March 24, 2010 + Great Lent and Holy Week (Part 2)
by Maureen Massiwer Gurghigian
from The Word, March 1993
In the Orthodox Church, the last week of Christ’s life is officially called Passion Week. Each day is designated as “great and holy”. There are special services each day which are fulfilled in all churches. The services for Great and Holy Monday are celebrated on Palm Sunday evening; the Orthodox Church begins her day at sunset. Similarly, the remaining services of the week are sung “in anticipation on the eve of the day.
Each day of Holy Week has its own particular theme. The theme of Monday is that of the sterile fig tree which yields no fruit and is condemned. Tuesday the accent is on the vigilance of the wise virgins who, unlike their foolish sisters, were ready when the Lord came to them. Wednesday the focus is on the fallen woman who repents. Great emphasis is made in the liturgical services to compare the woman, a sinful harlot who has sinned — to Judas — a chosen apostle who is lost. The one gives her wealth to Christ and kisses His feet; the other betrays Christ for money with a kiss.
On Wednesday evening in Holy Week, the Matins (morning) service for Great and Holy Thursday is sung, commemorating the Last Supper and Christ’s washing of the disciples’ feet, Prior to that, the Sacrament of Holy Unction (Healing Oil) is ministered to the faithful in recognition of the “evening of repentance and confession.”
On Good Friday is celebrated the holy, saving, and awful Passion of Jesus Christ. Also celebrated is the confession and salvation of the penitent thief who was crucified with Christ. Participation in the prayers and historical development of events, as related in the Twelve Gospel passages read that night, provide the faithful with a vivid foundation for the great events yet to come. The procession with the Crucifix takes place around the Church after the fifth Gospel.
The Royal Hours are read Friday morning, followed by the Un-nailing Services in the afternoon to commemorate the Burial of Jesus. On Friday evening, the Lamentation service, consisting of Psalms, Hymns and readings, celebrates the entombment of the Divine Body of Christ; and also His descent into Hades, by which our race was recalled from corruption, and permitted to pass over into everlasting life.
On Easter Sunday (Saturday midnight) the life-giving Resurrection of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ is celebrated. The people leave the Church in procession, and come to stand in front of the closed doors of the Church. At this point the Resurrection is announced with the gospel reading about the empty tomb (Mark 16, 1-8) which refers to the Angel’s statement: ‘‘He is risen; He is not here.’’
The people, breathless with anticipation, wait for the priest to begin the hymn of the Resurrection ‘‘Christ is Risen from the dead; trampling down Death by His death; and bestowing life upon those in the tombs.” From this moment the entire service takes on a joyous atmosphere. At the end of the Liturgy the festive sermon of St. John Chrysostom is read, calling upon the people to: ‘‘Take part in this fair and radiant festival. Let no one be fearful of death,” he continues, “for the death of the Savior has set us free.”
In most parishes, the glorious and joyful Resurrection Liturgy is followed by a breakfast celebration and fellowship: a breaking of the Fast.
On Sunday afternoon, the Vespers of Love are celebrated. All sing the hymn ‘‘Christ is Risen From the Dead.’’ The people greet one another joyously, saying "Christ is Risen," a Paschal (Easter) salutation, to which the response is “Truly He is Risen.” The Gospel according to John, proclaiming the Good News of the Resurrection. is read in many languages. The week following Pascha is known as “Bright Week’’ during which all the doors in the Church remain open to signify the empty tomb and the whole week is one of rejoicing, feasting and Christian joy.
Synaxis of the Archangel Gabriel - March 26
Supreme Leader of the heavenly Hosts, we implore thee that by thy prayers thou wilt encircle us unworthy as we are, with the protection of the wings of thine immaterial glory, and guard us who fall down before thee and fervently cry: Deliver us from dangers, for thou art the commander of the Powers above.
Kontakion of the Archangel Gabriel, Tone 2
Supreme Leader of God's armies and minister of the divine glory, prince of the Bodiless Angels and guide of men, ask what is good for us and great mercy, as Supreme Leader of the Bodiless Hosts.