The Passia (from Latin, “suffering”) is the most recent Orthodox liturgical service to have developed. A seventeenth-century work of Metropolitan Peter (Mogila) of Kiev (+1647), it was originally common in the south of Russia and in Ukraine. Now observed throughout the Russian Orthodox Church, it is also served in a number of parishes of the Australian-New Zealand Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, including ours.
The Passia is served four times each year in the early weeks of Great Lent. As the name implies, the service commemorates the suffering of our Lord Jesus Christ. At each service a different account of the suffering of Christ is read: the twenty-sixth and twenty-seventh chapters of Matthew; the fourteenth and fifteenth chapters of Mark; the twenty-second and twenty-third chapters of Luke; and the eighteenth and nineteenth chapters of John. In this way a focus on the Passion of Christ is maintained throughout the Great Fast.
The reading of the Holy Gospel customarily takes place in the centre of the church before a large Crucifix. The faithful stand with lighted candles and many follow the readings in their own copies of the Holy Gospel. In addition to the reading, elements of the services for Great and Holy Friday and Great and Holy Saturday are chanted. For many, the Passia is an integral part of Great Lenten observance.
The Passia is usually served in conjunction with Vespers on Sundays of Great Lent. There are three common variations:
- The form set out in the service book «Великопостная Воскресная Вечерня и Пассия» (“Great Lenten Sunday Vespers and Passia”), published by Archpriest Nicholas Veiglais in Hersbruck, Germany, in 1946. This form appoints the singing of the sticheron “Joseph with Nicodemus took Thee down from the Tree” (from the Aposticha at Vespers of Great and Holy Friday) following the Prayer of Saint Ephraim the Syrian at Vespers on the Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth Sundays of Great Lent. The sticheron is followed by the Akathist to the Divine Passion of Christ, one of four prokimenons, the appointed reading from the Holy Gospel, a prayer, and the dismissal. As the faithful venerate the Holy Gospel and the Crucifix the sticheron “Come and let us bless Joseph of everlasting memory” (from the end of Matins of Great and Holy Saturday) is sung;
- An abbreviation of this form in which the akathist, prokimenons and prayer are omitted. This is the form understood to have been observed amongst the Russian Orthodox faithful in Harbin, China, and which is now commonly served in the Sydney parishes of the Australian-New Zealand Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. In this form it is served in some parishes on the First, Second, Third, and Fourth Sundays of Great Lent; and
- An augmented version, now common in Russia, in which “Joseph with Nicodemus took Thee down from the Tree” is sung at the Aposticha of Sunday evening Vespers and is immediately followed by the akathist, one of four prokimenons, and the reading from the Holy Gospel. “Come and let us bless Joseph of everlasting memory” is then sung, after which a sermon is given and the faithful are anointed with oil. A litany of intercession is then intoned and the stichera of the Veneration of the Cross are sung before Vespers resumes with the Prayer of Saint Symeon the God-Receiver, “Now lettest Thou Thy servant depart”.
On 28 March 2018 the Inter-Council Presence of the Russian Orthodox Church released a draft document in Russian entitled "The Passia as an element of contemporary Orthodox worship", seeking comments on the draft. A copy is available on the official website of the Moscow Patriarchate here. Forming an attachment to the draft is another document setting out variations in the order of service. It includes the variation described at point 3 above, together with a variation served at Great Compline on Friday evening and another on Sunday evening that omits the readings from the Holy Gospel.
In our parish the practice has been to serve the Passia on the first four Sundays of Great Lent, reserving the evening of the fifth Sunday for the General Service of Anointing with Oil. From 2005 until 2017 the services were conducted in the abbreviated form described at point 2 above. In 2018 we began to follow the complete order of service set out in Archpriest Nicholas Veiglais' book and so included the prokimenons, the Akathist to the Divine Passion of Christ, and the prayer.