Thursday, April 12, 2007

Recapping Holy Week: Great and Holy Saturday

In the Byzantine Rite, all of the services of Holy Week occur about half a day early. Thus, the evening service each day is Matins, the morning office, of the following day. I suspect there was a practical reason for this at one time, now forgotten, but a frequently heard explanation is that we do this because the events we are commemorating – and in which we participate – turn the world upside down.

On the morning of Holy Saturday was the Vesperal Liturgy of St. Basil. I have attended this service regularly for several years, since it was the one Byzantine service that did not conflict with any of the services of the Triduum as observed at my old Anglo-Catholic parish. A Vesperal Liturgy begins with about two-thirds of Vespers, the evening office, which then merges into the Divine Liturgy, beginning around the point of the Little Entrance. The Vesperal Liturgy of Holy Saturday is a baptismal service, equivalent to the Easter Vigil of Western liturgical churches. Like the Easter Vigil, it includes the reading of the prophecies. At Holy Cross we read three prophecies, but some parishes read more. After the second reading, one of my fellow catechumens was baptized and chrismated. Taking the name of her patron saint, she will hereafter be known as Katherine. In the first picture, Fr. Gregory blesses the water in our makeshift baptismal font – a large plastic horse trough (the Orthodox Church prefers to baptize by immersion). In the second photo, the newly baptized (but not yet chrismated) Katherine kneels before Fr. Gregory as her sponsor and Deacon Mark look on.

After the Liturgy, at which the newly illumined Katherine received communion for the first time, we all went downstairs for the traditional Holy Saturday snack of dates, figs, nuts, and sweet wine before resuming a strict fast in preparation for the Pascha Liturgy that night.

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