Five Ways Our Church Experience Changes During Great Lent

The Triodion Period brings with it some unmistakable changes to our liturgical experience. Technically speaking, the Church is set up to perform a cycle of services around the clock, each and every day of the year. When these are closely followed, it is very easy to see the seasonal changes in the services. Unfortunately, the reality is that many of our communities only see services celebrated on Sundays. Thankfully, many parishes also try to offer more services during Great Lent. Here is a quick overview of those services that we will encounter during the course of Great Lent:
  1. Vespers and Orthros

    These services mark the dusk (Vespers) and dawn (Orthros) of each day of the year. During Great Lent, their structure is modified slightly and the hymns, supplemented in this period by the Triodion, offer a different “flavor” than the hymns employed throughout the rest of the year. This is not as noticeable on Saturdays and Sundays (the days our parishes typically offer these services), but there are some changes on those days as well.

  2. Great Compline

    Compline is the after-dinner service (that is the literal meaning of its Greek name, apódeipno), and is part of the regular daily prayer cycle for Orthodox Christians. Great Compline takes that basic format and adds more readings and chants, such as God is with us and Lord of the powers. During the first four weekdays of Great Lent, the so-called ‘Great Canon’ of St. Andrew of Crete is also inserted, chanted in four sections across the four days; it consists of penetrating and moving poetry meant to motivate us to pursue repentance.

  3. Salutations

    The “Salutations” service, held on the first four Fridays of Great Lent, is simply Compline with poetic verses addressing (“saluting”) the Mother of God that are intoned by the priest, and a canon in her honor which is chanted by the choirs. The poetic verses are recited in sections, one per week, until the fifth Friday of Great Lent, when we chant the Akathist. The word “akathist” (Greek akáthistos) means “not sitting”; in other words, the name refers to the fact that the faithful remain standing. In the context of Great Lent, this refers to the culmination of the “Salutations” services (there are other kinds of akathist services for different occasions) wherein all the poetic verses mentioned above are included.
  4. Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts

    In an act that powerfully illustrates the penitent nature of Great Lent, the Church foregoes the joyous celebration of the Divine Liturgy during weekdays. However, in order to sustain the faithful in their fasting and spiritual struggle, portions of the Divine Body and Blood of our Savior are presented during the course of the week. In the Sunday preceding each week of Great Lent, the priest sets aside the sanctified Body and Blood that will be distributed during the week; the weekday service, which is a hybrid of Vespers and Divine Liturgy, does not have the special prayer of consecration. This is why the weekday liturgy is referred to as that of the “pre-sanctified” Gifts. It is properly an evening service, and the faithful who are otherwise prepared abstain from food and drink from midday in order to receive Holy Communion.

  5. Saturday of Souls

    Did you know that each Saturday is the day set aside by the Church to commemorate her deceased members? Properly speaking, this is the day of the week for memorial services to take place—not on Sundays. During the Triodion period, we celebrate Saturday of Souls on the day before Judgment (a.k.a. “Meatfare”) Sunday, a service dedicated to the memory of all those who have lived and died since Adam. On this day, the faithful bring kollyva—the boiled wheat traditionally served as a memorial for those who have fallen asleep—and a list of names of deceased relatives and ancestors to be commemorated. It is a common misconception that the Saturday of Cheesefare Week and the first Saturday after Great Lent begins are “Saturdays of Souls;” rather, these are commemorations of the Holy Ascetics and of a miracle concerning St. Theodore the Recruit and kollyva, respectively. Still, many use this as an opportunity to pray once again for those who have fallen asleep. Properly speaking, there are only two Saturdays of Souls in the life of the Church: The Saturday prior to Judgment Sunday, and the Saturday before Pentecost.

Keep an eye out for the services offered at our Cathedral throughout this period, and take part in as many as possible. We often see Great Lent as a period of “negatives”: don’t eat this or that and don’t eat so much of this or that, don’t go out for entertainment as much, don’t otherwise pursue your appetites. . . If this is our impression of Great Lent, then we have an incomplete and, therefore, harmful perspective. If we are limiting these things in our life, then we must also be filling the gap with prayer, charity, and increased participation in the liturgical life of the Church. Lent is about the positive action of consciously fulfilling our Christian calling to be holy and not to be dominated by the mundane.

by Andreas Houpos, Pastoral Assistant

The Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation is a parish of the Metropolis of New Jersey of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, located in Baltimore, Maryland.

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