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Though we may be tempted to think of the “All-Night” Vigil in terms of the quantity of time spent in the service, the primary concept of time contained in the term “vigil” is qualitative.
The feasts of certain saints also call for a Vigil.
It is called “all-night” because in ancient times in Palestine where it first developed, it began at sunset and continued through the night until dawn.
Later, as the service spread through the Church, out of condescension to the weakness of the faithful, it was abbreviated to begin late in the evening (but before midnight) and to last until morning.
The Church’s celebration of Sunday, the Lord’s Day, the day of Resurrection, begins each week on Saturday evening with the celebration of the All-night Vigil.
Though in the Church’s mind, this service is an essential part of our worship of God and of our preparation to partake of Christ’s Body and Blood, in the mind of many in the Church, judging from typical attendance, it is optional, an unnecessary bother and imposition one’s busy schedule.
To correct this mistaken view and to impart a better understanding to all about the meaning and importance of the Resurrectional All-night Vigil, we shall spend the next couple months examining the Resurrectional Vigil in detail so that we may be better prepared and motivated to make it a regular part of our worship, as it should be.The All-Night Vigil comprises the daily services of Great Vespers, Matins, and First Hour.Now in normal parish use, it is abbreviated still further, beginning earlier in the evening and lasting but two or three hours. Since the Liturgical day begins at sunset, each Sunday has its Vespers and Matins before the Divine Liturgy.In our parish, it typically lasts two to two and a quarter hours. These services are essential, for they prepare us for the Liturgy.Sunday for Christians is the day of the Lord’s Resurrection, the day of the Eucharist, and the day of the Lord’s Kingdom (the 8th day). Indeed, the Liturgy may not be served with Vespers or Matins having been served, or at least read privately by the clergy.Holding fast to the Orthodox idea of preparation and fulfillment, we see that the preparation of the Vigil is fulfilled in the Eucharist of the Liturgy.