This is the second week of the Great Fast. At noon each day, we continue to hear from the prophecies of Isaiah, and in the evenings, at Vespers or the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, from Genesis and Proverbs. On Monday through Thursday, we hear the story of Cain and Abel; on Friday, we begin the story of Noah.
The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is appointed for Wednesday and Friday evenings. If you look at the Presanctified propers for Wednesday in the second week of the Fast, you will see that two of the stichera or hymns are directed to the apostles. This makes sense, since on Wednesday evening in the Byzantine Rite, we are beginning the celebration of Thursday, and Thursday of each week is dedicate to the apostles and to Saint Nicholas.
The prokeimena at the Presanctified are taken from Psalms 32 and 33; they began with Psalm 1 on Pure Monday, and continue in order until the end of the Great Fast.
Of the five Saturdays in the Great Fast, two have special commemorations: on the first Saturday, we remember the miracle of Saint Theodore. On the fifth Saturday, we sing the Akathist Hymn in honor of the Mother of God; and in both cases, these celebrations are anticipated in the hymns the Presanctified on Friday night. So what about the second, third, and fourth Saturdays?
Saturdays in Byzantine tradition are dedicated to the holy martyrs, as well as those who have died to the world – that is, monks and nuns – and all the faithful departed. During the Great Fast, we are focussing on repentenance, and since the Divine Liturgy is not celebrated on weekdays, there are fewer opportunities to pray for those who have died and are in need of purification. So the Church adds special prayers for the dead on the middle Saturdays of the Great Fast; these are the so-called All Souls’ Saturdays.
They begin on Friday night, at Vespers or the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts. Take a look at the propers for Friday in the second week of the Great Fast, on page 72 and 73 of the Presanctified book. The small “three” in a circle at the top of page 73 indicates that there will be three stichera at the Lamplighting Psalms. The first one is oriented toward repentence, and is given here. Then there is a note to turn to the Friday stichera “in the tone of the week.” These are found at the BACK of the Presanctified book. This week we are in Tone 5, so the remaining hymns are the Friday stichera in Tone 5, on page 159.
The first of these two hymns is to the holy martyrs:
Despising all things earthly and bravely facing tortures, you did not fail to win the hope of bliss but became heirs of the ,kingdom of heaven. O all praise-worthy martyrs, since you can speak freely before God who loves us all, ask for peace in the world and great mercy for our souls.
The second hymn is for the faithful departed, and is one of the eight hymns of St. John Damascene that are also sung at the funeral service. These are sung in the Bulgarian or Bolhar tones, and the one in Tone 5 is particularly tricky. Listen:
(sticheron for the departed in Tone 5)
For additional help with this melody, click on the tutorial link in the transcript for this podcast.
At the Glory, Now and ever, we are back to the ordinary Tone 5 samohlasen melody as we sing a hymn to the Theotokos.
We will follow the same pattern at the Friday evening Presanctified for the next three weeks: one hymn from Friday for the particular week of the Fast, then three stichera from Friday in the tone of the week, taken from the back of the book.
On Saturday itself, the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is celebrated for the faithful departed. The proper hymns begin on page 428 of the Divine Liturgies book.
And of course, we sing “Eternal memory” at the end of the Divine Liturgy, asking God to keep the faithful departed in his divine and life-creating memory:
On All Souls’ Saturdays, the Divine Liturgy is typically followed by a Panachida, or memorial service, at which the names of the departed loved ones and family members can be named in turn. The Panachida can be found in the Divine Liturgies book beginning on page 432, immediately after the Divine Liturgy for the departed.
At Vespers on Sunday evening, we begin singing in Tone 6 as we come to the second Sunday of the Great Fast. In early times, this Sunday was dedicated to Saint Polycarp, a famous martyred bishop of the second century; later, in the Orthodox churches, it was rededicated to Saint Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonika, an important medieval theologian and teacher on prayer. Since he lived after the schism betwen East and West, his hymns are not included in our Divine Liturgies book. Still, in accordance with our Typikon, some parishes commemorate him, and a special leaflet for the Divine Liturgy propers with the hymns of Saint Gregory Palamas can found found in the liturgical calendar on the MCI website.
As on each of the Sundays of the Fast, we celebrate the Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil. Here is the hymn, “In you, O Woman Full of Grace”, in the second or “B” setting from our Divine Liturgies book.
And at Vespers on Sunday evening, we return to the rigors of the Fast. See the front page of the MCI website at mci.archpitt.org for a recording of the proper hymns for this celebration of Vespers.