Bright week begins with the Sunday of Pascha, and comes to a close on Bright Saturday, at Vespers. One may actually argue that Bright week comes to a close before the ninth hour (which precedes vespers), since the royal doors and deacons doors, which have been wide open all week, are closed. This is a sad and significant moment. Just like our forefathers Adam and Eve, we cannot remain in paradise in this life, because of our sins. Ours is a life of struggle against our passions, which hold us back from full realization of paradise in this life.
According to the sun's rising and setting, Bright week is seven days, (Sunday through Saturday) but to the church, liturgically, it is one day - the "eighth day".
The fasting typicon for Bright week is easy to remember - do not fast! Of course, all bishops and other monastics keep their abstinence from meat, but they are profoundly experienced at filling this "gap" with delicious cheeses and fish. All foods are permitted until the second Wednesday after Pascha, which is a regular fast day, with wine and olive oil allowed.
Since the entire week of Pascha, otherwise known as Bright week, is the "eighth day", and according to the Lord, " in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven" (Matthew 22:30), it is a pious tradition that those who are married "be as the angels". This is abstinence not because of fasting, as marital abstinence otherwise is, but because of the joy of the resurrection. Not everyone can bear this, and the marriage bed is undefiled in any case, but for those who can observe this custom, there is profound meaning.
The Feast of the Life Giving Spring is celebrated Bright Friday. This icon may be seen on-line at ( http://www.skete.com/fx020004.htm ). Here is an excellent explanation of this feast, from the EXCELLENT St. John the Baptist Web Page ( http://www.stjohndc.org/icons/i9604.htm )
This icon has a wonderful and comforting appearance. Depicted is an enormous stone chalice, standing in a wide reservoir, filled with water. Above the chalice, holding in Her arms the Preeternal Infant and wearing a crown, hovers the Most Holy Virgin.
To the reservoir filled with life-giving water have streamed those who thirst. The unfortunate and life-weary drink of the water and become strong and invigorated. What a wonderful sign ...
It was the 5th century. At that time, in Constantinople, near the so-called "Golden Gates," there was a grove filled with cypress and plane trees, long since dedicated to the Most Holy Theotokos. Within the grove there was a spring, likewise long renowned as a source of miracles. Gradually, the site became overgrown with shrubbery, and the water receded into the mud. Only from the dampness of the earth could one deduce the existence of the spring.
Once upon a time, the warrior Leo Marcellus passed the site, where he met a helpless traveler, a blind man who had lost his way and could not find his way out. Leo helped him get out onto the path, and led the man, weakened by exhaustion, into the shade to rest, while he himself went off in search of water to refresh the blind one. Then he suddenly heard a voice say: "Leo, do not search far off for water. It is close by." Leo, amazed by the mysterious voice, began to look around, but could find no water. As he stood, sad and pensive, the same voice again addressed him: "King Leo! Go into the shade of the grove, draw of the water which you will find there, and give it to the one who thirsts. Place the mud which you find in the spring upon his eyes. Then you will learn who I am, who it is that for so long has blessed this site. Soon I will help you to erect here a church bearing My name, and all who come here and with faith call upon My name will have their prayers answered, and will be completely healed of their sicknesses.
As soon as Leo, hurriedly reaching the appointed place, had taken mud from the spring and placed it on the eyes of the blind man and had given him some of the water to drink, the blind man immediately regained his sight. Without a guide, he went into Constantinople, glorifying the grace of the Theotokos.
This occurred during the reign of Emperor Marcian (391-457).
Emperor Marcian was succeeded by Leo Marceilus (457-473). He remembered the appearance of the Theotokos, and ordered that the spring be cleaned of the ooze; earthworks were built to isolate the stream of that spring from other nearby springs, and the water was confined in a large circular stone pool, above which was built a church dedicated to the Theotokos.
Emperor Leo called this spring the "Life-giving Spring", for there was revealed the miraculous grace of the Theotokos.
One hundred years after Marcian, reigned the emperor Justinian the Great (527-565), a man greatly devoted to the Orthodox faith. For a long time he suffered from edema, finding no help from doctors, and already considering himself condemned to death. One midnight he heard a voice saying: "You, O king, cannot return to health unless you drink from My spring." The king did not know of which spring the voice spoke, and he fell into despair. Then, during the day, the Theotokos appeared to him, and said: "Arise, O king, go to My spring, and drink of it, and you will be healthy, as you were before." The sick man acted according to the Lady's will. He found the spring, drank of its water, and soon regained his health. Near the church built by Leo, the grateful emperor erected a new magnificent church, where later was founded a populous monastery.
In the 15th Century, the Imperial City fell into the hands of the Muslims. The famous Church of the Life-giving Spring was destroyed, and its building materials were used to construct the mosque of Sultan Bayazet. The church site was covered with earth and crushed stone, so that the very foundations of the church disappeared from sight. The beautiful surrounding areas were turned into a Muslim cemetery. A Turkish sentinel, placed at the ruins of the church, forbade Christians not only to gather at the site, but even to approach there.
