As its name indicates, this is traditionally the final day for eating meat until Pascha. This additional week of abstinence from meat comes from the Monastery of Saint Sabbas, near Jerusalem. The monks are thought to have introduced the practice in expiation for a sin of the Emperor Heraclius when he recaptured Jerusalem from the Persians. But this is a historical matter of no particular importance, and is not even mentioned in the Triodion.
The real theme of this Sunday is the Last Judgment, which we read about in the Gospel at the Divine Liturgy (Matthew 25:31-46).
Fasting is a discipline, an aid to repentance. Repentance itself is the object of the exercise. Just before the Great Doxology on this Sunday we sing “If you fast, do not deceive your neighbour! If you abstain from food, do not judge others!”
Even Lent has its temptations: we may be tempted to believe that our religious practice of Lent somehow entitles us to look down on others, or somehow excuses us from serving others. Just the opposite is true. And this “Sunday of the Last Judgment” should keep before our eyes, all through Lent, the primary importance of caring for the needs of others, of recognizing in those in need, Christ Himself. Lent should teach us humility; God forbid that Lent would become an occasion of pride!
The week following this Sunday, the last week before Lent itself, has some interesting features. Wednesday and Friday are “aliturgical days,” which means that no celebration of the Divine Liturgy is foreseen by the calendar, and there are no readings from the Scripture for the Divine Liturgy. Saturday, the day before Forgiveness Sunday, is kept in honour of the monastic saints, the Holy Ascetics, because particularly during Lent we strive to follow their good example.
In Orientale Lumen, Pope John Paul II devotes much attention to our tradition of monasticism, (see Orientale Lumen, 9-10, 12-15) which the Holy Father calls “a reference point for all the baptized, according to the gifts offered to each by the Lord” (Orientale Lumen, 9). I should like to encourage all the clergy and faithful of the eparchy to read Orientale Lumen during Lent. It is the monastics who have given us much of our Lenten practice, and this Saturday just before Lent is a moment when we offer the monastic saints our thanks for all that they have done, for all that they mean to the Church. This Saturday also is a reminder to our contemporary monastics, including even those who serve in our own diocese, that they are the heirs and custodians of a most glorious spiritual heritage which the Church expects them to cultivate and share.
This Saturday, finally, reminds us of Pope John Paul II’s exhortation:
“With regard to monasticism, in consideration of its importance in Eastern Christianity, we would like it to flourish once more in the Eastern Catholic Churches, and that support be given to all those who feel called to work for its revitalization. In fact, in the East an intrinsic link exists between liturgical prayer, spiritual tradition and monastic life. For this reason, precisely, a well-trained and motivated renewal of monastic life could mean true ecclesial fruitfulness for them as well. Nor should it be thought that this would diminish the effectiveness of the pastoral ministry which in fact will be strengthened by such a vigorous spirituality, and thus will find once more its ideal place. This hope also concerns the territories of the Eastern diaspora, where the presence of Eastern monasteries would give greater stability to the Eastern Churches in those countries, and would make a valuable contribution to the religious life of Western Christians” (Orientale Lumen, 27).
In response to this teaching of the Holy Father, we should pray for an abundance of monastic vocations, and for the strong, authentic monastic witness which Orientale Lumen describes.
Excerpt from Our Paschal Pilgrimage. A Guide for the Great Fast for Ukrainian Catholics by Bishop Basil Losten
“Blessed is the man…” is sung.
At Psalm 140
In Tone 7
- Lead my soul forth from prison* that I may give thanks to Your name.
Come, let us rejoice in the Lord,
Who destroyed the power of death
and enlightened the human race;
and let us cry out with the angels:
Glory to You, our Creator and Saviour!
- The just shall gather around me* when You have been good to me.
O Saviour, for our sake You suffered crucifixion and burial;
and, as God, You destroyed death by Your death.
Therefore, we adore Your resurrection on the third day
and we sing: Glory to You, O Lord!
- Out of the depths I cry to You, O Lord;* O Lord, hear my voice!
On seeing the resurrection of the Creator,
the Apostles were amazed,
and they sang an angelic hymn of praise:
This is the glory of the Church,
this is the richness of the Kingdom!
O Lord, Who suffered for our sake, glory to You!
- Let Yours ears be attentive* to the voice of my prayer.
O Christ, although You were taken captive by Your enemies,
I still acknowledge You as my God,
and am not ashamed of You;
I will not hide the fact that You were nailed to the Cross.
Your death is my life, almighty Lord,
and I extol Your resurrection.
O Lover of mankind, glory to You!
- If You mark iniquities, Lord, who can stand?* But with You forgiveness is that You may be revered.
In fulfilment of the prophecy of David,
Christ revealed His majesty to His disciples in Sion.
He showed Himself to be worthy of equal praise
with His Father and the Holy Spirit;
for He existed from all eternity as God the Word, without a body;
then, out of love for mankind, He became incarnate,
and for our sake He was put to death as a man;
finally, by His own power He arose from the dead.
- I have waited for You as You have commanded; my soul patiently relies on Your promise,* for it has trusted in the Lord.
O Christ, of Your own free will, You descended into Hades;
and, as God the Lord, You destroyed death.
On the third day You arose from the dead and raised up Adam
from the bonds of Hades and corruption.
In joy he cried out and said:
Glory to Your resurrection, O Lover of mankind!
In Tone 6
- From the morning watch until night* let Israel trust in the Lord.
When you shall come, O righteous Judge, to execute just judgment,
seated on Your Throne of glory,
a river of fire will draw all men amazed before Your judgment seat;
the powers of heaven will stand beside You,
and in fear mankind will be judged
according to the deeds that each has done.
Then spare us, Christ, in Your compassion,
with faith we entreat You,
and count us worthy of Your blessings
with those that are saved.
