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.
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. Let 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.
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.
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.
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