All day yesterday I felt like it was Wednesday and couldn’t figure out why. On second thought, I suppose it has something to do with the spirit of Holy Week which is in an ever state of anticipation. The evening services we serve in the mornings and the morning services in the evening as if we can’t wait to start the next day. On the one hand we thank God who has “led us to these holy days for purification of souls and bodies, for restraint of passions, and for hope of the Resurrection,” as we say at the end of Presanctified, but on the other hand we are also anxious to “worship the Resurrection.” Our rushing from one day to the next, in anticipation of the great feast of Pascha could only signify, I can only guess, our readiness for it. Being ready, after all, is one of the themes of this week as we not only begin the week with Bridegroom Matins but also the bitter lesson of the foolish virgins.
And ready we better be since, as Bulgakov writes in his Handbook for Church Servers (here), “Great Wednesday is the last day of lent and repentance.” He continues:
“….and with it (Wednesday) the order of the Great Lenten services comes to an end. This is also expressed in some of the features of the church services of Great Wednesday namely: at the dismissal of Hours the prayer “O Master, great in mercy” which is normally read in Great Compline is read over the people who have bowed to the ground…at the Presanctified liturgy the great prostration is done after “Blessed be the Name of the Lord” for the last time, “and if the prostrations are completed in practice in the church, they will continue to be done in the cells even up to Great Friday”, i.e. the great prostrations, but not the small, is dropped in church, as is evident, for example, in the Order of Compline where it is said: “let us do three prostrations, all equally slowly.”
And having come to the end we return to the beginning, before we set off on this journey, to that sacred rite of forgiveness on the very eve of the fast. Bulgakov mentions a tradition in the Moscow Dormition Cathedral of performing the “Forgiveness Rite” on this day in the same way it was done on Forgiveness Sunday. We ask for forgiveness not so that we might be able to enter in the holy days of Lent, but so that just as we appear to be ready to celebrate the holy feast of Pascha on these days of Passion Week, our entire lives be converted to a state of readiness. The readiness and preparedness of which we speak is not something which comes quickly. It takes time but in that time it turns into a routine, something we begin doing on a regular basis. Saying that Lent is a time of prayer is fine but it hardly implies that other times of the year are not a time of prayer. Instead, we continue our prayer life, our faith and hope in the Resurrection. During these Lenten day, therefore, we have done nothing other than intensify our prayers, the battle against our vices, and so on.
The prayer most characteristic of these days we leave behind is that of St. Ephrem: “O Lord and Master of my life….”. It is the intensity of this prayer we are to carry with us throughout all the days of the year – that we not be slothful, given to despair, have no lust of power, that we have humility and patience. But above all, that we “see our own transgressions and not judge our neighbors.” It is here, once we have achieved this last petition of the prayer that we can say we are ready to celebrate the feast. It is this forgiveness and seeing our own mistakes which begins, ends and makes up the very substance of the days of fasting.
It’s taken us all of Lent to battle it and now having come to the end of the journey we shan’t only feel as if we’re ready for the feast, even though after all these weeks of services and fasting and more services and more fasting, we rightfully feel that we are. But regardless of how we should feel or not the feeling of readiness during these days of Holy Week is unmistakeably there. The question is: Is it for the feast?
No, we are ready to be ready.