See Schedule & Photo Gallery below
During Lent¹, the Byzantine Catholic Churches of Wyoming Valley in Northeastern Pennsylvania 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 also to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation in 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 recited during this Vespers service was written by St. Ephrem (Ephraim) the Syrian. St. Ephrem was a monastic known for his prolific writing of hymns, prayers, and homilies loved in both the Eastern and Latin rites of the Church.
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. It is from the Old Testament that we have a glimpse of the awesome power of God in creation itself. The readings then carry us through time providing the greatness and scope of God’s masterful plan, a plan that St. Paul describes in so many of his letters. Salvation for mankind, this long awaited hope and promise, is fulfilled ultimately through Christ’s sacrifice for our sins.
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 a 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 or if there is space, a prostration in the aisle of the church.
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 designated in Eastern churches to commemorate the Triumph of Orthodoxy (Orthodoxy meaning True Faith). This was an victory in the year 843 over persecution of beliefs and practices. The triumph was restoration of the liturgical use of icons following a period of time when their mere presence and use was banned. During this period of early church history, destruction of icons was supported by rulers influenced by heresies against the central dogmas of the Church. However, believers held fast to their faith against those (called iconoclasts) who opposed the use of icons based on false teachings.
The lesson is that Truth always triumphs when the faithful persevere. It is a source of hope for all times. These historical events show that it is God, in His infinite power and justice, who prevails over the those who seek destruction and division of the Church, even when all seems lost in the midst of crisis. We are in debt to the many martyrs of the early Church who never failed to stand firm in their faith.
Slide show below (2018) : First Sunday Lenten Vespers with 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.
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.
2019 Interparish Lenten Vespers Schedule – 3 pm
at locations listed below
Vesper Services will be offered each Sunday on the dates listed below in the Wyoming 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
Sunday, March 10 Saint Michael, Pittston with Icon Procession – 205 N. Main
Sunday, March 17 Saint John, Wilkes-Barre Township – 526 Church Street
Sunday, March 24 Saint Mary, Wilkes Barre – 695 N. Main
Sunday, March 31 Saint Nicholas, Swoyersville – 271 Tripp Street
Sunday, April 7 Saint Mary, Kingston – 321 Chestnut Street
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.