We know then that cleaning the house of our soul is equally hard work – we take stock of our lives and actions over the past year, come to confession so that Our Lord – who washes away our sins when we confess them – when He comes in to us, has a refreshed and clean place worthy of laying His head – He comes to abide in us as well as our homes!

But we need to think a little farther and deeper. We need to look carefully at our houses, our homes, the places where we live and work.

‘Prepare Him room’ means also to fix and repair everything that is broken in the house. This is because the blessings of our homes are the re-dedication of our family and household to the Lord. Parents recognize (or ought to recognize) that all they have and all that they will ever have comes from the Lord, and they pass this along to their children, when they go through the house cleaning prior to its blessing.

Blessing the home is a spiritual ‘exercise’ led by the Lord Himself, usually through his priest or sometimes by the head of the family and in the presence of the members of the assembled family, dressed in ‘good clothes,’ and maybe even invited guests, friends and kinfolk, who all enter into worship and thanksgiving with us. Effective family life does not just happen; it is the result of deliberate intention, determination and practice.

Before the home is blessed, the house must be cleansed of all that is an affront to God, all that is offensive to Him. Just as we prepare our souls, we have to prepare not just the building, but the spirit in which we live. This should be done as a family. We should ask each other if there is anything which is causing us to hold a grudge or to refuse to speak with someone. We need to examine all the excuses we have to ‘lock ourselves into our rooms’ in order to have ‘privacy’ or to do shameful things.

We need to collect together and remove all those things in the house which are offensive to God. None of these items should be given away to provide others with a cause for sin. If at all possible they should be destroyed through recycling which is certainly a useful and proper habit.

When Israel was preparing to enter the promised land, the people were told, “The graven images of their gods shall ye burn with fire: thou shalt not desire the silver or gold that is on them, nor take it unto thee, lest thou be snared therein: for it is an abomination to the LORD thy God. Neither shalt thou bring an abomination into thine house, lest thou be a cursed thing like it: but thou shalt utterly detest it, and thou shalt utterly abhor it; for it is a cursed thing.” Deuteronomy 7:25, 26.

Our Lord commands us not to have idols: remove every item that has any association with idolatry. This includes vain and sensuous images, improper and alluring, seductive clothing, objects like talismans, charms, books, literature, and objects that solicit fear or demand reverence of anything besides the true and living God.

Have you been abroad? Did you bring back statues of Kali – the Indian goddess who has many arms? Did you find a beautiful contemplative Japanese Buddha? How about a Chinese Kwan Yin (who resembles the Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus)? How about some primitive African idols? While some may say these are merely ‘art objects,’ Christians recognize these as idols and know that they have no places in Christian homes.

All games dealing with the occult, and with forces of darkness must be removed, including “Ouija boards” and “tarot” cards. There are many TV and computer games along these lines that must be included in this cleaning, along with all pornographic books, novels, magazines, videos, discs and recordings. What society calls pornography (depictions of immoral sexual acts in literature or on recorded media) is not the same as God’s definition of it.

Saint John the Evangelist writes in his letter: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passes away, and the lust thereof: but he that does the will of God abides for ever.” 1 John 2:15-17.

We must remember that we can idolize ourselves. Cosmetics and ‘fashionable’ clothing are designed to seduce others, but they also seduce us by means of pride and vanity. They exceed ‘self respect’ and normal adornment with modesty and propriety, and play only to a false ‘self-image.’

Our bodies are the home of the Holy Spirit so we must never harm our bodies but keep them pure and undefiled. The use of ‘recreational’ drugs that are potentially harmful is forbidden to Christians. This includes hard alcohol and tobacco. In the house cleansing tobacco products, marijuana, and all illegal drugs must be destroyed and their use discontinued. Medicinal drugs are for the benefit of man and are not offensive to God unless we become addicted to them. If you feel that you might be addicted to a medication, speak with your physician about an alternate treatment, We must remember that we the temple of the Holy Spirit and we must not do anything to harm or desecrate our body.

Get rid of all books and materials that advocate heresy, error, useless speculation or which provide confusion to the mind. There are many good books which present the truth about Christian life. We do not need materials about false philosophies in our homes. Books and materials advocating false religious teachings should be eliminated. A mature Christian who is able to use these materials to work for the conversion of those following false teaching may have a reason to own some of these materials. But most Christians should not have the books and materials published by cults, magicians or others who are not true to the Holy Scriptures.

Sometimes a family member will have a stash of pornography or liquor or drugs that is unknown to the other members of the family. In such cases the family member should confess his sins, ask forgiveness from his family and from God and add all of these hidden materials to the pile of things being ‘cleaned up.’

All of the above “things” are physical symbols of spiritual poisons which pollute our lives and the lives of our family. How can we live with these venomous things surrounding us? Just as arguments, disagreements, fights, physical and verbal abuse, poison the atmosphere, so does all this filth – this pornea – pollute our homes.

Do you think I’ve over-stated my case? I think that a “Christian life-style” is required for all Christians. Tolerating immorality, indecency, idolatry, immodesty, dirtiness is an affront to God and is NOT part of a Christian life-style. Such a non-Christian life-style should not be blessed or tolerated.

in some cases’ – In this country it has become the norm to bless houses at Epiphany (or Theophany). The older custom, connecting the blessing of homes with the parish feast day.

Great Vespers

In the Orthodox Church the liturgical day begins in the evening with the setting of the sun. This practice follows the Biblical account of creation:

“And there was evening and there was morning, one day.” (Gen 1:5)

The Vesper service in the Church always begins with the chanting of the evening psalm:

“…the sun knows it’s time for setting, Thou makest darkness and it is night…” (Psalm 104: 19)

This psalm, which glorifies God’s creation of the world, is man’s very first act of worship, for man first of all meets God as Creator.

