The Great Lent is considered to be the most blessed and profound spiritual period in the Coptic Calendar. It is fasted for a total of 55 days, consisting of the Week of Preparation, the Holy Forty Days, Lazarus Saturday, and the Holy Pascha Week. In the past, the holy fathers began fasting the Holy Lent on the day following the Feast of the Epiphany (12 Tobe), as revealed to them by the Gospel, “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil” (Lk. 4:1,2). They also celebrated the Feast of Passover on 22 Meshir, followed by Passion Week a few days later, and concluding with the celebration of the Holy Feast of the Resurrection. Thus, Passion Week was separate from the rest of the Holy Lent, until the time of Pope Demetrius, the twelfth Patriarch of Alexandria, instituted the basis of the Holy Lent that is used to this present day, and appointed the time for the Holy Feast of Passover. The duration and the ranking of the Holy Lent is documented in the holy Dioscolia, indicating that “the forty days that Jesus Christ our Saviour fasted are to be fasted until sunset, along with the abstaining from any flesh and anything that belongs to the flesh.” Also, it is mentioned that, “the week preceding the Holy Forty Days (the Week of Preparation) is to be classified as one of the established fasts of the church, on which the rules of the Holy Forty Days are to be observed.” As for the Holy Pascha week, (the week following the Holy Forty days) the Dioscolia states “it is to be fasted solely on bread, salt and water until the end of sunset.” With regards to Great Friday and Bright Saturday, “they are to be fasted with full abstinence until the cock crows very early Sunday morning. However, if one could not fast both days together, then it is acceptable to fast throughout Saturday alone.”
It is vital to keep in mind that the fathers emphasized the grave importance of fasting during this time. The Dioscolia clearly states that: “any bishop, priest, deacon, sub-deacon, reader, or psalmist, who does not fast the Holy Forty Days and the fasts of Wednesdays and Fridays is prohibited from performing any service in the Church and partaking of the Holy Communion until he has fasted and received an absolution. As for laymen, they are also prevented from partaking of the Holy Communion until they have once again fasted and received the absolution. This rule however need not apply on those who suffer from a physical sickness or disability, and are thus given permission to eat fish.”
In general, the Fast is a means of disciplining both the soul and the body. The hymns of the Great Lent, starting from the Week of Preparation to the end of the Holy Forty Days, retain the themes of asceticism and chastity. The hymns themselves are divided into two types: The first is for the Saturdays and Sundays of the Holy Lent only, while the second pertains to the weekdays of the Holy Lent. As for Passion Week, it retains is own exclusive tunes of sadness and grief.
In the Rite of the Great Lent, the Liturgy of the Catechumens on the Sunday preceding the Holy Lent is prayed as usual. The readings however are taken from the Lectionary of the Great Lent and not from the annual readings. The Divine Liturgy is also prayed in the Annual Rite with the exception that the Fraction is read that of the Great Lent. Also, Psalm 150 is chanted during communion in the tune of the Lenten Saturdays and Sundays, followed by the Praise of the First Week of the Holy Lent, and the concluding creed for the end of service for the Saturdays and Sundays of the Holy Lent. This is all done to remind the believers that the Lent is to start the following day.
As for the Rite of the Lenten weekdays, the Vespers Prayers are not prayed.
During the Prime Raising of Incense on Lenten weekdays, the priest begins with the Thanksgiving Prayer, and the congregation chants the hymn Kieryalason instead of the Verses of Cymbals. Afterwards, the priest prays the Litanies of the Sick and of the Travelers, after which the Doxologies specific to the Lenten days, Neknai o Pachois, the minor tinistia , and Pimairowmi are chanted. Following Evnoti Nai Nan, the veil of the sanctuary is shut, and the prophecies from the Antiphonarium of the Great Lent are read in Coptic and Arabic (or the language of understanding). Upon completing the readings, the veil is once more opened, and the litanies are prayed. Following each litany, the congregation chants Kieryalason in the same tune as in the litanies of Passion Week. After this, the Litany of the Gospel is prayed, and, following the reading of the Gospel, the Gospel Response specific for the Great Lent is chanted. The remainder of the service is prayed normally, and is concluded by the Concluding Canon for the Saturdays and Sundays of the Holy Lent.
