What`s Going on that First Week of Lent
The first week of Lent has always been observed with special solemnity and rigor. It provides a sort of catalyst to help us spring into the difficulties of our journey through Lent into Pascha. The Church offers us a number of different Liturgical experiences that week in order to put us into the "Lenten frame of mind" and to give us a vivid reminder of the what`s and the why`s of the season.
On Sunday afternoon (this year about 12:30 pm, immediately after the General Assembly) we celebrate the service that kicks off our Lenten celebration--The Vespers of Forgiveness. We hear the haunting hymns that call us to repentance, that remind us of the difficulties of crossing the sea of Great Lent, and, at the same time, of the grace and strength which God gives us to accomplish this daunting task. We hear for the first time the beautiful Lenten dismissal hymns, including the most ancient hymn to the Theotokos "Under your protection". The service ends with the exchange of forgiveness; everyone comes forward, we bow to one another and embrace, saying May God forgive us both. This is a beautiful fulfillment of our Lord`s command to leave our sacrifice at the altar and first go and be reconciled to our brothers and sisters, and then come to offer our sacrifice. There is no better way to offer the sacrifice of Great Lent than to begin it by forgiving our brothers and sisters from our hearts. This is certainly worth the effort of returning to church or staying a little longer (the service is under an hour long)!
On Monday, Tuesday and Thursday evenings we have a special celebration of Great Compline along with the Penitential Canon of St. Andrew distributed through these services. Compline is an evening prayer, normally celebrated after dinner (it`s Greek name is "apodeipnon" "after dinner"). Great Compline is a more extended version which has a marked penitential character. The Canon of St. Andrew reviews all of Salvation History and makes it very personal. The stories of the Old and the New Testament show us the importance of controlling our thoughts and our passions. It is a wonderful way to help us enter into the spirit of Great Lent.