- For with the Lord there is mercy, and with Him there is plentiful redemption;* and He shall redeem Israel from all its iniquities.
The books will be opened
and the acts of men will be revealed
before the unbearable judgment-seat;
and the whole vale of sorrow
shall echo with the fearful sound of lamentation,
as all the sinners, weeping in vain, are sent by Your just judgment to everlasting torment.
Therefore, we beseech You,
O compassionate and loving Lord:
spare us who sing Your praise,
for You alone are rich in mercy.
- Praise the Lord, all the nations;* proclaim His glory, all you people.
The trumpets shall sound and the tombs shall be emptied,
and all mankind in trembling shall be raised.
Those that have done good shall rejoice in gladness, awaiting their reward;
those that have sinned shall tremble and bitterly lament,
as they are sent to punishment and parted from the chosen.
O Lord of glory, take pity on us in Your goodness,
and count us worthy of a place with them that have loved You.
- Strong is the love of the Lord for us;* eternally will His truth endure.
I lament and weep when I think of the eternal fire,
the outer darkness and the nether world, the dread worm and the gnashing of teeth,
and the unceasing anguish that shall befall those who have sinned without measure,
by their wickedness arousing You to anger,
O Supreme in love.
Among them in misery I am first:
but O Judge compassionate, in Your mercy save me.
In Tone 8, Glory…
When the thrones are set up and the books are opened,
and God sits in judgment,
O what fear there will be then!
When the angels stand trembling in Your presence and the river of fire flows before You,
what shall we do then, guilty of many sins?
When we hear Him call the blessed of His Father into the Kingdom,
but send the sinners to their punishment,
who shall endure His fearful condemnation?
But Saviour, who alone love mankind, King of the ages,
before the end comes turn me back through repentance
and have mercy on me.
In Tone 7, Glory… Now…
Immaculate Mother of God,
you became a mother outside the laws of nature,
remaining a virgin in a way that exceeds all description
and human understanding.
The wonder of your birth-giving could not be told in human language,
for your conception of Christ blinded intelligence,
and your birth-giving exceeded understanding:
for whenever God so desires, the laws of nature are broken.
Wherefore, we all firmly believe that you are the Mother of God,
and we eagerly beseech you to intercede for the salvation of our souls.
In Tone 7
O Saviour of the world, You arose from the grave,
and together with Your own flesh You raised up mankind.
O Lord, glory to You!
The Lord reigns, He is clothed in majesty. Robed is the Lord, and girt about with strength.
Come, let us worship Christ Who arose from the dead
and enlightened all creation.
For by His resurrection on the third day,
He set us free from the oppression of Hades,
granting us life and His great mercy.
For He has made the world firm, which shall not be moved.
O Christ, Lover of mankind,
You descended into Hades and destroyed death.
Then You arose on the third day;
and, together with Yourself You lifted up all of us
who glorify Your mighty resurrection.
Holiness befits Your house, O Lord, for length of days.
O Lord, what a fearful sight it was to see You lying in the tomb as if asleep.
Yet on the third day You arose in great power,
and at the same time You raised up Adam who joyfully cried out:
Glory to Your resurrection, O Lover of mankind!
In Tone 8, Glory…
Alas, black soul!
How long will you continue in evil?
How long will you lie in idleness?
Why do you not think of the fearful hour of death?
Who do you not tremble at the dread judgment-seat of the Saviour?
What defence will you make, or what will you answer?
Your works will be there to accuse you:
your actions will reproach you and condemn you.
O my soul, the time is near at hand;
make haste before it is too late, and cry aloud in faith:
I have sinned, O Lord, I have sinned against You;
but I know Your love for man and Your compassion.
O good Shepherd, deprive me not of a place at Your right hand
in Your great mercy.
O Virgin who knew not carnal union,
O you who ineffably carried God in the flesh,
O Mother of Almighty God.
O you who obtain for all of us the cleansing of sins
accept now our supplication
and intercede for the salvation of us all.
In Tone 7
By Your cross You destroyed death;* You opened Paradise to the thief;* You changed the lamentation of the myrrh-bearers to joy,* and charged the apostles to proclaim* that You are risen, O Christ our God,* offering great mercy to the world.
O Mother of God, we sing your praises,* for you were a virgin before conceiving,* and remained a virgin after giving birth.* And since you have given birth to our Salvation, Jesus Christ,* you have become a treasury of assistance* for all who seek resurrection and eternal life.* Therefore, lift us up from the depth of our transgressions,* for we place our hope in you.
Troparia and Kontakia
Troparion, Tone 7: By Your cross You destroyed death;* You opened Paradise to the thief;* You changed the lamentation of the myrrh-bearers to joy,* and charged the apostles to proclaim* that You are risen, O Christ our God,* offering great mercy to the world.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and for ever and ever. Amen.
Kontakion, Tone 1: When You come on earth, O God, in glory,* and the universe trembles,* while the river of fire flows before the seat of judgement,* and the books are opened and all secrets disclosed,* then deliver me from the unquenchable fire,* and count me worthy to stand at Your right hand,* O Judge who are most just.
Prokeimenon, Tone 3
Great is our Lord and great is His strength;* and of His knowledge there is no end.
verse: Praise the Lord, for a psalm is good; may praise be sweet to Him. (Psalm 146:5,1)
1 Corinthians 8:8-9:2
Alleluia, Tone 8
verse: Come, let us rejoice in the Lord; let us acclaim God our Saviour.
verse: Let us come before His face with praise, and acclaim Him in psalms. (Psalm 94:1,2)
Praise the Lord from the heavens;* praise Him in the highest. (Psalm 148:1)* Rejoice in the Lord, O you just;* praise befits the righteous.* Alleluia, alleluia,* alleluia. (Psalm 32:1)