We have reached the midpoint of the first week of Great Lent. Today a magnificent celebration occurred, the first Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts of this Lenten season. This is a treasured opportunity the holy Church gifts us—a unique blessing—to partake of the Lord’s Precious Body and Blood on the Lenten weekdays. The Divine Liturgy, being a solemn and resurrectional occasion, was typically forbidden in the Christian East on the weekdays of Lent. Organically, the Presanctified Liturgy was born out of a practical need: the faithful’s pious desire to commune of Christ’s Body and Blood on the weekdays of Lent, outside the normal Liturgy which occurred on Saturdays and Sundays. The structure of the Presanctified Liturgy is simple. There are Lenten Vespers, after the readings of which, instead of the Trisagion, the vesperal hymn, Let my prayer be set forth, is chanted according to a Lenten melody, and then the Liturgy of the faithful follows without the Creed or Anaphora since the Holy Gifts have been presanctified. While technically possible to celebrate on any day of the Lenten fast, it is typically confined to Wednesday and Friday mornings or afternoons in our practice.
If one wants to feel Great Lent, one must make an effort to participate in the Presanctified Liturgy, to confess one’s sins and to commune of Christ’s Body and Blood on this occasion. And the more often in Lent, the better. Had the ancient Christians had the practice of communing sparingly throughout the year, the very need to create such a liturgical observance would never have arisen. How can Christ live in me—how can the words of St. Paul, It is not I who live but Christ Who lives in me, resonate within if one does not steal a few hours to commune of the Presanctified Gifts? My memories of this service are many, from its celebration in total darkness to the asthmatic old yiayia who read the 18th Kathisma from memory, by heart. On Clean Monday, we mentioned that each pious act remains unto eternity before God, for He beholds all and forgets nothing. All is continuously alive and in-motion before His throne. And those who attend the weekly Presanctified Liturgies, out of holy vow and obligation despite the fatigue from familiar and occupational obligations and the overall weakness which the Lenten fast may cause for them, receive as recompense great spiritual benefit and reward from Christ.
The Presanctified Liturgy, finally, makes special mention of the theme of Baptism; for Lent was historically, par excellence, the period of preparation for those in the catechumenate for that Holy Mystery. And yet as this fell out of practice in Church life it is still a reminder that the Lenten season is a time for us to renew our baptismal vows, it is a time to re-pledge ourselves to Christ. It is a time to be cleansed of our spiritual leprosy as Neman the Syrian was. And it is a time to have the bitter waters of Mara sweetened within our soul: a time for the Lord to cleanse us and to heal us of all animosity, jealousy, avarice, pride, and spitefulness. Lent is a time to follow the Christ as Israel followed Moses through the sea from the slavery of the Egyptians to the light of freedom. And for the Church, the New Israel, we must follow Him faithfully from the bondage of the devil to the freedom of the New Jerusalem, which in its fullness will occur on the night of Holy Pascha for those who, as we hear in the Presanctified’s prayer behind the ambo, “Will fight the good fight, finish the course of the fast, keep the faith whole, shatter the heads of unseen dragons, and show themselves victorious over sin.” These, “Arrive blamelessly, without condemnation, to worship also Thy holy resurrection.”
By virtue of our common Baptism, we are soldiers in Christ’s army. Let us accompany those few in our midst preparing to receive Holy Baptism on Holy Saturday, and preparing with them for the mystery this Lent, let us re-enlist as it where in Christ’s army as we battle the passions which internally consume us. During the celebration of the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, as night envelopes creation and we are physically reminded of the dominion which death holds in the world, then suddenly a candle appears in the midst of this swarthy, melancholic gloom. Here, the Light of Christ illumines all: the Church, the faithful, and—at the priest’s command—this light envelopes the world, it envelopes all who sincerely seek after Him with their whole heart and desire. To these, the desire of their hearts will He give, and length of days unto ages of ages.