The First Week of Great Lent is a very special time of spiritual retreat for the brotherhood and seminarians at Holy Trinity Monastery and Seminary. Although the monastery celebrates many feasts with great solemnity and observes the Church fasts strictly, the First Week is a very special time of year, when literally everything shuts down except for the most necessary activities.
On Forgiveness Sunday, at 3PM in the afternoon, hierarchal Great Vespers is served, presided by His Grace Bishop Luke together with the monastery clergy. At the end of the service, after the Great Prokeimenon, the service becomes a simple, Great Lenten service with the prayer of St. Ephraim at the end. In the evening, after supper, Small Compline is served with the Order of Forgiveness at the end, after Vladyka gives a inspirational sermon about the essence of Great Lent.
Throughout the week, all the Great Lenten services are served in their fullness with Vladyka giving readings from the appointed Holy Fathers. The whole community participates, monastics and seminarians, as well as many of our neighbors and pilgrims.
There is only one meal served, after Vespers, consisting of pickled vegetables, bread, buckwheat, potatoes and tea.
Great Compline with the Canon of St. Andrew of Crete is read every night with Vladyka reading the canon and as throughout the week, two choirs singing antiphonally.
It is our custom, which goes back centuries, for everyone to prepare for the mysteries of Confession and Holy Communion on the First Saturday, that of St. Theodore the Tyron. On Friday, after the Presanctified Liturgy, which was served by Vladyka and the monastery clergy as well as on Wednesday, kolivo was blessed in honor of the saint. On Saturday, all the clergy serve with Vladyka the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, and all participate of the Holy Mysteries.
On the Sunday of Orthodoxy, the culmination of the First Week, we commemorate the return of the veneration of the holy icons. The mystery of veneration the icons is very much tied up with the incarnation of Christ and the Church’s teaching about the human soul and body, thus the connection mystically with fasting and prayer during Great Lent.
At the end of the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil of Caesaria, the solemnity of Orthodoxy is held. In this service, a moleben, we pray for those who have strayed from Orthodoxy. The archdeacon pronounces the anathemas, defining the borders of the Church and its keeping the faith handed down from the apostles. This is not a matter of hatred as some think, but a demonstration of the Church’s love for people to guide them to remain in the truth, for their salvation.
After the anathemas, in the service we pray for the champions of Orthodoxy down through the centuries, including the right-believing Tsars. Then we pray for our present hierarchy, asking God to help them in their difficult task to guide us today in very difficult circumstances.
We are so thankful to Almighty God that we have the Church and are able to pray and fast, thus fulfilling the command of our Saviour and maintain the faith given us by our fathers.