This is the sixth and final week of the Great Fast, which ends on Friday evening, completing the forty days of fasting. At noon each day in the sixth week, we continue to hear from the prophecies of Isaiah; this week those prophecies announce the coming salvation of the Lord. In the evenings, at Vespers or the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, the story of the Biblical patriarchs is concluded, with Joseph’s reconciliation with his brothers and the migration of his family to Egypt. The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is appointed for Wednesday and Friday evenings; already, we hear foreshadowings of the death and raising of Lazarus, and on Friday we mark the end of the Fast itself.
From now until Pascha we will put aside the book of the Eight Tones entirely; we will begin Tone 1 again on the Sunday after Pascha.
The next two days, Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday, mark the transition from the Great Fast to Holy Week; both are unique in their liturgical observances. Both the raising of Lazarus and the entry into Jerusalm are commemorated through the entire weekend, as we hear in the troparion of Lazarus Saturday:
On Saturday, we commemorate the raising of Lazarus; since Lazarus died, then rose again at the bidding of Jesus, this day has distinct baptismal overtones, and the hymns are filled with references to Resurrection. At Matins we sing the hymns of Resurrection that begin “The hosts of angels were amazed and dazzled”, and also the hymn “Having beheld the Resurrection of Christ”; these are normally part of Sunday Matins. In place of “Holy God”, we sing “All you who have been baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ. Alleluia!” An irmos is sung, without a magnification, in place of the usual hymn to the Mother of God in the Divine Liturgy; and with the Communion Hymn, we are already preparing for Palm Sunday: “From the mouths of infants and children you have fashioned perfect praise. Allelua! Alleluia! Alleluia!”
Palm Sunday commemorates the triumphant entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem. Many people had heard of the raising of Lazarus, and this certainly heightened their sense of anticipation and expectation. Palms are blessed for the day’s liturgical services, and the faithful hold them during the Divine Liturgy, which follows the pattern for a feast of the Lord, with special antiphons, entrance hymn, magnification and irmos. The refrain of the third antiphon is the troparion of Lazarus, and this troparion is repeated at the small entrance, where it is followed by a second troparion that emphasizes that our baptism is death to sin:
Note that this troparion is preceded by “Glory to the Father”, sung in the troparion tone (to match the troparion itself).
Finally, at “Now and ever”, we sing the kontakion of Palm Sunday, in Tone 6.
This one of the four feastday kontakion melodies which are used for singing all kontakia in these four tones. The Tone 3 kontakion melody is from Christmas; the Tone 4 kontakion melody from Theophany. The Tone 6 kontakion melody is used both here, for Palm Sunday, and on the feast of the Lord’s Ascension, and the Tone 8 kontakion melody is used on Pascha.
The irmos and magnification are also worth listening to:
(irmos and magnification)
Finally, the Communion Hymn quotes Psalm 117, which used throughout the day: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. The Lord is God, and has revealed himself to us.”
But with this revelation, we turn our eyes of Holy Week: our Lord’s final discourses to his apostles; his last supper with them before his death; his betrayal, trial, crucifixion, and death. These will be the focus of the Holy and Great Week of the Passion of the Lord.