St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

Weekday Services at St. Mary's during Great Lent

Throughout the Paschal Lenten Period leading up to Holy Pascha (Easter), we have an opportunity to attend special services every day in the first week of Lent and each subsequent Wednesday and Friday evenings. Here's a brief explanation of these services in the hopes that you will join us (either in person or online!) and make more meaningful your Lenten journey:

The Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete (Tuesday and Thursday of the First Week of Lent - 7:00pm)

The Canon of St. Andrew is sung over the course of three days during the first week of Great Lent. It is a canon in the traditional sense of the word, featuring nine odes, each sub-divided into multiple troparia. It's most apparent features are its length and penitential themes. As is fitting for the start of Great Lent, the Canon features many examples of sin and repentance from the Old and New Testaments.

Pre-Sanctified Liturgy (Wednesday Evenings during Lent - 6:30pm)

In harmony with the just mentioned joyful and hopeful penitential character of the Lenten services and hymns is the most imposing Lenten liturgy: the liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts—a unique expression of the pastoral wisdom of the Byzantine liturgical tradition, the pearl of Lenten devotion.

In the Byzantine times, the liturgy of the Presanctified was celebrated daily. In the spiritual struggle of Great Lent, the faithful needed more than ever the strengthening partaking of Holy Communion. Thus, by the celebration of the Presanctified the opportunity of receiving Holy Communion every day was given to the faithful.

The wisdom of the holy fathers formulated the service of the Presanctified Gifts as a participation in the Eucharist but without the Anaphora -- a cheerful and triumphant act of offering the gifts to God -- establishing a Eucharist without thanksgiving and jubilation, a Eucharist that is rather a cry for help than a joyful acclamation: “O God set free our senses from deadly passions, let our eyes abstain from evil sights, our hearing from idle talk ... purify our lips as they sing your praises, let our hands produce only works that are pleasing to You...” (1st Prayer of the faithful of the Liturgy of the Presanctified). And this cry finds response and comfort in the self-giving love and grace of God. Holy Communion is finally given after the penitential and purifying course of prayers and hymns of the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts.

Akathist Hymn to the Most Holy Theotokos, Mother of God (Friday Evenings during Lent - 7 pm)

The Akathist Hymn is a profound, devotional poem, which sings the praises of the Holy Mother and Ever-Virgin Mary. It is one of the most beloved services in the Orthodox Church. It was composed in the imperial city of Constantinople, "the city of the Virgin," by St. Romanos the Melodist, who reposed in the year 556. The Akathist Hymn has proven so popular in the liturgical life of the Church that many other hymns have been written following its format. These include Akathists to Our Lord Jesus Christ, to the Cross, and to many Saints.

The Akathist hymn consists of praises directed to the Mother of God, beginning with the salutation of the Archangel Gabriel: "Rejoice." As the hymn is chanted all of the events related to our Lord's Incarnation pass before us for our contemplation. The Archangel Gabriel marvels at the Divine self-emptying and the renewal of creation which will occur when Christ comes to dwell in the Virgin's womb. The unborn John the Baptist prophetically rejoices. The shepherds recognize Christ as a blameless Lamb, and rejoice that in the Virgin "the things of earth join chorus with the heavens." The pagan Magi following the light of the star, praise Her for revealing the light of the world.

The word "akathistos" means "not sitting," i.e., standing; normally all participants stand while it is being prayed. The hymn is comprised of 24 stanzas, arranged in an acrostic following the Greek alphabet. The stanzas alternate between long and short. Each short stanza is written in prose and ends with the singing of "Alleluia." Each longer stanza ends with the refrain: "Rejoice, O Bride Unwedded."

The first part of the hymn is about the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary by the Angel. It describes Mary’s surprise at the news, her visit to her mother and Joseph’s doubts as to her innocence. The second part is about the birth of Christ, the worship of the Shepherds and Magi, the flight to Egypt and the visit to Saint Simeon in the Temple. In the third part the hymn directs our attention to the renewal of the world by Christ’s coming, and the amazement of the Angels and the wise men at the sight of the Incarnation of God’s Son. The fourth and the last part is once more a lyric and rhetorical appraisal of Virgin Mary, whom the poet adorns with the most beautiful of adjectives asking her to accept his poetical offering and to intercede for the salvation of human race from the earthly sin.

Check our calendar to join us for our next liturgical service.