Clean Week and the Start of Lent

Well, I’ve got a few half written posts and a few notions I’ve been mulling over, but time has been a bit short lately. Lent is a big part of why, as like Holy week, Clean week is a busy time for the active Orthodox Christian … and I’m not even going as far as some do. At any rate, we have services every night this week, Sunday night was the Forgiveness Vespers, and the next four nights we are taking part in the Canon of St. Andrew. Friday we celebrate a pre-sanctified liturgy and Saturday night (as is normal) is Great Vespers (our church unlike many in the Slavic tradition does not do Great Vigil, but splits the Matins/Canon part of the Vigil service to Sunday morning, which is I gather a Greek custom and a little easier).

Anyhow, in lieu of finishing up those partial posts, here are a few quotes from tonight’s service,  which was the second night of the Canon. A little background first on the Canon. St. Andrew of Crete, the author, was Bishop of Crete in the 8th century. This canon was so well received that it was established as a practice of reading it in four parts during the first week of Lent throughout Eastern Orthodoxy. Each part contains 9 sections (like the rest of the canons, but unlike them this includes a second canon). Each canon begins with a short sung hymn called an Irmos. Then the priest chants a short fragment consisting of a few sentences of meditation. The response is “Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me” accompanied by a prostration (or if you are not physically up to the demands of prostrations a sweeping bow called a metania which starts with crossing oneself and from the final hand position (hand at the right shoulder) one sweeps one’s hand in a bow brushing your hand to the floor. The last two stanzas have a different response, being “Glory to the Father … ” and “now and ever unto ages of ages. Amen,” and the penultimate stanzas is a reflection on the Trinity and the final is a reflection on the Theotokos, sometimes called the Theotokion. After the 6th Ode there is a break and the Kontakion (another hymn) is inserted, sung three times slowly.

Some stanzas that stood out for me tonight:

From Ode 1:

Deliberately have I imitated blood-thirsty Cain, O Lord, enlivening my flesh while murdering my soul by striking it with my evil deeds.

From Ode 2:

Joseph’s was a splendid coat of many colors, but mine is one of shameful thoughts which condemns me even as it covers my flesh.

I persist in caring only for my outer garment, while neglecting the temple within — one made in the image of God.

From Ode 4:

Jacob and his sons, the Patriarchs, established for you, O my soul, an example in the ladder of active ascent. By his way of life Jacob took the first step, fathering twelve sons and offering them as further rungs which step-by-step ascend to God.

But you, my hopeless soul, have rather imitated Esau, surrendering to the crafty Devil the beauty you inherited from God, two ways — works and wisdom — have you been deceived, and now is the time for you to change your ways.

From Ode 6:

Water pouring from the rock when struck by Your servant Moses, prefigured your life-giving side, O Savior, from which we draw the Water of Life.

From Ode 7:

Solomon was mighty and full of wisdom yet did wrong before the Lord when he turned to idols. And you, my soul, resemble him in your evil life.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

One comment

  1. […] Clean Week and the Start of Lent by Mark Olson. This year the Western and Eastern church calendars agree in placing Easter/Pascha on the same day, April 4. Here is a brief glimpse at how my Orthodox brothers and sisters are welcoming the Lenten season. […]