I’m not going to rant elaborately about St Mary of Egypt, because I did it twice in 2005 and again in 2009 (on my now defunct blog). Let it suffice that it was, if anything, a somewhat worse experience than I remembered/expected but I was glad I went. It’s mostly the Great Canon that irks me; I can listen to the story as folklore and shake my head about it. I completely intended to zone out and let it come over me, as Choirmistress does, but actively trying to zone out turned out to have the opposite effect.
But we had another bit of folklore! The Akathist. The Greeks have one quarter of it on each of the first four Fridays of Lent and the whole of it on the fifth Friday, we have only the whole thing on the fifth Friday interspersed with the Canon of the Mother of God. In fact it’s a canon sandwich (the way that bread-jam-bread is a jam sandwich, not a bread sandwich):
First quarter of Akathist
First part of Canon
Second quarter of Akathist
Middle part of Canon
Third quarter of Akathist
Last part of Canon
Last quarter of Akathist
all of this as an include in Little Compline, because we Orthodox can’t do anything without a proper beginning and end.
It’s always joyful and ever so slightly chaotic, because it really is a folk service, practically the only time that we don’t mind people in the congregation singing along from their own book. There was a little discussion in the choir about whether it was liturgically Friday or Saturday– I argued Saturday because Compline is after Vespers (and anyway we’d dressed the church in white already), and was proved right by the fact that there wasn’t a prayer of St Ephrem the Syrian in the service.
The choir was all women (SSSA; the mezzo tried A at the beginning but it sounded better the other way) but this time we didn’t make much of an effort to sing like angels. We were having too much fun for that.