Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Great and Holy Week: What does it all mean?

This is the week before Pascha (Easter) when we walk in the footsteps of our Saviour Christ to His voluntary death and glorious Resurrection.

Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday introduce us to Holy Week and Christ’s journey to the Cross.
Lazarus, a friend of Jesus, had been dead for four days when Jesus went to his tomb and called him out alive. Jesus, the Resurrection and the Life, shows His authority over life and death. This wonderful miracle brought many to faith, but caused the chief priests to decide to kill Jesus.

Palm Sunday celebrates Jesus’ triumphal, yet humble, entry into Jerusalem.

After the Liturgy we carry blessed palm-fronds and candles in procession showing our willingness and joy to welcome Christ and to follow Him to the Cross.

Sunday, Monday and Tuesday evenings we serve the Bridegroom Matins.

The icon of Christ the Bridegroom is in the centre of the church. Christ, the Bridegroom of the Church, bears the marks of humility and suffering while preparing a marriage feast for us in God’s Kingdom. We are exhorted to be always ready for “the Bridegroom comes at midnight”. We must not only hear God’s word, but also obey it and produce in ourselves fruits worthy of repentance. “Thy Bridal Chamber I see adorned, O my Saviour, but I have no wedding garment that I may enter. O Giver of Light, enlighten the vesture of my soul, and save me”.

In the Sacrament of the Holy Oil, on Wednesday evening, prepared for by confession and reconciliation to God, we are anointed to be healed both physically and spiritually. (As a Sacrament of the Church it is only available to those who belong to the Orthodox Church.)

Holy Thursday is when Jesus celebrated the Last Supper with His disciples and it is at this Liturgy that the Lamb is consecrated which will be used throughout the year to Communicate those too ill to come to church.

“ Of Thy Mystical Supper, O Son of God, accept me today as a communicant, for I will not speak of Thy Mystery to Thine enemies, neither like Judas will I give Thee a kiss, but like the thief will I confess Thee: Remember me, O Lord, in Thy Kingdom.”

Holy Friday begins, as do all liturgical days, the evening before. So, on Thursday evening we begin the day of mourning, fasting and prayer, for on this day our Lord and Saviour went to the Cross and died for us. The Twelve Gospel readings relate the events of Jesus’ Holy Passion and Death and His last instructions to His disciples. After the Fifth Gospel, the Crucifix is adorned with a wreath of flowers and carried in procession to the centre of the church. This symbolises Christ’s journey to Golgotha to offer Himself willingly as the sacrifice for the sins of the world ... mine and yours.

How can we go home to the television or trivial things when our Lord is crucified in our midst? Let us keep quiet and be prayerful, inside the church, outside the church and at home. The following morning we come to church, some to pray the Royal Hours and some to quietly and prayerfully prepare Christ’s tomb. Those who prepare the Tomb/Bier are not chatting and arranging flowers but rather offering a fitting worship to the dead body of the Lord Himself, which is, so soon, to be laid therein. Everyone is welcome to perform this loving task to honour Christ’s Body.
If we are able, we keep a total fast, so that we may hunger and cry out with Christ: “I thirst”.
In the afternoon service the Body of Christ is taken down from the Cross, wrapped in fine white linen and placed on the altar table. A cloth icon or shroud depicting Christ’s Sacred Body, called the Epitaphios, is carried in funeral procession, placed in the decorated bier and the Lamentations are sung, with both sorrow and joy. “In a tomb they laid Thee, O Christ, the Life. The angelic hosts were overcome with awe, and glorified Thy condescension.”

Straightaway, on Saturday morning, we begin to anticipate the descent into hell and the Resurrection. We sing “Arise, O God, and judge the earth, for to Thee belong all nations”. Rose petals and bay leaves are scattered throughout the church in joyful exaltation. At midnight we receive the “Light of Christ”.
“Come, receive ye light from the Unwaning Light, and glorify Christ, Who is arisen from the dead.”

In procession we sing:

“Thy Resurrection, O Christ our Saviour, the angels in heaven sing.
Enable us on earth to glorify Thee in purity of heart.”

In the afternoon we celebrate the Agape Vespers, when we embrace and forgive each other, sharing with others Christ’s gift of new life.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!