Pearls of the Great Fast
“Fasting during certain days is as medicine but not fasting during the forty days is a great sin.” -St. Augustine (Sermon 62)
Why do We Observe the Great Fast?
- As a remembrance of the fast of our Savior that He fasted
- Imitation and discipleship to the Lord Christ as is known that Christ did not need to fast but He did so we can follow His example
- As a remembrance of the mercies and goodness of the Lord that was granted to us
What and Why is the Duration of the Great Fast?
The Great Fast is 55 days long. Of these 55 days, 40 are for the days that our Lord fasted, and seven are for the Holy Pascha (Passion) Week. As for the remaining days, there are two thoughts:
- The first week is a preparation for the Great Fast
- The 40 days of the Great Fast do not include Saturday and Sunday due to the lack of abstinence during these days and is therefore counted as eight weeks of five days.
- Ibn El Moqaffa3: “according to many sources including this citation attributed to the kings “men, women, children and kings are to fast the great fast 8 Fridays beginning towards the end of winter and ending towards the beginning of summer and in every Friday, 5 days abstaining. Do not abstain Saturday and Sunday while not eating any fats.”
General Notes on the Great Fast
- The Great Fast used to begin immediately following Epiphany following the example of the Lord when He fasted after His baptism.
- Pascha Week was observed separately during its appropriate time.
- During the time of Pope Demetrious in the Second Century, the Great Fast was moved to be immediately preceding Pascha Week.
- This was done so that the believers do not choose to ignore or prioritize one over the other.
- There is no abstaining on Saturday or Sunday because the former pertains to the Jews and the latter to the feast of the Lord and a spiritual feast for the general resurrection.
- “However, we must not break the fast for if we eat and do what we will, how can we have joy in the resurrection” (Basil 30).
- As for not eating fish during this fast, since it is the greatest of the fasts as the Lord Himself fasted it, the Church prohibited eating fish during it to distinguish it from the rest of the fasts and to emphasize asceticism and austerity within it.
Contemplations on the Weekday Rites of the Great Fast
Hymns are not simply music; however, the hymns and rites are an essential part in our education. They carry a lot within the faith and teachings of the Church which are translated into the rites and hymns.
Because the Great Fast is a unique time in the Church, it received a great share of liturgical hymns and rites. They are unique in their depth, spirituality, and asceticism. The Great Fast is a time of very high spiritual level that coincides with the geographical Springtime. This becomes a beautiful season in both aspects, the climate and the spirituality both represent beauty, comfort, and enjoyment.
It is also a period of immense self-restraint and worship, consisting of daily liturgies that end late. They begin with the Book of Hours, all the way until the 12th Hour. There are long periods of abstaining which give rest to the body and comfort to the spirit which elevates to wonderful heights towards Heaven. Thus, the Great Fast is very enjoyable to God.
A journey of heights, from Sunday to Sunday that quickly passes by. Some may think that the Great Fast is long but the vast spirituality and beauty of it make it a very enjoyable time.
Throughout this journey, everything that the Church does, leads us to repentance. The Church presents us with many examples during the weeks of the Great Fast (the Prodigal Son, the Samaritan woman, etc.) along with the beautiful hymns and rites that lead us to repentance that allows us to enthrone God in our hearts.
Evening Raising of Incense
During Great Fast weekdays, there is no evening Raising of Incense. This is because liturgies are scheduled to finish late and thus, there is no time to pray evening Raising of Incense. On Saturdays, evening Raising of Incense is prayed in preparation of the Sunday liturgy.
On Sunday night, there is a special Raising of Incense called the Evening Prayers. The Gospel of this service is related to the readings of the Sunday liturgy as opposed to the usual evening Raising of Incense, where the Gospel read is related to the readings of the next day. Therefore, it is called the Evening Prayers of Sunday, not the Vespers Prayers of the eve of Monday.
