The word paramoni is not on the tip of the tongue of every Orthodox. If someone hears the word, he or she certainly files it away under “liturgical trivia”. Paramoni designates the day of preparation before a big feast; usually it is translated by the equally obscure forefeast.
And yet, in this simple word, we see the entire theology of our Feasts! The image (similar to the Latin equivalent vigil) is one of watching and waiting. We are on guard throughout the day, staying steadfast, watching out for the intrusion of the enemy. For the great Feasts of Pascha, Christmas and Theophany the Paramoni is a day of strict fast. In the early Church(where fasting was taken much more seriously than in our day because they understood the larger meaning) a day of strict fast meant not eating anything at all. A watchman is too busy guarding the city to eat! And then, the fast was broken in the evening by the celebration of the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil and receiving HolyCommunion, the food of the Kingdom.
The Paramoni reminds us that we are not constantly celebrating, like the world begins celebrating Christmas the day after Hallowe’en. Our celebrations have a heavenly rhythm, anticipation and fulfillment. We are enticed by glimpses of the celebration; some weeks before we begin hearing the special hymn called the kontakion during the Small Entrance. If you attend Orthros, you may hear special hymns called Katavasiai some weeks before as well. As we get closer to the feast, the hymns become more insistent. On the day of the Paramoni we are almost celebrating. But there is still the sense of not yet. Not until the beautiful hymns of the Vespers of the Feast is our watching and endurance and labor rewarded with the fulfilment, with the celebration.
This rhythm of anticipation and fulfilment which we experience in the celebration of our feasts is a mirror of our present life. In the mystery of the Church we experience a foretaste of the Kingdom. In the Divine Liturgy we join in an icon of the heavenly Liturgy. In Holy Communion we have an anticipation of the eternal Banquet. We live a life of anticipation, and therefore a life of watching, of enduring, of keeping an eye on the walls of our lives so that the enemy cannot make an incursion and destroy our city before it reaches its final fulfilment. Our lives are a constant paramoni in preparation for that final and eternal celebration of the Kingdom of God.
St. Peter reminds us of the importance of the paramoni of our lives (1 Peter 5:8-9):
Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resis him, steadfast in your faith…