23 Monday 6:30 PM Great Compline and Canon of St. Andrew of Crete
24 Tuesday 6:30 PM Great Compline and Canon of St. Andrew of Crete
25 Wednesday 6:30 PM Great Compline and Canon of St. Andrew of Crete
26 Thursday 6:30 PM Great Compline and Canon of St. Andrew of Crete
27 Friday 6:30 PM Liturgy Presanctified Gifts – Blessing of Wheat and Honey
Beginning of Great Lent
Commemorated on February 23
In the Orthodox Church, the last Sunday before Great Lent—the day on which, at Vespers, Lent is liturgically announced and inaugurated—is called Forgiveness Sunday. On the morning of that Sunday, at the Divine Liturgy, we hear the words of Christ:
“If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses…” (Mark 6:14-15).
Then after Vespers—after hearing the announcement of Lent in the Great Prokeimenon: “Turn not away Thy face from Thy child, for I am afflicted! Hear me speedily! Draw near unto my soul and deliver it!”, after making our entrance into Lenten worship, with its special melodies, with the prayer of St Ephraim the Syrian, with its prostrations—we ask forgiveness from each other, we perform the rite of forgiveness and reconciliation. And as we approach each other with words of reconciliation, the choir intones the Paschal hymns, filling the church with the anticipation of Paschal joy.
What is the meaning of this rite? Why is it that the Church wants us to begin the Lenten season with forgiveness and reconciliation? These questions are in order because for too many people Lent means primarily, and almost exclusively, a change of diet, the compliance with ecclesiastical regulations concerning fasting. They understand fasting as an end in itself, as a “good deed” required by God and carrying in itself its merit and its reward. But the Church spares no effort in revealing to us that fasting is but a means, one among many, towards a higher goal: the spiritual renewal of man, his return to God, true repentance and, therefore, true reconciliation. The Church spares no effort in warning us against a hypocritical and pharisaic fasting, against the reduction of religion to mere external obligations. As a Lenten hymn says:
“In vain do you rejoice in not eating, O soul!
For you abstain from food,
But from passions you are not purified.
If you persevere in sin, you will perform a useless fast!”
The Orthodox Church is very fond of the word mystery. We refer to baptism, chrismation and the Eucharist as mysteries. God is the Mystery; we live in a world of mystery, and the relationship of love that unites us is a mystery. For the Orthodox, mystery is not a problem that we must solve, but an atmosphere that we can breathe deeply in order to find our peace. Knowing that the ultimate reality of things is beyond us is not a threat; it is where we live, move and have our being. Christ’s miracles point toward this Mystery, quantum physics also points toward this Mystery. Reason, logic and scientific observation do not have the final word in determining our world. It has been postulated that the universe is like a clock wound up by God. It ticks along, as a perfect machine, with its gears governed by the laws of physics, but with a God, who is uninvolved after the great wind-up. This is a kind of determinism where God is unconcerned, but it is challenged as we enter into the Mystery, which is the very life of God. Author Unknown.
Theophany is the Feast which reveals the Most Holy Trinity to the world through the Baptism of the Lord (Mt.3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22). God the Father spoke from Heaven about the Son, the Son was baptized by the St John the Forerunner, and the Holy Spirit descended upon the Son in the form of a dove. From ancient times this Feast was called the Day of Illumination and the Feast of Lights, since God is Light and has appeared to illumine “those who sat in darkness,” and “in the region of the shadow of death” (Mt.4:16), and to save the fallen race of mankind by grace.
In the ancient Church it was the custom to baptize catechumens at the Vespers of Theophany, so that Baptism also is revealed as the spiritual illumination of mankind.
The origin of the Feast of Theophany goes back to Apostolic times, and it is mentioned in The Apostolic Constitutions (Book V:13). From the second century we have the testimony of St Clement of Alexandria concerning the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord, and the night vigil before this Feast.
There is a third century dialogue about the services for Theophany between the holy martyr Hippolytus and St Gregory the Wonderworker. In the following centuries, from the fourth to ninth century, all the great Fathers of the Church: Gregory the Theologian, John Chrysostom, Ambrose of Milan, John of Damascus, commented on the Feast of Theophany.