Thursday, March 26, 2015

Holy Week: Day by Day

Many of us have been attending Holy Week services since we were very young, and while we continue the blessed Tradition of attending Church services during the “holiest week of the year” many of us are unaware of the meaning of each day, and why the Church has called us to gather (sometimes) in the darkness of night to pray what seem like long and tedious prayers. To help us this year, I have attempted to summarize the “themes” for each day of Holy Week. It is my prayer that this will assist each of us to experience the fullness of the Resurrection of Our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ. You can read more about Holy Week in a wonderful resource, “Great Week and Pascha in the Greek Orthodox Church” byFr Alkiviadis Calivas.

The Saturday of Lazarus and Palm Sunday is a two-day festival commemorating the raising of Lazarus from the dead Christ’s Triumphal entrance into Jerusalem. “By causing the final eruption of the unrelenting hostility of His enemies, who had been plotting to kill Him, these two events precipitate Christ’s death. At the very same time, however, these same events emphasize His divine authority.”

Holy Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday feature stories from events in the final days in the earthly life of Jesus Christ prior to His Passion. The Service of the Bridegroom, which is celebrated each evening beginning with Palm Sunday evening, focuses our attention by remaining vigilant on the coming of the Lord’s Judgment at His Second Coming. It should be remembered the earliest Christians believed Christ would return in THEIR immediate lifetime. Themes such as conflict, judgment, authority, mourning, and repentance are meant to draw our hearts to long for Christ and prepare for His return.

The Mystery (or Sacrament) of Holy Unction is celebrated on Holy Wednesday evening almost like a bridge between the preparatory themes of early Holy Week and the Coming Passion of Christ. The Mystery of Holy Unction, founded upon the actions of Christ, “serves to remind the faithful of Chris’s power to forgive and liberate the conscience from the blight of personal and collective sin.”

Holy Thursday focuses on the events in the Upper Room and the Garden of Gethsemane. Within the context of “The Mystical Supper” we witness the institution of the Eucharist by Christ with the words, “Take, eat; this is My Body...Drink of it all of you; for this is My Blood of the New Covenant.” This is the final Liturgy before the Crucifixion, and includes the consecration of the “reserve communion” which is used throughout the year for hospital calls etc. While praying in the Garden, Jesus is betrayed by Judas with a kiss. On this day, light and darkness, joy and sorrow, life and death, are strangely mixed converging in one moment in the Church, reminding us of the inevitable struggle of life.

Holy Friday the Church remembers the mystery of Christ’s death on the Cross. The moving service known as “The Twelve Gospels” focuses upon the passion of Christ in which we, “commemorate the holy, saving and awesome sufferings of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ: the spitting, the striking, the scourging, the cursing, the mockery, the crown of thorns, the purple cloak, the rod, the sponge, the vinegar and gall, the nails, the spear.”

Holy Saturday contemplates the mystery of the Lord’s descent into Hades, where death is finally defeated by Life. Standing around the Tomb of Christ, we sing hymns of joyous lamentations as we behold Life in the Tomb. “The day embodies the fullest possible sense of the meaning of joyful-sadness, which has dominated the entire week. Holy Saturday is a day of strictest fast.

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