Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS AND IS AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
THE SEVENTH PRAYER OF VESPERS
O Great and exalted God, the Only One Who is Immortal and dwells in unapproachable Light; Who has created the whole universe in wisdom; Who has separated the light from darkness, and has set the sun to rule over the day and the moon and the stars to rule over the night; You have made us sinners worthy once again at this hour to stand in Your presence and offer to You our evening prayer of praise. Direct our prayer, O Loving Lord, like incense before You, and accept it as a sweet-smelling fragrance. Grant that this present evening and the approaching night will be peaceful for us. Vest us with the weapons of light. Deliver us from nocturnal fears and from everything that lurks against us by night. Grant us sleep, given for the renewal of our weakness, that is free from every diabolical fantasy. Yes, Lord of all, and Provider of good things, grant that even as we rest upon our beds, we may remember Your Name through the night. Enlightened by meditation upon Your Commandments, may we in time arise in gladness of heart to glorify Your Goodness. Offering petitions and supplications to You for our own sins and for all the people, who expect Your visitation in mercy and compassion, through the intercessions of the Holy Theotokos. For You are a Good and Loving God and to You we give the glory, to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.
Another hymn chanted at Vespers (An ancient hymn at the Lighting of the Lamps)
Φώς ιλαρόν (O Gladsome Light)
O gladsome Light, of the Holy Glory of the Immortal Father-Heavenly, Holy and Blessed, Jesus Christ, having come to the setting of the sun, having seen the evening light, we praise God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is proper at all times to praise You with joyful voices, O Son of God, Giver of life. For this the world does glorify You. Make us worthy, O Lord, to be kept without sin this evening. Blessed are You, O Lord, the God of our fathers, and praised and glorified is your Name unto the age of ages. Amen. Lord, let Your mercy be upon us, even as we have placed our hope in You. Blessed are You, O Lord, teach me Your Commandments; Blessed are You O Master, make me prudent of Your Commandments; Blessed are You, O Holy One, enlighten me with Your Commandments; Lord, Your mercy endures forever, do not overlook the creations of Your own hands. To You belong praise, hymns and glory, to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.
MEANING OF VESPER SERVICE (ESPERINOS)
Vespers is first service of the Daily Cycle of divine services celebrated in the Orthodox Church because the liturgical day begins at sunset. Vespers is traditionally served in the early evening. For many parishes, Vespers is the principal evening service.
The Vespers service (the first service of the liturgical day) is meant to remind us of the Old Testament period, the creation of the world, the first human beings falling into sin, of their expulsion from Paradise, their repentance and prayer for salvation, the hope of mankind in accordance with the promise of God for a Savior and ending with the fulfillment of that promise.
The service begins with the opening of the Royal Doors (The center doors of the iconostasion) and the silent censing of the Altar Table and the entire sanctuary so that clouds of incense fill the depths of the sanctuary. The silent censing represents the beginning of the creation of the world. Without form and void, and the Spirit of God hovered over the original material earth, breathing upon it a life-creating power, but the creating word of God hand not yet begun to resound.
The 103rd Psalm describes the creation of the world and glorifies the Wisdom of God. As it is chanted, the priest goes forth from the sanctuary and completes the censing of the entire church and the faithful therein. This sacred action not only remembers the creation of the world, but of the blessed life in Paradise of the first human beings, when the Lord God Himself walked among them. The open Royal Gates signify that at the time the gates of Paradise were open for all people.
To symbolize how man was deceived by the devil and transgressed against the Will of God and fell into sin, the Royal Doors are closed. Because of their fall, mankind was deprived of blessed life in Paradise. They were driven out (or expelled) of Paradise and the gates were closed to them. The deacon comes out from the sanctuary and stands before the closed Royal Gates, as Adam did before the sealed entrance into Paradise, and intones the Great Litany asking for peace from above, and to send down upon us "from on high" the peace of Heaven and that He save our souls.
During the chanting of these verses the deacon censes the church once more. This entire period of the divine service, beginning with the opening of the Royal Gates, through the petitions of the Great Ectenia and the chanting of the psalms, represents the miserable state of mankind to which it was subjected by the fall of our forefathers into sin. With the fall all the deprivations, pains and sufferings we experience came into our lives. We cry out to God, "Lord, have mercy" and request peace and salvation for our souls. We feel contrition that we heeded the ungodly counsel of the Devil. God is asked for the forgiveness of our sins and deliverance from troubles, and all hope in His mercy is placed in God. The censing at this time signifies the sacrifices of the Old Testament and the people's own prayers as well, which are offered to God.
The Old Testament verses of these psalms of "Lord, I have cried" are alternated with New Testament hymns composed in honor of the Saint or feast of the day. The last verse is called the Theotokion, or Dogmatikon, since it is sung in honor of the Mother of God, and in it is set forth the dogma on the Incarnation of the Son of God from the Ever-Virgin Mary.
During the chanting of the Theotokion the Royal Gates are opened, and the Vespers Entry is made. At this time the choir or Cantors chant a hymn to the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ: "O Gladsome Light". In the hymn, the Son of God is called the Gentle Light that comes from the Heavenly Father, because He came to this earth not in the fullness of Divine Glory but in the gentle radiance of this Glory. This hymn also says that only with reverent voices, and not with sinful mouths, can He be worthily exalted and the necessary glorification be accomplished. The entry reminds the faithful how the Old Testament righteous, in harmony with the promise of God that was manifest in prototypes and prophecies, expected the coming of the Savior, and how He appeared in the world for the salvation of the human race. The censer at the entry signifies that our prayers, by the intercession of our Lord the Savior, are offered to God like incense. It also signifies the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church. The blessing with the sign of the Cross shows that by means of the Cross of the Lord the doors into Paradise are opened again.
