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Choral Corner #19: How are the hymns of late Lent/Holy Week different than those sung earlier?

Q: How are the hymns of the sixth week of Lent (this week), and also of Holy Week, different from those sung earlier in this liturgical season?

A: In The Lenten Triodion, translated and edited by Met. KALLISTOS and Mother Mary, there is an excellent discourse on this topic, far more eloquent than I could produce, so I am sharing it here:

“During the services of this week, and to a still greater extent during Holy Week, the Triodion assumes the character of a historical narrative. Day by day we accompany Christ: we are with Him as He draws near to Jerusalem, as He reaches Bethany to raise Lazarus, as He enters the Holy City on Palm Sunday, as He approaches His Passion. The daily offices [services] are marked by a sense of advancing movement and dramatic realism. Each day we call to mind, as exactly as possible, the things that must have occurred on the corresponding day during the last year of Christ’s earthly ministry.

“All this is not to be seen merely as the bare commemoration of occurrences in the distant past. On the contrary, through the liturgical celebration we relive those events, participating in them as contemporaries. We are raised from the level of secular time [chronos time], as measured by the clock or calendar, to the level of liturgical or sacred time; we are transferred to the point where the vertical dimension of eternity breaks into linear time. This transposition of the past into present, of remembrance into reality, is expressed in the liturgical texts above all in the word today. So we sing on Lazarus Saturday, ‘Today Bethany proclaims beforehand the Resurrection of Christ.’ On Palm Sunday, we affirm: ‘Today Christ enters the Holy City.’ ‘Today Christ comes to the house of the Pharisee,’ we sing on Holy Wednesday, ‘and the sinful woman draws near and falls down at His feet…Today Judas makes a covenant with the chief priests.’ ‘Today the Master of Creation stands before Pilate,’ we sing on Holy Friday…’Today He who hung the earth upon the waters is hung upon the Tree.’

“So also at Pascha Midnight we affirm: ‘Yesterday I was buried with Thee, O Christ, and today I rise with Thine arising. Yesterday I was crucified with Thee…’

“We shall not understand the meaning of these last two weeks in the Triodion unless we listen to this word today, which resounds at each service. It is not a mere metaphor or an instance of poetic license, but embodies a specific spiritual experience. All that was witnessed by the crowds in Holy Week, all the words addressed to the disciples, all the sufferings undergone by Christ — these are all to be experienced here and now by me.” *

*Met. KALLISTOS Ware. “The Inner Unity of the Lenten Triodion” in The Lenten Triodion, ed. Mother Mary and Kallistos Ware (South Canaan, St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, 2002), 56-57.

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