Little by little, the strictness of this ban eased, and Christians were permitted to build a small church there. However, in 1821, it was destroyed as well, and the spring itself was filled in. Once again Christians cleaned up the ruins, reopened the spring, and once again drew water from it. Even upon these shards of the former magnificent holy structure, the Theotokos, as before, granted hearings through Her grace. Later, among the broken pieces in one of the windows was found, already half-rotted away through time and dampness, a panel on which were recorded 10 miracles which occurred at the Life-giving Spring during the period 1824-1829.
During the reign of Sultan Mahmoud, the Orthodox received a measure of freedom to conduct religious services. They used it to erect, for the third time, a church above the Life-giving Spring. In 1835, with great pomp, the Ecumenical Patriarch Constantine, celebrating with 20 bishops and an enormous flood of the faithful, consecrated the church which stands to this day. Nearby was built a hospital and alms-house. Even the Muslims spoke with great respect of the Life-giving Spring, and of the Theotokos, Who through it pours out Her grace-filled power. "Great among women Holy Mary" is how they refer to the Most Holy Virgin. The water from the Life-giving Spring they call the "water of Holy Mary."
It is impossible to recount all of the miracles flowing from the Life-giving Spring and bringing grace to kings, to patriarchs, to noted as well as ordinary people. The power of grace acts to this day through the water of the spring. That power is personally experienced not only by Orthodox, but by Catholics, Armenians, and even by the Turks.
The Paschal Hours are appointed for morning and evening prayers, and all the simple daily services, such as the hours, small Compline, and the Midnight Office. These prayers are usually in an Orthodox prayer book, such as the "Jordanville" prayer book, or the "Old Rite" prayer book, and are very short. The entire service is meant to be sung, and takes less than five minutes. It is also an excellent idea to chant the Paschal canon daily.
The prayer to the Holy Spirit, "O Heavenly King", said in almost every Orthodox prayer service is NOT said from Paschal matins (the first service of the Pentecostarion), which begins at midnight on the Sunday of Pascha, until the Vespers service for Pentecost. Anywhere this prayer occurs it is omitted, and until Ascension Thursday, is substituted with the Paschal troparion (Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life), sung three times. We are like the Apostles during this period, "waiting" for the Holy Spirit to come, and the absence of this prayer makes a strong statement of our profound need for the Holy Spirit.
The Pentecostarion is used from the first service of Pascha (the Paschal matins) through the Sunday of All Saints, following Pentecost.
It is very easy to feast with foods, and let down spiritually, and forget the inner feast of Pascha. Too much rich food makes it impossible to pray. It also can incite other serious passions, such as lust, anger and despondency. Sometimes people hardly pray during this week, because of overeating, and tiredness. The mind of the church, in her ascetical tradition, has always known this. The church lessens the prayer rule during Bright week so that it is easy to pray, but only if we continue to make an effort, and do not over abuse our freedom to eat delicious foods. We emulated the Apostles and the Myrrh bearing women by proclaiming "Christ is risen" multiple times during the Paschal vigil, likewise, let us emulate them in joyful, although abbreviated prayer during the period of Bright week.
Paschal vespers (and matins) differ from the regular services in that the priest is always fully vested in all his sacerdotal vestments.
All of bright week, the Psalter is not used, since there is no reading in the church, except for the thanksgiving prayers after communion. (The Psalter is divided into twenty roughly equal sections, called kathismas. Most of the time, during vespers, one full kathisma is chanted, or some would say, "read". Also, most of the time, two kathismas are read during matins) At the vespers "Lord I have cried", the first two verses of the psalm are sung, and the rest of the psalm is skipped until the stichera (hymns) are supposed to begin. It is unfortunate that too many Orthodox churches, because of reckless abandonment of the Holy services and traditions, ALWAYS omit this psalm, and sometimes the kathisma reading as well, and the important symbolism of Bright week is lost to them. The Psalter is considered to be a "penitential" book, and this is the primary reason it is omitted, since we are in the eight day of the resurrection all of bright week.
The beginning of vespers is very different during Bright week. After the
blessing, "Christ is risen" is sung three times, then the moving and triumphant
verses of "Let God arise", interspersed with the Paschal troparion. The priest
holds the trikiri (a three branched candlestick, used by a priest only during
Pascha, but by a bishop, along with the "dikiri", a two branched candle stick,
whenever he serves the Divine Liturgy and certain other services). He also holds
the censer, and at each verse of "Let God arise", he censes the four corners of
the altar. This is a moving and triumphant moment, much like the singing of "For
God is with us" at the Great Compline service. Here is the text:
Normally, a given week is governed by one "tone". During Bright week, however, since Pascha is the "feast of feasts", a different tone is used each day, starting with the 2nd tone for Sunday vespers, with the seventh tone being skipped.
The Great Prokeimenon is used (a different one each time) instead of the usual Prokeimenon used for each day at vespers.
The paschal vespers for bright Monday includes a gospel reading, which is read in many different languages. This reading is the first half of the story of the doubting of the Holy Apostle Thomas, and this reading is reiterated and completed on the following Sunday of St. Thomas.
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