The Liturgy of the Word during the Lenten weekdays begins with the Agpeya prayers of the Third Hour, followed by the rest of the Hours upto the Compline Hour (the Prayer of the Veil is also prayed in monasteries). In the Offertory, the hymn Alleluia E Ei Ekhon is chanted, and following the Thanksgiving Prayer, the hymns Sotis Amin and Nefsenti are chanted. Afterwards, `eklinowmen ta gonata is said, followed by the absolution. Finally, the hymn `enthotetishori is chanted. After the Catholic Epistle share evnouti is chanted as the Praxis Response. After the Gospel, the sermon is delivered (on Fridays, it is preferred that the Maymar be read instead). Then, the Gospel Response Tihirini is chanted. In the Liturgy of the Eucharist, after the confession, Psalm 150 is chanted in the weekday Lenten tune. The service is concluded with the hymns Jeefesmarout, Pimairowmi , and finally Somatos
As for the Saturdays of the Holy Lent, during the Prime Offering of Incense, the Verses of Cymbals specific to the Holy Lent are chanted following the Prayer of Thanksgiving, and the Doxologies for the Saturdays and Sundays of the Holy Lent Neknai O Pachois , `Amoini Tnav , and Tinisitia are chanted. The prophecies and litanies however, are not read. Following the Gospel, the Gospel Response for the Saturdays and Sundays of the Great Lent is chanted. At the end of service, the Concluding Canon for Saturday and Sunday is chanted.
As for the Liturgy of the Word on Saturdays and Sundays of the Great Lent, it begins with the prayers the Third and Sixth Hours. During the Offertory of the Lamb, the hymn Alleluia Je Efmevi is chanted. Allelulia Fai Pepi is only chanted on Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday. Following the absolution, Tishori , followed by the Hiten , are chanted. Also, the Praxis Response Aripamevi specific for the Saturdays and Sundays of the Holy Lent is chanted. After the Gospel, the Gospel Response Je Penyot is said. At the end of the Divine Liturgy, Psalm 150 is chanted during communion in the tune for the Lenten Saturdays and Sundays. The hymn Onishti is then chanted, and the service is concluded with the Concluding Canon for Saturdays and Sundays of the Holy Lent.
On Saturday evenings, the Sunday Vespers Raising of Incense is prayed in the same manner as the Prime Raising of Incense on Saturday, with the exception that after the Gospel, the Maymar is read, followed by the Gospel Response. The remainder of the prayer is conducted as Saturday mornings. As for the Offering of Incense on Sunday morning, it follows the same manner as Saturday mornings, except that the Adam Introduction to the Verses of Cymbals is chanted instead of theWatos Introduction. The Sunday liturgy is also similar to that of Saturdays. However, on Sundays, the Synexarium is followed by the hymns Megalo and Apenchois in the Mohayar tune.
On Sunday evenings, a prayer is also performed, but it is not considered as a Vespers Prayer for Monday morning, since its Gospel is a completion of the Gospel reading for the liturgy of that Sunday. This is clearly opposite to the Vespers Prayers, since the Gospels read in the evening are to be complemented by the reading in the liturgy the following day. The prayer of Sunday evening follows the same order as the Sunday Prime Raising of Incense.
As for the rite of the first Monday in the Great Lent, and the last Friday of the Forty Days, it is a combination between the rite of the weekdays and the rite of Saturdays and Sundays of the Great Lent. During the Prime Raising of Incense, the prayer is conducted in the same manner as in the Saturdays and Sundays of the Lent. However, the prophecies and the litanies are also read as is the weekdays.
Following the service of Raising of Incense of the last Friday of the Holy Forty Days, the Sacrament of Anointing the Sick with all its seven prayers is prayed in the second chorus of the church. The priest then anoints the entire congregation with the oil. Following this, the Liturgy of the Word commences, beginning with the Agpeya prayers of the Third Hour and up to the Compline Hour (or the Prayer of the Veil in monasteries), then the chanting of the hymn Alleluia Je Efmevi . After the Prayer of Thanksgiving, the hymn Sotis , followed by the hymn Nefcenti , are chanted. The priest then reads the introduction to Klinwomen ta gonata , which is followed by the congregations response of Keralayson . After this, the priest reads the Absolution as he prostrates before the sanctuary three times. The liturgy continues in the same manner as on Saturdays and Sundays, except that the hymn Megalo is chanted on the last Friday after the Synexarium, followed by Apenchoice in the Mohayar tune.
May the blessings of the Great Lent be with us all. Amen.
Mikhail, Deacon Albair Gamal, The Essentials in the Deacon’s Service, (Shobra, Egypt: Shikolani, 2002), p. 355 – 357. Translated from Arabic by Mina Barsoum, edited by Alexander A-Malek and Ragy Sharkawy.