Chant Notes: January 25-31, 2016

Welcome to Chant Notes, a weekly podcast from the Metropolitan Cantor Institute of the Byzantine Catholic Archeparchy of Pittsburgh. This week we will talk about church services and music for the seven days beginning Monday, January 25, 2016.

We have just celebrated the Sunday of the Prodigal Son, the second of the four preparatory Sundays for the Great Fast. After last-week’s fast-free period, we return to the normal custom of abstinence from meat on Wednesdays and Friday; according to traditional practice, our fasting becomes stricter as we approach the beginnng of the Great Fast.

In the readings of the Divine Liturgy for this week, we would normally listen to the remainder of the First Letter of Saint John the Apostle, and the entirety of his second letter (it is quite short), and the Passion of our Lord according to Saint Mark.  But this week is anything but normal, because of the early date of Pascha.

Next Sunday, January 31, is the Sunday of Meatfare, or meat-eating; the idea is that we use up any remaining meat in the house. In the Western tradition, this led to the custom of “carnival” (which means “farewell to meat”) just before the start of Lent.  In the Byzantine churches, this farewell is spead out; after Meatfare Sunday, according to tradition, we no longer eat meat until Pascha, but continue to eat dairy products, cheese, and eggs for another week until Cheesefare Sunday, the day before the start of the Great Fast.

Each of the pre-Lenten Sundays has its own kontakion, which gives a liturgical theme for the day. On Meatfare Sunday, the theme is the last judgment.

(kontakion of Meatfare Sunday)

At the Gospel, we hear the teaching of Jesus about this judgment, and how God will separate the righteous and sinners, separating them as a shepherd separates sheep and goats. But remember that in the Old Testament, to be righteous is not simply to do good deeds and avoid bad, through it certainly includes those requirements. It also means  to be in relationship with God. In serving their brothers and sisters, the righteous served God; the unrighteous avoided a real relationship with God, and so failed to serve others.

With the judgment in mind, we turn to pray for those who have died, in particular on this  coming Saturday, immediately before we commemorate the Last Judgment. This is  the first of five Saturday of special prayer for the dead, called All-Souls’ Saturdays; the others are the second, third, and fourth Saturdays during the Great Fast, and the Saturday before Pentecost.  On each of these days, we pray for our relatives and friends who have died, as well as for all departed Christians.  But on this first All Souls Saturday, we pray “for all those who have died since the beginning of the world”, that they may be granted forgiveness, God’s favor, and eternal life.

(troparion from the Panachida, or memorial service for the departed)

On January 1, we celebrated the feast of our holy father Basil the Great; this Monday, January 26, is  the feast of another important church father, Gregory the Theologian, archbishop of Constantinople, and on Wednesday, we celebrate the feast of the translation of the relics of another archbishop of Constantinople, St. John Chrysostom. Both of these feasts are of polyeleos rank, so their hymns and readings displace the normal ones for those days. The hymns can be found in the Byzantine Catholic Menaion on the MCI website.

Over time, these three bishops – Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostom – became known in particular as the “three holy hierarchs”; hierarch is a Greek word meaning “high priest”, and is the Byzantine term for a bishop. A feast for all three was established on January 30, the “feast of the Three Holy Hierarchs.”  But this year, January 30 falls on the first All Souls Saturday, and so the feast is moved a day earlier, to Friday, January 29.

The hymns for the feastday can be found on pages 318-319 of the Divine Liturgies book.  Here are the troparion and kontakion:

(troparion and kontakion for January 30,  the feast of the Three Holy Hierarchs)

These hymns emphasize the teaching role of bishops, and the importance of the unity of Christitan teaching: that they be “of one mind with the apostles.” If you compare these hymns with the troparion and kontakion for the feast of Saints Peter and Paul on June 29, you will see that they are very similar.

The prokeimenon at the Divine Liturgy on Friday is the common one chanted on feasts of apostles.  Again, this emphasizes the profound respect the Byzantine churches give to the teaching of Basil, Gregory, and John:

(prokeimenon for the feast of the Three Holy Hierarchs)

Because the Wednesday and Friday before Cheesefare, and all the days of the Great Fast, are a-liturgical days – that is, the Divine Liturgy is not celebrated – this is the last Friday Divine Liturgy until Holy Week.

So to review: the normal readings for this week, the week of Meat-eating or Meatdfare, are somewhat disrupted because of this weeks feasts: polyeleos feasts of Gregory the Theologian on Monday and John Chrysostom on Wednesday, and the common feast of the Three Holy Hierarchs on Friday, January 29, displaced from its usual day because of the All Souls Saturday. Sunday is the Sunday of Meatfare, also known as the Sunday of the Last Judgment.

This has been Chant Notes, a weekly podcast of the Metropolitan Cantor Institute of the Byzantine Catholic Archeparchy of Pittsburg. Find out more at

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