Morning Raising of Incense
Verses of the Cymbals
During a typical morning Raising of Incense, the Verses of the Cymbals are chanted after the Prayer of Thanksgiving. However, during the Great Fast, we only chant
The more we increase in our plea for forgiveness, a type of insistence is expressed. In this example, it is done with a tune as opposed to an excess of words. Often, we see beggars in the street repeating the phrase, “a small kindness prevents many misfortunes.” In sort of a melody, we naturally find our hands reaching into our pockets to aid them. The more we use the tunes and hymns, we demonstrate persistence as we hear Christ saying, “..yet because of his persistence he will rise and give him as many as he needs..” (Luke 11:8).
After the Litany of the Sick and the Litany of the Travelers, as is customary, the doxologies are chanted. They are full of deep meaning such as “fasting and prayer are the salvation of souls…” and “purity and righteousness are what please God.” This means that fasting without purity and righteousness are useless. As is said in the fraction of the Great Fast, “we shall fast from all sin in purity and righteousness…” as this is what is pleasing to God truly.
Another example is that “fasting and prayer have raised Moses up to the mountain to receive the Law for us…raised Elijah up to heaven…saved Daniel from the den of lions…etc.” This hymn truly shows us examples of the power of the true fasting and prayer in a way to urge us to follow the examples set by the saints in prayer and fasting.
It is concluded saying “and we too let us fast, with purity and righteousness, and let us pray, proclaiming and saying: Our Father…” Without purity and righteousness, we cannot fast, and we cannot call God our Father. Even if we do chant this, it will be with the tongue alone and will not go up to Heaven.
Prophecies and Supplications
After the doxologies and chanting
Following the prophecies and in extreme asceticism which befits the fast, we start the supplications. We begin this with the Priest saying
Offering of the Lamb
Allylouia Ei`e`i `eqoun – Alleulia, Ei E Ee Ekhoun
In the Offering of the Lamb, we chant this hymn, “Alleluia, I shall go in, unto the altar of God, before the face of God, who gladdens my youth. I will confess to You, O God, with a harp. Remember O Lord, David and all his meekness, Alleluia” (Psalm 42). This is a psalm containing austerity that I will go into the altar of God which brings joy to my youth. It offers repentance and a remembrance of David and his meekness, urging us to ask for meekness like David the Prophet.
Nefcen] – Nefsenti
After the Prayer of Thanksgiving, we chant this hymn, “His foundations are in the holy mountains; the Lord loves the gates of Zion more than all the tents of Jacob. Glorious things have been spoken of you, O city of God. Alleluia. Mother Zion will say, ‘A man dwelt in her.’ And the Most-High cast her foundation. Alleluia” (Psalm 87:1-3,5). This hymn speaks of the new Zion, which is St. Mary and reminds us to be pure like the mother of purity. This purity will enable us to be the dwelling place of God during communion.
After this, the prostrations (We bend our knees…) are repeated, as if the Church is telling us that in all we do, we must do it in humility and moderation. When we prostrate before God, we bend our knees and bow down on all fours resembling the animals, and we look to God in humility and say with the Psalmist, “I was like a beast before You. Nevertheless I am continually with You; You hold me by my right hand” (Psalm 73: 22-23). This humility terrifies the devil.
Liturgy of the Word
N;o te ]soury – Entho Te Tishori
After the Absolution of the Ministers, we chant this hymn, “You are the censer of pure gold, bearing the blessed ember.” We remember her who carried the blessed live coal who is Christ. After a short time, we will also carry the blessed live coal through the sacrament of Holy Eucharist. We constantly take St. Mary to be our example in a way to learn every virtue, similar to how a son/daughter constantly learning from his/her mother.
Sare `V] – Share Evnoti
The Acts Response, “Wherein God takes away the sins of the people, through the burnt offering and the aroma of incense.” This is such a beautiful hymn that refers to the altar carrying the sins of the people and raising them up to heaven. The tune of this hymn is active and fast yet beautiful to resemble our eagerness to relinquish our sins and repent.
