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Guest Post: Dormition Fast, The Season of the Theotokos

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory Forever!

August 1 to August 15 marks another special season in the liturgical calendar of the Byzantine Church.  A season dedicated to preparing with prayer and penance a heart like our Blessed Mother, the Holy Theotokos.  We try to create a heart like Her’s because on August 15 the Theotokos Fell Asleep in the Lord, and according to pious tradition after 3 Days was Resurrected and Assumed into Heaven.  Recalling the great courage and the love with which this Heart accepted the Will of God at the Annunciation we anticipate the same Heart that would commend Herself into the arms of Her loving Saviour and Son, finally to be reunited to Him.

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There are several practical things that we can do during this holy season, and they are all related to the same practices we do during the Holy Fast of Great Lent.  Remembering that the three cornerstones of the Holy Fast are prayer, fasting and almsgiving, we can borrow those same practices for this time.  Now, according to the tradition and canons of the Eastern Churches, the Dormition Fast is not as strict of a fast as Great Lent.  Therefore one need not abstain from meat and cheese during the week (except for Fridays).  However, according to the ancient tradition the Church both East and West, Wednesday is also a fast day and can be observed in the same way that one would observe a Friday.

Here are a few special Marian devotions that you can consider using during your observance of the Dormition Fast.

Akathist Hymn

The word “Akathist” can be loosely translated into “Without Sitting” and it refers to the fact that the entirety of this hymn should be performed in the Byzantine stance of Adoration: Standing.  This is one of the most beautiful Byzantine devotional prayers to the Holy Mother of God.  Like so many other Prayer services and devotions of the Byzantine Church, this hymn is like a whole Maryological Catechesim class in a single package.  The words of the hymn covers the entire New Testament narrative involving the Theotokos and delves deeply into the spiritual soul of the Blessed Virgin.

The text for the Akathist can be found here compiled by the Byzantine Catholic Metropolitan Cantor Institute of the United States.


Holy Rosary (Svyata Vervytsya)

Certainly a Latin influenced devotion that may have entered into the practice of the Uniate faithful after Reunion. Many Byzantine Catholics have adopted the daily recitation of the Holy Rosary after the Church Approved and Promulgated Marian Apparitions of Fatima. They too see it as a Universally applicable obligation, at the behest of the Theotokos.  Byzantine Catholics, as faithful sons and daughters of the Universal Church, should therefore fear no reprisal or judgement from taking up this most holy devotion.  Especially in Canada, the birthplace of the Byzantine Redemptorist Fathers we have adopted the Rosary in our Byzantine churches en masse.  I believe that the Dormtion Fast is a most appropriate time to rediscover the Holy Rosary as a Byzantine Catholic.  Below you will find some commentary on the Rosary from an Eastern Catholic perspective and a recording of St. John Paul II praying the Rosary in Ukrainian.



 Prayer Service (Moleben) to the Mother of God

Now I have only known this devotion as a Moleben, coming from the Slavonic Byzantine tradition as I do.  However I became aware recently that this service is also called The Office of the Paraclete or simply a Prayer Service, which is the nearest translation to Moleben. This service is significantly shorter than the Akathist Hymn, and is more specifically a Liturgical, public act of worship.  While the Akathist has many of the same elements of a Liturgical service (a common feature of Byzantine devotions) it can and should be practiced and prayed privately as well. The Moleben to the Mother of God contains similar Odes, Sticherion, Troparion and Kontakion as a Vespers or Divine Liturgy might have on a Marian Feastday, but is not exclusive to a particular date on the Menaion.  It is not illicit for laity to lead this service, but any Liturgical functions proper to Deacons or Priests, such as the chanting of the Gospel lesson, should be omitted in the absence of clergy. The beauty of the Moleben is its simplicity.  The format is very familiar to Byzantine Catholics.  It also contains the Ektenes or Synaptes, roughly equivalent to the Prayers of the Faithful, which incorporate intercession into an act of Veneration of the Theotokos. The below is a Ukrainian Greek Catholic Moleben with two con-celebrating Eparchs.

The text of the Moleben can be found here courtesy of the Byzantine Eparchy of Parma.


The Byzantine Life

Thank you for checking out this week’s article. If you haven’t already, you can read our article about the Feast of the Dormition. Or our article on passing down the faith to toddlers and infants.

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