Spiritual Celebration of Great Lent in the Monastery of the Protection of the Mother of God, Tallong

During the period of Great Lent in which we currently find ourselves, we attempt to fast at least a little bit more strictly than during the other three Great Fasts. This Paschal or Honourable Fast is fasted more strictly and the days of the fast greatly affect the current of daily church services which we serve in our holy Parishes and especially in our Monasteries.

Our young Diocese here in Australia advances and improves daily in all aspects, including the liturgical. Our Diocesan Bishop determined where and how we will serve during the period of Great Lent, as well as where lectures will be held by members of our clergy.

This has been occurring recently throughout Sydney and the surrounding areas, as planned. We have managed to reach Newcastle, Wollongong and Dapto, etc. while continuing to visit our churches throughout Sydney.

Vespers is served, followed by a lecture which the people gladly pay attention to and participate in with questions, alongside a Lenten dinner. Their enthusiasm makes it seem as if they want to make up for what they missed out on in their youth, and we all know what times were like during the youth of our generation. As the saying goes, let it be mentioned but not repeated.

While the mentioned Vespers services are usually on Sunday nights; on Wednesdays and Fridays the Liturgy of Presanctified Gifts is served. As Liturgy cannot be served during the weekdays of the Great Lent, priests prepare the Eucharist on Sunday so that the faithful may partake of it on Wednesday and Friday. This was handed down to us by St. Gregory Dialogos. The Eucharist is received as in the regular Sunday Liturgies. Contrary to what some people believe, there is nothing new about the Liturgy of Presanctified Gifts and it is similar to the partaking of Eucharist by the sick who take communion through the earlier prepared Eucharist.

St. Basil the Great tells us that this Liturgy was served even during the non-fasting period for the same reasons. St. Gregory Dialogos the Bishop of Rome is mentioned in the last prayer of this Liturgy (i.e. the Dismissal) as its author.

Who was St. Gregory Dialogos and what is the meaning of the word "Dialogos"?

He was the son of a Roman Senator and was a Roman Prefect after his father. He sought to please God even while in the world and built monasteries throughout Sicily and one in Rome. Upon the death of Pelagius, Bishop of Rome (in that time Rome was Orthodox), Dialogos was sought to be elevated to replace him. He fled, but was found as he was immersed in a pillar of light. The word "dialogos" means interlocutor, which was the title of one of his works and remains known by this name.

More news from our Australian Diocese

In the Orthodox Church we have a First and Second Vigil ("Bdenije"). The first Vigil was served at the Monastery of the Protection of The Most Holy Theotokos on Wednesday 01/04/09. This, our youngest Monastery, is located in Tallong, 170km from Sydney towards the nation's capital, Canberra. Now, what is the first Vigil? It is in fact Matins with the reading of the Great Canon composed by St. Andrew of Crete.

A few words about this great spiritual giant of Christ's Church:

St. Andrew, Bishop of Crete, was born dumb (unable to speak) and did not begin to speak until the age of seven, when his parents took him to church to receive the Holy Communion. At the age of 14 he went to the Monastery of St. Sava the Sanctified and proved himself to be an excellent monk. He participated in the 6th Ecumenical Council. He wrote many instructive books, songs and canons, of which the Great Canon we read during Lent is the most famous. His biographer says: "Looking at his face and listening to the words that flowed like honey from his lips, each man was touched and renewed."

In this Canon all the songs are of repentant character and the words are directed towards our own souls for the purpose of repentance and salvation. For example:

"Where shall I begin to lament the deeds of my wretched life? What first-fruit shall I offer, O Christ, for my present lamentation? But in Your compassion grant me release from my falls."

"Come, wretched soul, with your flesh, confess to the Creator of all. In future refrain from your former brutishness, and offer to God tears in repentance."

"Adam was rightly exiled from Eden for not keepingYour one commandment, O Saviour. But what shall I suffer who am always rejecting Your living words?"

After every verse we sing "Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me." This service is called Matins with Canon of St. Andrew of Crete and lasts for over two hours.

The service was celebrated by His Grace Bishop Irinej, our host Hegumen Danilo, five priests and three deacons at the aforementioned Monastery. It was attended by priests and faithful from surrounding towns and cities - Sydney, Canberra, Wollongong, etc, including a number of teenagers and young adults. Following the well organised and God-pleasing church service, the faithful moved to the wooden kitchen and dining area where they were served with a strict yet fulfilling Lenten dinner. Nobody complained about the length of the service, but instead asked when and where they could attend similar services.

May the Lord allow all Serbs of Australia, led by our Bishop Irinej, "to attain and worship the Holy Resurrection," as said in one of the last prayers of the Liturgy of Presanctified Gifts.

Very Reverend-Stavrophor Nikola Bilic
English translation by Ilija Bilic

Source: www.soc.org.au