Forefeasts and Afterfeasts

There is a lot to say about forefeasts and afterfeasts, (as well as the specifics of leave-taking/apodosis), too much to address in one post. I’ll give a quick introduction to the concept now, and I’m sure the topic will come up again throughout the year. So here’s the quick overview, plus some interesting things I want to share with you about the way this works with Theophany.

First of all, what is a forefeast/afterfeast?

The Twelve Great Feasts are important events in the liturgical year. Unlike most other feasts and saints days, which are celebrated only on one day, they each have a period of preparation, in which the liturgical services contain hymns for the coming feast, and certain elements of the services are different than on a “normal” day. There is generally a tropar sung specifically for the forefeast as well. The period of the feast also extends beyond the day itself. The classic length of an afterfeast is eight days, with the leave-taking occurring on the eighth day. As I type this, I realize how many exceptions there are to this rule, to the point where I am not sure that a majority of feasts actually have eight days, for various reasons (if another feast occurs shortly thereafter, or if it’s during a fast, or… well, let’s look at each feast as it comes up! If I start to talk about it now, I’ll never get anywhere).

So we’ve established that each Great Feast has a forefeast and afterfeast. For mosts feasts, the forefeast is celebrated the day before the feast. For both Nativity and Theophany, it is several days long, and hymns preparing for the feast are sung at each service. During the afterfeast, special festal hymns are sung as well. Usually some of them are from the actual service of the feast (the canon, for example, sometimes stikhery from Lord I have cried, the Troparion and Kontakion, naturally, the Exapostilarion), while some of them are specific to the day (sometimes Lord I have cried, almost always the Aposticha, both at Vespers and Matins) and are found in the Menaion, together with the service for the saint of the day. Usually in a parish, these services are not served unless they fall on a Sunday, in which case the serve incorporates elements of the resurrectional service, and isn’t quite the same.

Differences between regular weekday services and a forefeast/afterfeast

Regular weekday services use material from the liturgical book, the Octoechos. This book contains liturgical text in the 8 Tones (sets of melodies in which church hymns are sung) It is comprised of materials for each day of the week, with a separate section for each Tone. Every week has a tone (the cycle begins after Pascha and Bright Week each year, and repeats throughout the year)

Many people are familiar with the material for Sundays which is sung or read in the tone of the week (Troparion, Kontakion, Stichery, Canon, etc). These texts are combined with services from the Menaion, which contains the services to the saints, and both are inserted into the fixed parts of the various services (such as Vespers and Matins) found in the Horologion.

Normal weekday services work on a similar principle (though there are many differences–I will post about this sometime). However, during a forefeast or afterfeast, the Octoechos is used only on a Sunday, when it is combined with the festal hymns printed in the menaion. On other days of a forefeast or afterfeast, we do not use the Octoechos, but only pre-festal or festal texts and those to the saint. Usually, the some of the material for Lord I have cried, all of the Kathisma Hymns following Kathismas, two of the canons (or one, if two saints), and all of the aposticha, would be taken from the Octoechos. But here, all of that material is replaced with festal texts found in the menaion. A couple of specific differences:

  • During both forefeasts and afterfeasts,  the litany for the departed, usually served at Liturgy on weekdays, is not served. On a similar note, at a simple weekday Liturgy, (look out for a post on different ranks of services–if a saint has a higher “rank” of commemoration, the service isn’t considered a “simple” service), “With the saints give rest”, the Kontakion for the departed, is sung (after Glory to the Father, during the singing of troparia and kontakia before the Epistle), and it is not sung during a forefeast or afterfeast.
  • “It Is Truly Meet” is not sung, at Matins, where it is sung on normal weekdays at the end of the Canon. During the afterfeast, “It is Truly Meet” is not sung at Liturgy either, but is replaced with a specific hymn to the Theotokos for the feast (in Russian, this is called a Zadostoinik, that is, a hymn in place of “It Is Truly Meet”). This hymn comes from the 9th ode of the canon for the feast.

The effect of these differences is to make the services more festal, in honor of the approaching or current feast. Of course, having more festal hymns in the service helps to accomplish this, but also differences such as the omission of “It is Truly Meet” at Matins or of “With the saints give rest” at Liturgy resemble the rubrics for services with higher festal rank.

Nativity and Theophany afterfeasts

Certain feasts, such as Nativity and Theophany, have a special commemoration the day afterward, called a Sobor or Synaxis, commemorating a major participant in the feast. The day after Nativity is the Synaxis of the Mother of God (who gave birth to Christ), and the day after Theophany is the Synaxis of St. John the Baptist (who baptized Him). These feasts repeat large parts of the festal services, while containing special hymns for the person honored.

The services of other saints during the afterfeast are less closely connected to the feast, though I wanted to share with you something about the service to St Theodosius the Great, the founder of cenobitic monasticism, whose day of commemoration was today. This is a special service within the afterfeast of Theophany, as the service is polielei ranked. He lived near the Jordan river, and so has a certain connection to the feast of Theophany, when  Christ was baptized in the Jordan. As a founder of monastic life, he can also be compared to St. John the Baptist, whose life often considered to be a foreshadowing of monasticism, as a desert dweller, and liver of the angelic life. The service to St. Theodosius is one of my favorites. The hymns to him found in the Menaion constantly reference the Jordan, and Christ being baptized, and relate these events to St. Theodosius’ life. I do not believe this material is accessible in English online (if you can read Slavonic, you can find it here). The service is found in the Menaion for January 11, if you have access to a Menaion. Perhaps at some point I will translate it, and if I have time, I’ll try to translate a few hymns from Slavonic and post them, because this really a wonderful feast, and brilliant example of the connections between feasts which are often found in our hymnography.

I had more things to say, but I think I’ve written enough for the moment. Does this make sense to you? Do you find discussion of different ranks and types of service confusing? If there is interest, I hope to write about the different ranks of service in more detail. Many parishes do not have the opportunity to celebrate these services often, but having at least a general knowledge of the concepts involved can deeply enrich our understanding of the liturgical year.

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2 Responses to Forefeasts and Afterfeasts

  1. Louis Busta says:

    Thank you for posting this, Liza. I just wanted to comment that I am interested in the different ranks of services, and look forward to those posts. While it’s unfortunate that in the Greek tradition we do not sing the canons nor the polyeleos during Matins (in the parishes; I know the Greek monasteries in the United States do sing them), I am interested in knowing more about when you sing multiple canons, when a certain saint’s feast involves a polyeleos, etc. I know there are certain differences between Slavic and Greek typikons, but nevertheless I look forward to any information you can provide.

    • typicaliza says:

      Hi Louis, thanks for commenting. I will definitely be posting about ranks of services soon–it’s really important background for a lot of things I want to talk about. I would have to agree with you that that is unfortunate… I plan to write about the different ranks of services, and I’ve already been asked by someone else for a post about how the canon works at Matins, so it’s on the list. There are some differences between the Slavic and Greek Typikons, but not everything you see at a Greek church in the US is necessarily a result of that. I do know that when I visited the Greek monastery in Goldendale, I could follow the service fairly easily, even though it was in Greek, because of the structure, although there were few small differences, I think. I know the Slavic Typikon better, of course. 🙂

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