See Schedule & Photo Gallery below
During Lent¹, Wyoming Valley and Lackawanna Valley Byzantine Catholic Churches each host Interparish Vespers on five consecutive Sunday afternoons. The services rotate to a different parish each week giving everyone a wonderful chance to make a small pilgrimage to each host site and to worship in community with each other. It is a way for faithful to spend a little extra time in prayer with an opportunity for confession during the six weeks of the Great Fast.
Vespers are a prayer service with origins in the early church; a time when the lighting of lamps was necessary as evening approached and as Christians gathered to pray together. There are verses from the Psalms that are chanted and other varied hymns, readings, and prayers based on Scripture. Some are recited but most are sung in plain chant, a form that is the heritage of Byzantine churches in their Eastern Europe ancestry. One of the prayers was written by St. Ephrem (Ephraim) the Syrian, a monastic known for hymns, prayers, and homilies loved by both East and West.
The prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian
The theme heard in the chanted verses of the Vesper services during Lent takes the faithful on a journey through salvation history. It begins with the creation of the world and the Old Testament period. The journey continues to where all witness the hope offered to mankind through Jesus. This hope is fulfilled with God’s promise made complete through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for our sins and our redemption.
Liturgical symbols play a key function in the Vespers service and find frequent use in the Eastern rites in all services and liturgies. The symbolic use of light (candles), bells, incense, icons, bowing (rather than genuflecting) and making the sign of the cross at each pronouncement of the Holy Trinity involves all the senses and unites everyone in participation. In combination with the singing and prayers, the result is both engagingly mystical and beautifully transcendent.
The services close with a short, but solemn Lenten hymn customary in churches founded in the Ruthenian (ethnic) tradition. The very moving closing hymn implores God’s mercy, and is sung alternately in English and in Church Slavonic.² Church Slavonic is the liturgical language (parallel to Latin in the Roman Rite) developed solely for church use by Saints Cyril and Methodius, apostles to the Slavs. While it is also traditional for everyone to make prostrations (bows on the floor) during this hymn, our own local parish custom usually reserves the custom to the clergy and altar servers. Those faithful in the pews may show their reverence by making the sign of the cross and a bow instead.
First Sunday of the Great Fast: Lenten Vespers with Icon Procession
On the first Sunday of the Great Fast, it is traditional for the children in the catechetical classes of the parishes to be in procession with holy icons as part of the first Lenten Vespers. It is the Sunday on which Eastern churches commemorate the Triumph of Orthodoxy (Orthodoxy meaning True Faith). This was an event in the history of the early church in the year 843, when the liturgical use of icons was restored after having been erroneously banned for several years. During that period of time, believers held fast to their faith against those who sought to undermine established beliefs. The lesson is that truth always triumphs when the faithful persevere, even when there are challenges and obstacles, and that ultimately it is God who triumphs over all. Video Sampler: CLICK HERE
Photos below are from the 2018 Lenten Vespers with the procession of icons.
In addition to St. Michael Church, Pittston, the Byzantine Catholic parishes of Wyoming Valley that join together in prayer are:
St. John, Wilkes-Barre Township; St. Mary, Wilkes-Barre; St. Nicholas, Swoyersville, and St. Mary, Kingston.
Click on any photo to begin Slide View
We welcome you to join us ! If you have never been to a service or liturgy in a Byzantine Catholic church, we would love for you to join us. You may find new inspiration especially in our Lenten Vesper service as we raise our voices in prayer.
2018 Interparish Lenten Vespers Schedule – 3 pm
at locations listed below
Two Vesper Services will be offered each Sunday on the dates listed below, one in the Wyoming Valley and one in the Lackawanna Valley:
Private Confession (Sacrament of Reconciliation) will be available after each service. And, everyone attending is invited immediately following the service to enjoy a light food and beverage fellowship social, offered at each location.
Wyoming Valley Parishes
Sun February 18 St. Michael – 205 N. Main Street, Pittston
Sun February 25 St. John – 526 Church St, Wilkes Barre Twp
Sun March 4 St. Mary – 695 N. Main St, Wilkes-Barre
Sun march 11 St. Nicholas Swoyersville, 271 Tripp St, Swoyersville
Sun March 18 St. Mary – 321 Chestnut Ave, Kingston
Lackawanna Valley Parishes
Sun February 18 Saint Mary – 310 Mifflin Ave, Scranton
Sun February 25 Saint Nicholas – 140 Church St, Old Forge
Sun March 4 Saint Michael – 511 Drinker St, Dunmore
Sun March 11 Saint Mary – 700 Oak St, Taylor
Sun March 18 Holy Ghost Jessup 313 1st Avenue, Jessup
¹In Eastern Christian churches, Lent does not begin on Ash Wednesday (as in the Western church), but instead two days earlier on the Monday of that same week. The first day of Lent (and Good Friday) is one of strict fast in which meat, eggs, dairy products are not allowed. Byzantine Catholics are required to abstain from meat on both Wednesdays and Fridays. Faithful are encouraged to expand fasting throughout Lent if possible, though not mandatory. The final week before Easter is known as Great and Holy Week. It is considered a separate time apart from the previous six weeks of Lent. During Great and Holy Week there is an elevated intensity each day and a different focus. Great and Holy Week is such a special week in Eastern churches that brings all of our Christian faith to a climax. We are given this time to make changes in our lives, to renew our spiritual direction so we can fully celebrate our joy and fullness in our Risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
²Traditional Lenten Hymn (sung three times)
Having suffered, the passion for us,
Jesus Christ, Son of God,
Have mercy, have mercy, have mercy on us.
Now do I go – to the cross,
No where else shall I find You,
Jesus Lord, peace of my soul.
There shall I find the Mother of God
Sorrow and pain piercing her heart.
Sorrow now is all I feel.