Tonight, at 9pm, we will begin the Vigil service – that is, the Vespers of Holy Friday immediately followed by the Matins of Holy Saturday – in which we are “buried with Christ”. This lengthy Vigil service will be followed by the local custom of keeping watch over the tomb of Christ all night, watching and praying and chanting the Psalter – for those who are willing and able to do so. This literal all-night vigil begins (again, according to local custom) with a brief foot-washing ceremony.
I want to emphasize that the all-night vigil is a labour of love, undertaken only by those able to do so. No one should feel obligated to undertake it, nor should any who are not able to undertake it feel guilty that they are not able to do so. I myself will only be there for the beginning of the vigil, so that I will be able to serve the rest of the weekend’s services, beginning with the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great at 9am on Saturday morning – and others have similarly important responsibilities. That being said, I have to say, I wish I could stay up all night for the all-night vigil! My experience of the all-night vigil at St. Herman’s was one of the greatest spiritual highlights of the whole spiritually rich time I spent there…
Finally, on a spiritual note, it is never too late to begin to “watch and pray”. This is one of the great blessings of the Christian life, that God, being rich in mercy, accepts us sinners and prodigals as we return to Him, whenever we return to Him. St. John Chrysostom emphasizes this in his Paschal homily as he makes reference to Jesus’ parable of the landowner who paid everyone the same wage for working in his vineyard (Matthew 20):
“If any man be devout and love God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant and triumphal feast. If any have wrought from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward. If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near, fearing nothing. If any have waited even until the eleventh hour, let him, also, be not alarmed at his lateness; for the Lord, who is jealous of His honour, will accept the last even as the first; He gives rest to him who comes at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who has laboured from the first hour. And He shows mercy upon the last, and cares for the first; and to the one He gives, and upon the other He bestows gifts. And He both accepts the deeds, and welcomes the intention, and honours the acts, and praises the offering. Therefore, enter, all of you, into the joy of your Lord; and receive your reward, both the first and likewise the second.
“You rich and poor together, hold high festival. You sober and you heedless, honour the day. Rejoice today, both you who have fasted and you who have disregarded the fast. The table is full-laden; feast all of you, sumptuously! The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away. Enjoy, all of you, the feast of faith: receive, all of you, the riches of loving-kindness. Let no one bewail his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one weep for his iniquities, for pardon has shone forth from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Saviour’s death has set us free!”
Come. Fast as you are able. Keep watch. Pray to Him who loves us and gave Himself for us. And, above all and in all, rejoice!