Holy Week and Holy Pascha

    Let us take time away from our lives to find true life in this Holy Week and the coming of Pascha.  The morning services shift to the night while the night services shift to the morning, showing us how this week is unlike any other week.  Time is suspended.  We enter into a different experience of time.  Let us wave the palms of victory and shout, "Hosanna!" as we anticipate the universal resurrection signified in the resurrection of Lazarus from the dead.  Let us ready and prepare ourselves, having our lamps filled with oil as the Bridegroom (Christ) comes at midnight.  Let us not be weary or fall asleep in sin.  Let us become more earnest in keeping the fast as it quickens us to the spiritual world.


Let us participate in the last Pre-Sanctified Liturgies which nourish our souls and bodies with the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.  Let us come to Holy Wednesday and receive holy unction.  The Apostle James says to us, "Is any sick among you?  Let him call for the elders (bishops) of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.  And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he has committed sins, they shall be forgiven him."  (James 5:14-15)  In the holy unction service, the priest prays for all the many ways mankind has been afflicted, bodily, mentally, emotionally, relationally and spiritually.  Readings from the Old Testament, seven readings from the Gospels and seven other New Testament readings, mainly from St. James and St. Paul are read.  Seven supplicatory prayers are offered to God for healing and forgiveness of sins while candles are lit and stuck in a bowl of flour that will be used to make the prosfora loaf, used in the Holy Pascha service.  Demonic powers are broken, forgiveness of sins is sought and the oil (unction) is anointed on the forehead and hands of the faithful.   The faithful are asked to pray and fast before receiving holy unction from lunch onward if it is an evening service.  Originally, the service consisted of seven priests, but more often than not the service is done by as many priests as as a parish has.

Holy Thursday is met with a liturgy in the morning or sometime in the day.  At this service  a portion of the body of Christ is reserved and put in the tabernacle for next year that will be used in emergency situations.  This liturgy also commemorates the Last Supper that Christ had with his disciples. Since Christ was betrayed by Judas with a kiss, it is not customary on the day to greet each other with the kiss of peace.  The Twelve Gospel readings that usually occur in the evening of Holy Thursday.  
On Holy Friday we take Christ down from the cross, we wrap Him in a burial shroud and place him in a tomb.  The girls of the church become the myrrh bearing women as it is said, who were the brave ones to ask for Jesus' body and to give him a respectful burial. Rose petals are sprinkled around the tomb as we sing the lamentations which are some of the most beautiful hymns of the church.  We process around the church with the tomb of Christ.  As we pass under the tomb, we are reminded of the original Passover and how God's people were saved from death by the blood and the hyssop.


Let us prepare enter into to this holy time. . .

 This is the time, we could slip backwards and lose our patience with our loved ones.  Let us pace ourselves and rest so as to fully engage in the extra services without sinning.  What profits us to attend the services if we do not maintain love to our family and those around us.  Let us avoid only doing the external preparations (St. Martha) that often rob us of time from the internal preparation (St. Mary).  Let us tarry with him as least one hour in prayer as he suffers in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Let us share in his death, burial and resurrection as we reflect on our own sacraments of Holy Baptism and Chrismation.  Let us be like the humiliated and desperate thief who asked to be remembered in his kingdom and met Christ in Paradise.  Let us be like the myrrh bearing women whose love and devotion to Christ overshadowed their fear of the Roman soldiers.  Bier of Holy Friday with Fr. David HovikLet us hear the toll of the victory bells of Christ's plundering of Hades.  If only the enemy had understood what Christ's death would mean to us.  The Hymnography of Holy Saturday is clear:


Today Hades lets out a groan: "Would that I had not received the son of Mary: for when He came upon me He dissolved my power; He shattered the gates of bronze; the souls I had held captive, as God He raised up." Glory, Lord, to Your Cross and Your Resurrection.

Today Hades lets out a groan: "My might is swallowed up: the shepherd was crucified but raised up Adam.

All I ruled over I have lost; all I was able in my power to consume, I have disgorged. The crucified One has emptied the graves. The sway of death is no more." Glory, Lord, to Your Cross and Your Resurrection.

We the sing, Arise, O God, and be judge of the earth, for You shall inherit all nations, as the Priest throws bay leaves (symbolic the of victory crown) and chants Psalms 81/82.  At the Paschal Rush Service, we run to the tomb to see that the risen Lord Jesus Christ.  Let us go a proclaim to those around us that the Lord is risen and greet each other with the kiss of peace.  We gather in the darkness, but we are not alone.  His light shines and we are called to partake of this holy light.  We process around the church, which represents the empty tomb of Christ.  The priests read the Holy Gospel and petitions are said.  The priest knocks on the door loudly and a voice responds that the King of Glory is not here, but He is risen from the dead.  Words cannot describe the sensation that happens which I hear this and think of what it must have been like for the women who saw the angel and realized what had happened.  That the Lord had risen, as He had said he would.  The run to tell the apostles.  We run too.  We run to see Him risen from the dead.  Just as the disciples, we too are hopeful and understand what this means and how His resurrection would forever let it change our lives. . . if we let it.


Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed!

As we continue the 40 day celebration of Pascha let us be vigilant to guard the joy that has entered our hearts.  Let us not lose what we have gained in Lent, nor spoil the treasure with gluttonous "celebration."  But let us continue to worship the risen Christ as much as we worshipped the Christ who was crucified for us.  Let our mourning be turned to joy.  While we are standing this holy season and singing, "Christ is risen. . ." let us bow our hearts out of reverence and seek to understand the impact his resurrection has on our life.


Pascha Links

Pascha Homily of St. John Chrysostom

History The Origins of Pascha and Great Week - by Rev. Alkiviadis Calivas

Music from Holy Week and Holy Pascha -St. Andrew Choir, Arlington, WA

Paschal Canon of St. John of Damascus - the canon we sing on Pascha with commentary.  It is great to read and reflect before we sing in the service Saturday night.

The Angel Cried - St. Andrew Choir, Arlington, WA






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