Monday, March 14, 2011

O Lord and Master of my Life…

To-talanton, to-talanton, to-talan-talan-talanton…

I awoke at five in the morning to the sounds of the mallet hitting the semandron, that ancient instrument used to rouse monks to prayer. The potent sound of wood against wood is a call to prayer: a call to rouse oneself in preparation for the long prayers during the first week of Great Lent.

At Jordanville, we begin the season of fasting with fervor, making a good beginning to the forty days leading up to the Resurrection of our Lord. During the first week everything is focused on the church. There are no classes or obediences. We eat only one meal a day, made simply, without oil. The services are long and filled with readings from the fathers, and punctuated often with the prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian, which encapsulates the Lenten spirit:

O Lord and Master of my life, a spirit of idleness, despondency, ambition, and idle talking give me not.
But rather a spirit of chastity, humble-mindedness, patience, and love bestow upon me Thy servant.
Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my failings and not condemn my brother; for blessed art Thou unto the ages of ages. Amen.

The first week is when a seminarian can find the time to experience all the divine services of the day. The cycle of services begins with Midnight Office at 5am (5:30am on Monday), followed by Matins, the Hours, and Vespers. There is a short break between the First and Third Hours. For the Lenten services, the choir is divided in two, and sing on the left and right klirosi of the church. At most of the services part of the Psalter is read; during the weeks of Lent the entire Psalter is read twice. Archimandrite Luke, our Abbot, comes out during each of the services and reads from such spiritual works as the Ladder of St. John of Sinai and the Lausaic History. On Wednesday and Friday, we augment Vespers with the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts. After Vespers, which ends around 1pm, we have lunch—the only meal of the day—which consists of boiled potatoes, vegetables, and fruit. We rest until 6pm, when we have Great Compline with the Great Canon of Repentance by St. Andrew of Crete. After this we retire in preparation for the next day, though some seminarians (myself included) go to the kitchen to relieve our hunger with a little bread.

The tradition here is for all in the community, including monastics and seminarians, to commune on Saturday morning. Although Holy Communion is given on Wednesday and Friday because of the Presanctified Liturgy, we do not usually communicate until the end of the week, making all five days a preparation. On Friday evening, we say instead of the Great Canon the Three Canons for Holy Communion, and all go to confession.  On Saturday morning, we read the Canon and Prayers for Holy Communion. Through receiving the precious Body and Blood of Christ, we are then prepared for the rest of the Lent, refocusing on spiritual life and refraining from unnecessary activities, like this blog. So, this will in all likelihood be the last post before Pascha. May you have a blessed Lent. Pray for us.