“What’s your favorite way to spend Saturday night?”
I need to qualify this first, by saying that I almost never get to spend Saturday night the way I would like to. Due to issues of time, distance, and the fact that I share my life with a spouse, my time is not generally my own, and I usually spend Saturday night either reading or watching something of passing interest on television.
But my favorite, my very favorite, my all-time favorite was of spending Saturday night is…at a Vigil. As in, preparation for Sunday worship.
Vigil in the Russian Orthodox Church has its own special quality. Because it takes place in the evening, the lighting is quieter; our parish does use up-lighting along the walls, but it’s very muted, and the only other light comes from oil lamps and candles. The chanting of the choir is similarly muted, and the rubrics are always concerned with the celebration of Sunday’s Feast – a saint, or a major Feast of the Church such as the Annunciation, or the Transfiguration, or Palm Sunday. (There are twelve major Feasts of the Church, in addition to Pascha, known in the West as Easter – that’s its own Feast, the Feast of Feasts, and the Vigil preceding Pascha is much more energized and full of anticipation than any other Vigil.)
I like the reflective quality of Vigil. I like having time to digest the feelings of the hymnographers, and to find an echo within myself of what greater minds and spirits have put into exquisite poetry. I like the feeling of being washed over by the Feast to come, and the way I leave the church full of anticipation for the next morning. And I always think, “This is how life should be, this is how wonderful we should always feel about Sunday, the Lord’s Day.”
Tomorrow is Easter Sunday – Pascha – and once again, I will be missing Vigil, due to the distance from church, due to the exigencies of old age, and, selfishly, due to the fact that I have always been a Morning Person, and staying up until past midnight causes me a great deal of physical stress – before the fact, anyway, since I’ve attended the Paschal Vigil many times in the past, and always come out feeling refreshed and energized. This year I will sit with my prayer book and read the Vigil prayers, think about all my fellow Orthodox Christians around the world who are able to be present for Vigil – and those who are not – I will whisper the familiar music to myself, and tomorrow morning I will wake up to the incomparable awareness:
CHRIST IS RISEN! XPICTOC BOCKPEC! XPUCTOC AVECTI! TRULY HE IS RISEN!