Holy Week has begun and the weird time dislocation, as we move from the Lenten fast into the Holy Week fast, has also begun. [See note below.] Throughout Holy Week all the services are moved up a half day, so Monday matins (ie, morning prayer), called the first Bridegroom Service, occurs at 6 pm on Sunday night. During Holy Week morning becomes evening and evening, morning.
When we joined the church we were told this was going to occur every Holy Week. It created a sense of urgency as we approached Pascha, according to the priest. I was also aware that there was a certain discombobulation that came with it, because nothing was as it seemed. And that made sense during the momentous events of Holy Week.
But at Sunday night’s Bridegroom Service (let’s see, that would be the dislocated Monday morning matins service) it occurred to me why this dislocation takes place. The theme of the three Bridegroom services (Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday evening) is that the Bridegroom returns at midnight (ie, at an unexpected hour). Therefore we ought always be ready, like the wise virgins who had extra oil for their lamps in Jesus’ parable.
Sunday night (after years of this!) I finally made the connection between “the Bridegroom returns at midnight” and the fact that the Pascha Divine Liturgy on Saturday night/Sunday morning starts at midnight. In my defense, the marathon known as Orthodox Pascha starts a few hours before midnight. There’s Matins at around 10pm and then another dramatic service, called Rush, which features a procession around the outside of the church building, banging on the front door of the church (representing the stone over the tomb), looking for the body of Jesus, etc., etc. Given all the activities starting at about bedtime on Saturday night, it’s understandable how one could overlook the fact that the Divine Liturgy proper starts at midnight …
… the same unexpected, inconvenient, and did I mention “dislocated” hour that the Bridegroom returns, according to Jesus’ parable.
Since the ultimate service – the Pascha Divine Liturgy – is moved up a half day, it only makes sense to move every service during the Holy Week fast up a half day. Thus, the weeklong time dislocation of Orthodoxy Holy Week.
[Note: Everyone agrees that Great Lent should be forty days long. The East and West disagree about how those forty days should be counted. In the West, Lent starts on Ash Wednesday which is 46 days before Easter. Sundays, being the Lord’s Day, are not counted as part of the fast. Since there are six Sundays in Lent, this brings the total days to 40.
As an aside, if you pay attention to the terminology in a liturgical church, you will notice that there is the first, second, third, and fourth Sundays of Advent, but during Lent there are the first, second, etc. Sundays in Lent. Advent, in the West, is counted by the week, and the Sundays are part of it. Lent is counted by the day, and the Sundays stand outside of it.
This is not the case in the Orthodox East. There are actually two separate fasts leading up to Pascha. Lent starts on Monday, seven weeks before Pascha. (When Pascha and Easter fall on the same day, as they do in 2011, Orthodox Lent begins two days before Western Lent on the Monday prior to Ash Wednesday.) The fortieth day is then the Friday before Palm Sunday.
The Holy Week fast begins on Palm Sunday and goes until midnight on Saturday, at which time the Pasch service begins.
Standing in between Great Lent and the Holy Week fast lies Lazarus Saturday, which is this moment between what might be called “The Great Fast” and “The Strict Fast” where we celebrate the foretaste of Jesus’ resurrection, when he raised Lazarus from the dead.
This is why the time dislocation of Pascha, from morning back into the previous night, is extended back for one week but no farther. The time dislocation is part of the Holy Week fast but distinct from the Lenten fast.}