Soul Saturday Liturgies

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

I am writing to remind you of the fact that this Saturday at 9:30 a.m. we will commemorate the first of two Soul Saturday Divine Liturgies at St. Luke’s. As we draw nearer to the beginning of Great Lent, the Orthodox Church celebrates the universal commemoration of all those who have fallen asleep on the Saturday before the Sunday of the Last Judgment. The Church also prescribes that Soul Saturday Divine Liturgies be celebrated on the first four Saturdays in Great Lent.

Last year we began the practice of celebrating Soul Saturday Divine Liturgies with the Saturday before the Sunday of the Last Judgment and the first Saturday in Great Lent. The second commemoration, i.e. on the first Saturday of Great Lent, was chosen because it is also the commemoration of St. Theodore of Tyre. St. Theodore was a soldier in the city of Alasium in the 4th century. He was commanded to offer sacrifice to idols yet he confessed his faith in Christ instead. He was charged with setting a fire in a pagan temple and was thrown into prison and condemned to death by burning. He climbed onto the bonfire and with prayer gave up his holy soul to God. It is said that the fire did not consume his body. Fifty years after his death, the emperor Julian the Apostate, wanting to commit an outrage upon Christians, commanded the city-commander of Constantinople during the first week of Great Lent to sprinkle all the food provisions in the market-places with the blood of idol-sacrifices. Saint Theodore, having appeared in a dream to Archbishop Eudoxios, ordered him to inform all the Christians, that no one should buy anything at the market-places, but rather to eat cooked wheat with honey – kolivo ( kut’ya or sochivo). In memory of this occurrence the Orthodox Church annually makes celebration of the holy GreatMartyr Theodore of Tyre on Saturday of the first week of Great Lent.

Here is what Fr. Alexander Schmemann wrote about Meat-Fare Saturday in his book Great Lent, A Journey to Pascha:

“On the eve of that day (Meat-Fare Saturday), the Church invites us to a universal commemoration of all those who have “fallen asleep in the hope of the resurrection and life eternal.” This is indeed the Church’s great day of prayer for her departed members. To understand the meaning of this connection between Lent and the prayer for the dead, one must remember that Christianity is the religion of love. Christ left with his disciples not a doctrine of individual salvation but a new commandment “that they love one another,” and He added: “By this shall all know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Love is thus the foundation, the very life of the Church which is, in the words of St. Ignatius of Antioch, the “unity of faith and love.” Sin is always absence of love, and therefore separation, isolation, war of all against all. The new life given by Christ and conveyed to us by the Church is, first of all, a life of reconciliation, of “gathering into oneness of those who were dispersed,” the restoration of love broken by sin. But how can we even begin our return to God and our reconciliation with Him if in ourselves we do not return to the unique new commandment of love? Praying for the dead is an essential expression of the Church as love We ask God to remember those whom we remember and remember them because we love them. Praying for them we meet them in Christ who is Love and who, because He is Love, overcomes death which is the ultimate victory of separation lovelessness. In Christ there is no difference between living and dead because all are alive in Him, we love Christ: this is the law of the Church and the obvious rationale for her of prayer for the dead. It is truly our love “in Christ” and how wrong, how hopelessly wrong, are those Western Christians who either reduce prayer for the dead to a juridical doctrine of “merits” and “compensations” or simply reject it as useless. The great Vigil for the Dead of Meat-Fare Saturday serves as a pattern for all other commemorations of the departed and it is repeated on the second, third, and fourth Saturdays of Lent.”

Great Lent A Journey to Pascha, Alexander Schmemann, Crestwood, NY, 1990, pgs.23-24

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