From the St. Nicholas monthly bulletin…
On the Christian Life
Why it is So Important to Attend Holy Week Services
Some of us have had the good fortune to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, to be where our Lord Himself lived, walked and preached. For those of us who have been there, the Gospel becomes more real and more meaningful. However, each year, we all have the opportunity to go on an spiritual pilgrimage to the Holy Land. We often say that Lent is a journey, and so it is. It is like the travel through various lands before we reach the Holy Land. On Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week, we have finally arrived and we enter into Jerusalem with our Lord. And for the next few days, in the services of Holy Week, we experience the Gospel account of our Lord’s passion, death and Resurrection.
As these are the holiest days of the year, we set aside our personal cares and go to be with our Lord Jesus Christ. Without the Holy Week services, we miss out on the meaning of Pascha. Let us summarize these events and services:
Palm Sunday: Our Lord enters Jerusalem
During the Vigil on Saturday night we bless palm branches and read the Gospel of how the people who were gathering in Jerusalem preparing to celebrate the Passover greeted Him as Messiah (Savior) with palm branches and cries of Hosanna (Save us now!). During the Liturgy on Sunday hear more about these events.
First four days of Holy Week: Our Lord teaches the people in the Temple
At Matins (served the night before) we greet the our Lord as the Bridegroom Who comes in the middle of the night, and the Gospel readings recount His teaching and the struggle with the Pharisees.
Holy Thursday Morning: The Institution of the Sacrament (Communion)
We celebrate the Mystical Supper at the Vesperal Divine Liturgy, during this which we set aside the Reserved Sacrament for the Communion of the Sick during the course of the year. This is the most important Divine Liturgy of the year, the prototype of all other Divine Liturgies.
Holy Thursday Evening: Our Lord's Passion
During the Matins for Good Friday, which we serve the night before (Thursday), we read the Twelve Passion Gospels. We accompany our Lord step by step in the events of this fateful night and day when our Lord was betrayed, arrested, interrogated, tortured, condemned to death, crucified, and buried. No Orthodox Christian should miss this service. Everyone has an obligation to attend.
Good Friday Afternoon: The Burial of our Lord
During this Vespers service we put the image of our Lord (Plaschanitsa) in the Tomb, and read the Gospel of His Burial. We then venerate His Life-Bearing Tomb.
Good Friday Evening: The Lamentations of the Tomb
The Matins for Holy Saturday, which we serve the previous night (Friday) is the funeral of our Lord. We make a procession around the church with the Bier of our Lord (Plaschanitsa), and when we re-enter the church we pass under His Tomb signifying that by His Death we are given life.
Holy Saturday Morning: The first Paschal service
This is the Vesperal Divine Liturgy of Holy Saturday, served before the Tomb of our Lord with 15 Old Testament readings relating to the death and Resurrection of our Lord. During this service, between the reading of the Epistle and the Gospel, we turn the hangings and vestments from dark (black) to white in anticipation of the Resurrection.
Holy Saturday Night: The Resurrection of Christ
The Paschal Vigil begins at midnight by celebrating the moment of the Resurrection with a procession around the church, followed by Paschal Matins and the Paschal Divine Liturgy in the middle of the night. This is the most triumphant and special and beautiful service of the whole year.
It is unfortunate that while the service on Pascha night is fairly well attended (at least at the beginning), the other, very beautiful services are negelected. Every Orthodox Christian should, without fail, attend at least these services: The Twelve Passion Gospels on Holy Thursday evening, the Vespers of the Plaschanitsa on Good Friday afternoon, and the Midnight Service on Pascha Night (Saturday night going into Sunday).
These are for us the High Holy Days, our Passover (How is this night different from other nights? – Let us not forget that Pascha is the Hebrew word, Passover). This is the very thing that makes us Christian. As one who has been to the Holy Land, I can attest to the fact that the Holy Week services bring me back to that experience. It is as though I am in Jerusalem – there with our Lord. And this experience is available to all of us who while present attend to the words and content of those services. When we miss these very meaningful services of Holy Week, we lose much spiritual benefit.
We should not deprive our children either. I remember when I was a child the solemnity of the Twelve Gospels Service, the earnest expectation before the moment of Resurrection, and the joy of the Midnight Service on Pascha night, followed by breaking the fast together as a family in the wee hours of the night.∎
Fr George Lardas, Rector
St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, Stratford, CT