Beginning of the Dormition Fast

For those of you not in the know, there are four fasting periods in the Orthodox Church, two short and two long. Lent, Nativity (Advent), the Apostles Fast, and the Dormition Fast. Each of these is a period of preparation for a great feast of the church: lent is preparation for Pascha, Nativity for Christmas, The Apostles Fast for Sts Peter and Paul day, and the Dormition Fast for the Dormition of the Theotokos (the falling asleep of the Virgin Mary). Of them all, the Dormition Fast, which starts today, is probably the most difficult for converts from Protestantism to appreciate. Perhaps not so much the feast itself – it wouldn’t make sense not to commemorate it, if we’re to dedicate days to saints at all, since she’s the greatest saint ever. Not even the length – she’s very important, after all; God was made incarnate through her. But rather, for me at least, the way in which the fast is kept. What most churches do is chant the service of Paraklesis every night. The church in Santa Fe goes all out and has a Paraklesis followed by a Liturgy. Most people love Paraklesis; it’s asking the Theotokos for comfort, healing, and blessing, and the refrain is “Most Holy Theotokos, save us!” Many churches chant it every week (they do that here, Tucson, and Flagstaff, for instance). I don’t really get it. Which is to say I can’t bring myself to like it. It’s also perplexing – there’s nothing in the normal liturgical order of things that’s quite like it – no other time with the same special service and the same Liturgy every day for an appointed period.

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