Liturgy of the Faithful
}hiryny `nte `V] – Tihirini Ente Efnoti
After the reading of the Gospel, we chant, “The peace of God which surpasses, all understanding, will guard your hearts, in Christ Jesus our Lord. I have sinned, I have sinned, My Lord Jesus, forgive me; for there is no servant without sin, nor master without forgiveness. Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed by Thy name, Thy kingdom come, for Thine is the glory forever.” Someone who is fasting, repented, confessed, is praying and listening to the message of the Gospel, will definitely be filled with the peace of God. The peace of God is taken from the evil, but it dwells in the hearts of the believers, for He is the King of Peace. He who obtains peace has received the down payment of the kingdom and is not shaken by anything. We then chant, “I have sinned” in the singular form to illustrate the personal nature of repentance and the severity of asceticism. This also illustrates the strength and power of personal forgiveness, enabling us to then call God, “Our Father” in the third paragraph of the response.
There are many Aspasmos’ that are chanted during the Great Fast to implore the mercies of God. One of which is the Aspasmos Watos, “I know that You are good, compassionate, and merciful. Remember me in Your mercy, forever and ever. I ask You, O My Lord Jesus, do not rebuke me with Your anger, nor reprove my ignorance with Your wrath. Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Christ fasted for us: forty days and forty nights. Have mercy on us according to Your great mercy.”
Pimairwmi – Pimairomi
During the distribution of the Holy Mysteries, we chant a beautiful hymn. An example of the words are, “O Good One and Lover of Mankind, my Lord Jesus, I beg you, cast me not to Your left with goats, the sinners.” The expression “put me on Your left” is a terrifying concept when we remember the words of the Gospel saying, “depart from Me you wicked ones.” Thus, while the congregation is partaking of the Holy Eucharist, we chant in asceticism pleading that God may not cast us on His left. It is also meant as a stern warning to us as we approach the Mysteries.
The hymn continues to say, “and likewise say not to me, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, O you prepared for the everlasting fire.’” Here the believer is pleading with the Savior for safety remembering the dangers and consequences of sin. It goes on to say, “for I know in truth that I am a sinner,” urging us to realize that we are sinners and in need of our Savior to save us from these terrifying consequences of our sins. The hymn continues in pleading for repentance and forgiveness.
Toward the end of the hymn, there is an amazing stanza that says, “grant me repentance, O Lord, so that I repent before death shuts my mouth inside the gates of Hades.” This is a sobering reminder that after death, there is no repentance, the mouth is sealed and as is said that those who die wish for one moment in which they can repent but find none.
Truly, this is a beautiful rite with deep meanings and wonderful spiritual exercises.
Common Questions on Weekday Rites of the Great Fast
Q: How can we do vespers for the Feast of Annunciation or the Feast of the Cross?
A: As mentioned previously, if the liturgy ends late, then we do not do vespers. For this, we take the example of the Feast of the Resurrection itself, which is not preceded by vespers due to the lateness of the Bright Saturday liturgy. However, if liturgy finishes early, vespers may be celebrated according to the rites of the feast.
Q: If the hymn of
A: If Lord Have Mercy is chanted as persistence in repentance and mercy, then Alleluia is chanted as persistence in joy. Many hymns that have Alleluia, contain this persistence in joy.
Q: The cymbals are for maintaining the rhythm of the hymn and is used during festive occasions and Good Friday, so can it be used during the weekdays of lent in the Midnight Praises particularly since the abstaining period and prostrations are over or during the feast of the saint of the church?
A: Absolutely not! During the weekdays of the Great Fast, the cymbals are not used regardless. On Good Friday, it is used during the 6th, 9th, and 12th Hours in the festive parts as they contain joyous parts to express our happiness in the salvation happening on the Cross. However, the cymbals do not go with the spirit of asceticism in the Great Fast at all.
Sources and where to go to learn more:
- Precious Pearls in the Explanations of the Rites of the Church.
- Sermon on the Rites of the Weekdays of Lent -H.G. Bishop Matteos
روحانية الحان الصوم الكبير يقدمها لسان العطر نيافة الانبا متاؤس أسقف ورئيس دير السريان