“Bless the Lord, oh my soul, 0 Lord my God, Thou art very great … O Lord, how manifold are Thy works! In wisdom hast Thou made them all. The earth is full of Thy creatures.” (Ps 104:24)

Following the psalm, the Great Litany, the opening petition of all liturgical services of the Church is intoned. In it we pray to the Lord for everyone and everything.
Following this litany a number of psalms are chanted, a different group each evening. These psalms normally are omitted in parish churches though they are done in monasteries. On the eve of Sunday, however, sections of the first psalm and the other psalms which are chanted to begin the week are usually sung even in parish churches. Psalm 141 is always sung at Vespers. During this psalm the evening incense is offered:

“Lord, I call upon Thee, hear me. Hear me, O Lord. Let my prayer arise in Thy sight as incense. And let the lifting up of my hands be an evening sacrifice. Hear me, O Lord.” (Psalm 141)

At this point special hymns are sung for the particular day. If it be a Church feast: songs in honor of the celebration are sung. On Saturday evenings, the eve of the Lord’s Day, these hymns always praise Christ’s resurrection from the dead. The special hymns normally end with a song called a Theotokion, which honors Mary, the Mother of Christ.
Following this, the vesperal hymn is sung. If it be a special feast or the eve of Sunday, the celebrant will come to the center of the church building with lighted candles and incense. This hymn belongs to every Vesper service.

“O Gladsome Light of the holy glory of the Immortal Father, heavenly, holy, blessed Jesus Christ. Now we have come to the setting of the sun and behold the light of evening. We praise God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. For it is right at all times to worship Thee with voices of praise, O Son of God and Giver of Life, therefore all the world glorifies Thee.”

Christ is praised as the Light, which illumines man’s darkness, the Light of the world and of the Kingdom of God which shall have no evening (Isa 60:20, Rev 21:25).
A verse from the Psalms, the prokeimenon, follows — a different one for each day, announcing the day’s spiritual theme. If it be a special day, three readings from the Old Testament are included. Then more evening prayers and petitions follow with additional hymns for the particular day, all of which end with the chanting of the Song of St Simeon:

“Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace according to Thy word, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation: which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people. A light for revelation to the Gentiles, and to be the glory of Thy people Israel.” (Lk 1:29-32)

After proclaiming our own vision of Christ, the Light and Salvation of the world, we say the prayers of the Thrice-Holy (trisagion) through to the Our Father. We sing the main theme song of the day, called the Troparion, and we are dismissed with the usual benediction.
The service of Great Vespers takes us through creation, sin, and salvation in Christ. It leads us to the meditation of God’s word and the glorification of His love for men. It instructs us and allows us to praise God for the particular events or persons whose memory is celebrated and made present to us in the Church. It prepares us for the sleep of the night and the dawn of the new day to come. On the eves of the Divine Liturgy, it begins our movement into the most perfect communion with God in the sacramental mysteries.

Orthodox Christian Beliefs

Doctrine

We worship God in Trinity, glorifying equally the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ is Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages; that He is truly God, of one essence with the Father and the Holy Spirit. We believe that Christ Incarnate is also truly man, like us in all respects except sin. We worship the Holy Spirit as Lord and Giver of Life Who proceeds from the Father. We honor and venerate the Saints as those who have grown “unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). We ask their intercession before God knowing that they live in Christ and that nothing, not even death, breaks the bond of love we share with them in Christ. Of the saints, the Ever-Virgin Mary, the Theotokos (Greek: Mother of God), holds a special place as “more honorable than the Cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim” (c.f. Luke 1:48).

Sacraments

Baptism and Chrismation are usually administered together. Baptism by triple immersion is participation in the Death and Resurrection of Christ, purification in the washing away of sin, and birth into the life of the Holy Trinity. Chrismation, following Baptism, anoints one with the “Seal and Gift of the Holy Spirit.” Through the Holy Spirit we are able to live the fullness of the Christian life. We are regenerated and given the Grace by which we are able to keep the commandments of Christ and attain unto the Kingdom of Heaven. In Holy Communion is received the very Body and Blood of Christ for remission of sins, the sanctification of soul and body, and for life eternal. In Holy Confession the Christian, when truly repentant, receives from Christ,through the confessor, the forgiveness of sins committed after baptism. Ordination, Marriage, and Holy Unction complete the seven New Testament Sacraments. By the laying on of hands a bishop transmits Divine Grace to the person being ordained, linking him to the uninterrupted succession of Orthodox clergy from the time of Christ to the present. Divine Grace sanctifies the union of man and woman in matrimony. Orthodox parish priests are usually married but the marriage must precede ordination. The Sacrament of Holy Unction brings healing to the infirmities of both body and soul, as God sees fit, through the anointing of oil.

What Is the Difference?

One writer has compared Orthodoxy to the faith of Rome and Protestantism in this basic fashion: Orthodoxy has maintained the New Testament tradition, whereas Rome has often added to it and Protestantism subtracted from it.

For example, Rome added to the ancient Creed of the Church, while numerous Protestant Churches rarely study or recite it. Rome has layers of ecclesiastical authority; much of Protestantism is anti-hierarchical or even “independent” in polity. Rome introduced indulgences and purgatory; in reaction, Protestantism shies away from good works and discipline.

In these and other matters, the Orthodox Church has steadfastly maintained the Apostolic Faith. She has avoided both the excesses of papal rule and of congregational independence. She understands the clergy as servants of Christ and His people and not as a special privileged class. She preserved the Apostles’ doctrine of the return of Christ at the end of the age, of the last judgement and eternal life, and continues to encourage her people to grow in Christ through union with Him. In a word, Orthodox Christianity has maintained the Faith “once for all delivered to the saints.”