March is the seventh month of the liturgical year in the Byzantine Rite. This article covers the most important liturgical aspects of the month of March. See the online menaion and the Lectionary for the hymns and readings of each day.

March: a month of fasting, a month of feasting

The high point of the liturgical year, Pascha, the feast of the Resurrection of the Lord, falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox (March 20 or 21), and the preparatory Sundays for the Great Fast begin eight weeks earlier. As a result, the month of March may be very different from one year to the next, depending on the date of Pascha:

During the Great Fast, the Divine Liturgy is only celebrated on Saturdays and Sundays, and Pascha and Bright Week have their own services. So the Byzantine calendar assigns very few major feasts to the months of March. The saint(s) of the day are commemorated at Vespers, Compline, and Matins, but in general, we hear very little about the saints of March, with two principal exceptions.

The Forty Holy Martyrs of Sebaste

On March 9, we commemorate a group of forty Roman soldiers, all Christians, who were martyred in the year 320. You can read their story here. They were famous for their endurance of suffering, and because they are said to have merited crowns in heaven, then are mentioned in the prayers of the wedding service at which crowns are placed on the bride and groom.

This feast provides the pattern for the celebration of a polyeleos feast during the Great Fast. Vespers is celebrated on the eve of the feast (with the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, if it is Wednesday or Friday evening). On the day of the feast, Matins is celebrated, but there is no Divine Liturgy, in accordance with Canon (rule) 32 of the Council in Trullo, held in Constantinople in 692 AD:

During Great Lent, except on Saturdays, Sundays, and the holy day of Annunciation, only the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts may be celebrated.

Accordingly, if March 8 falls on a Monday through Friday, the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is celebrated for the feast of the Forty Holy Martyrs in the evening. If it falls on a Saturday or Sunday, the Divine Liturgy is celebrated, with the inclusion of the hymns for the Forty Martyrs.

The Feast of the Annunciation

On March 25, exactly ninth months before Christmas, we celebrate the feast of the Annunciation of the Theotokos. This feast celebrates the Incarnation of the Son of God, when the archangel Gabriel appeared to a young virgin in the town of Nazareth, and she agreed to become "she who gives birth to God" (Theotokos). Since ancient times, this has been one of the great feasts of the Byzantine liturgical year, and as noted above, on this one day during the Great Fast, the sacrifice of the Divine Liturgy is always celebrated.

The hymns of this feast are rich in theology, but the order of the feast itself depends on the day of the week:

The exact rules are complicated, and the Annual Typikon should always be consulted. Here we will focus on the celebration of the Divine Liturgy on the day of the feast.

If March 25 falls a Lenten weekday, the Divine Liturgy will begin with Vespers, as provided in our Divine Liturgies book beginning on page 104 (where it is called a "Vigil Divine Liturgy"). After Psalm 103 and the Litany of Peace, we sing the Lamp-lighting Psalms with their stichera:

The Divine Liturgy continues with the Trisagion ("Holy God") of the Divine Liturgy, and the ordinary course of the Divine Liturgy is followed. The prokeimenon, Alleluia, Irmos, Magnification, and Communion Hymn (DL 330-332) are sung.

If March 25 falls on a Lenten Saturday, then the stichera on pages 325-328 are sung at the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts on Friday evening, and the Divine Liturgy is celebrated on Saturday morning using the hymns on pages 328-332. Since this is counted as a feast of the Mother of God, there are no proper antiphons, but there is a special Entrance Hymn:

Entrance hymn for the Annunciation

In general, the remaining hymns (troparion, kontakion, prokeimenon, Alleluia, and Communion Hymn) are combined with those of the particular Saturday. The Magnification and Irmos replace the usual hymn to the Theotokos, "It is truly proper."

If March 25 falls on a Lenten Sunday, then the stichera on pages 325-328 are sung at Vespers on Saturday evening, and the Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great is celebrated on Sunday morning using the hymns on pages 328-332, together with those of the particular Sunday. The Magnification and Irmos are sung in place of "In you, O Woman Full of Grace."

If March 25 falls on the days from Palm Sunday through Bright Week, there are additional considerations; see the Annual Typikon!

The major hymns of the Divine Liturgy for the feast of the Annunication on March 25 can be found on pages 325-332:

But in any given year you will never use all of these at the same Divine Liturgy, since on weekdays the Enarxis with the troparion and kontakion are replaced with Vespers, while on Saturday and Sunday the Vespers hymns are not part of the Divine Liturgy.

The magnification for this feast has a special text and melody:

Magnification of the Entrance

We saw this melody in November (on the feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple) and will encounter it again in August (on the feast of her Dormition).

Remember, this is one of the great feasts of the church year, important enough that the normal rules for the Great Fast are suspended. This is the Church's way of saying: Wisdom! Be attentive!

Recommended Reading