Christ is praised as the Light which illumines man's darkness, the Light of the world and of the Kingdom of God which shall have no evening.
At this time, the Prokeimenon is chanted, and on the more important feasts there are reading selections from the Holy Scriptures in which there is a prophecy or a prototype which relates to the event being celebrated, or in which edifying teachings are set forth, which relate to the Saint commemorated that day.
Vespers ends with the reading of the prayer of Saint Simeon the God-Receiver, "Now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace." This prayer is followed by the reading of the Trisagion and the Lord's Prayer, and the singing of the salutation of the Theotokos, "O Theotokos and Virgin, Rejoice!..." or the Troparion of the feast, and finally the thrice-chanted prayer of the Psalmist: "Blessed be the name of the Lord from henceforth and for evermore." The 33rd Psalm is then chanted until the verse, "But they that seek the Lord shall not be deprived of any good thing." The follows the priestly blessing, "The blessing of the Lord be upon you, through His grace and love for mankind, always, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen."
The service leads to the meditation of God's word and the glorification of His love for men. It instructs and allows us to praise God for the particular events or persons whose memory is celebrated and made present to us in the Church. It prepares us for the sleep of the night and the dawn of the new day to come. On the eves of the Divine Liturgy, it begins the movement into the most perfect communion with God in the sacramental mysteries.
[Source: Orthodox Wiki)
THE OFFICE OF VESPERS
Vespers on Cheese-Fare Sunday and the Other Days of the Great Fast
On Cheese-Fare Sunday (tonight), and on the rest of the Sunday evenings of the 40-day Fast, everything up to the entrance and O Gladsome Light...is according to the rules set forth in the Triodion.
At the conclusion of the hymn of thanksgiving at the lighting of the lamps the deacon, standing in the Holy Doors and facing the choir, says,
The Evening Prokeimenon
The First Great Prokeimenon
Choir or Cantors: Turn not away thy face from thy servant; for I am in trouble: hear me speedily. Attend to my soul, and deliver it. (refrain, also repeated after each verse)
V. 1 From the ends of the earth I cried unto Thee.
V. 2 I shall be protected under the cover of Thy wings.
V. 3 I will praise Thy Name forever.
(And in conclusion) Turn not away Thy face from Thy servant; for I am in trouble. Hear me speedily: attend to my soul, and deliver it.
[The Holy (Royal) Doors are now closed as the reader continues immediately with "Vouchsafe, O Lord, to keep us this evening without sin..." and the clergy exchange their white vestments for those of a purple or darker color.]
Following the Lenten Apolitikia: "Rejoice, O Virgin Theotokos...", O Baptizer of Christ, remember our congregation...", "O pure Apostles, and all ye Saints...",We have taken refuge under the wing of Thy compassion..."
Standing on the Solea before the closed Holy (Royal) Doors, the priest bows toward the icon of Christ, saying, "Christ our God, the Existing One, is blessed, always, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.
Reader: Amen. "O heavenly King, support our believing rulers; confirm their faith; guide our nations; give peace to the world and preserve well this Holy Church..."
Standing on the Solea before the Holy Doors and facing the east, the priest says the prayer of Saint Ephraim the Syrian: " O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, meddling, lust of power and idle talk..." (prostration by all).
The Dismissal by the priest: "May Christ our True God, through the intercessions of His All-Immaculate and All-Blameless Holy Mother..."
As the Cantors very slowly and quietly sing the Paschal Canon, the exchange of mutual forgiveness may now take place, beginning with the clergy. The priest stands next to the analogion as the faithful venerate the icon of the Theotokos. One by one the faithful bow before the priest, who also does the same before each of the faithful, each saying to one another:
"Forgive me, a sinner. The faithful then receive his blessings and kiss his hand. The faithful also ask forgiveness from each other, exchanging among themselves the kiss of peace.
When everyone has completed the exchange of mutual forgiveness the priest, facing the icon of Christ on the iconostasis, says, "Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us.
GENERAL RULES OF THE LENTEN FAST
The Lenten Fast rules that we observe today were established within the monasteries of the Orthodox Church during the 6th through the 11th centuries. These rules are intended for all Orthodox Christians, not just monks and nuns.
The first week of Lent is especially strict. On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, a total fast is kept. In practice, very few people are able to do this. Some find it necessary to eat a little each day after sunset. Many faithful do fast completely on Monday and then eat only uncooked good (bread, fruit, nuts) on Tuesday evening. On Wednesday, the fast is kept until after the Presanctified Liturgy.
From the Second through the Sixth Weeks of Lent, the general rules for fasting are practiced: Meat, animal products (cheese, milk, butter, eggs, lard), fish (meaning fish with backbones), olive oil, and wine (all alcoholic drinks) are not consumed during the weekdays of Great Lent. Octopus and shell-fish are allowed, as is vegetable oil. On weekends, olive oil and wine are permitted.
According to what was done in the monasteries, one meal a day is eaten on weekdays and two meals on weekends of Great Lent. No restriction is placed on the amount of food during the meal, though moderation is always encouraged in all areas of one's life at all times.
Fish, oil and wine are allowed on the Feast of the Annunciation (March 25th) and on Palm Sunday.
The Epistle Lesson from Cheese-Fare Sunday:
"Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not do disputes over doubtful things. For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. Who are you to judge another's servant? To his own master he stands of falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand...he who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks..." (Romans 14:1-6).
A BLESSED GREAT AND HOLY LENT TO ONE AND ALL!
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God