Holy Week 2017 (PDF)

29772822463_1a4cf56ac7_nAll of the 2017 posts related to Holy Week from Lazarus Saturday to Holy Saturday are now available to be read as one document at Holy Week 2017 (PDF).

You can find PDF links for all of the blogs I posted for each of the past 10 years for Great Lent, Holy Week and Pascha at  Fr. Ted’s PDFs.

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Holy Saturday (2017)

“The logic of the primitive Paschal Vigil is that a new age dawned with the appearance, death and resurrection of Christ. In preparation for the annual commemoration of that cosmic event, the liturgy revisited the pre-incarnational age through a rereading of key Old Testament passages that prefigure events of Christ’s incarnation.” (Paul Magdalino, The Old Testament in Byzantium, p. 71)

Holy Saturday is a day on which we contemplate the whole plan of God for our salvation from the beginning of creation.  The Old Testament is read as prophecy of the New with each narrative not only foreshadowing and prefiguring the events in Christ’s own life but also being a typology of our own spiritual sojourn in Christ and into His Kingdom.  There are 15 Old Testament lessons read during the Vespers-Liturgy which was originally part of the Paschal celebration.  The words, events and prophecies of the Old Testament find both their fulfillment and full meaning in Christ’s own life, death and resurrection.

“The Old Testament gave us an eschatological interpretation of the Exodus, showing it to us as a type of the Messianic age. The New Testament proclaims that this typology has been fulfilled in Christ, who achieved the New Exodus foretold by the Prophets, by freeing men from the power of the Devil. The Fathers of the Church, while they uphold these two interpretations, are chiefly concerned to show that the Exodus is the type of those major factors in the life of the Church day by day, that is, the Sacraments through which the power of God continues to achieve man’s redemption, typified by the Exodus, and accomplished by Jesus Christ. The Fathers first of all show that the passage of the Red Sea and the eating of the manna are the type of Baptism and the Eucharist received on the anniversary day of the departure from Egypt, and then go on to show how this interpretation widens to include all the events of the Exodus.

It is one of the most important themes of early typology that the crossing of the Red Sea is a type of Baptism, and this will be more easily understood when it is remembered that Baptism was administered during the night of Holy Saturday, in the framework, that is, of the Jewish feast which recalled the departure from Egypt. The parallel between the historical event of the departure from Egypt and the mystical rejection of sin by the passing through the baptismal font forces itself upon us. The Liturgical connection between the water of Baptism and the water of the Red Sea is not just fortuitous: we can only insist once more on what was said of the Flood; the significance of the baptismal water lies not in it being a rite of purification, but a rite of initiation. In any rite of initiation there is always a certain ritual imitation of the historical event. Such was the case with Jewish baptism, which in the Christian era took the place of circumcision as the initiatory rite of proselytes to the Jewish faith. G. Foot-Moore writes: “this baptism was neither a real nor merely a symbolic purification: it was essentially a rite of initiation.” And the purpose of this initiation was to bring the proselyte through the same stages that the people of Israel had passed through at the time of the Exodus from Egypt. Even Jewish baptism them was an imitation of the crossing of the Red Sea and the baptism of the desert (Ex. 14:30).

We have seen that the New Testament certainly sees in the departure from Egypt a type of Baptism. St. Paul tells the Jews that their fathers “were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea. And all in Moses were baptized in the cloud and the sea” (1 Cor. 10:2-11), and the Gospel of St. John shows us how the great events of the Exodus were types of the Christian sacraments.”   (Jean Danielou, S.J., From Shadows to Reality, pp. 175-176).

As in every liturgical celebration in the Church – both sacraments and Feast days – we enter into Christ’s life and experience the world in Christ. We understand the Old Testament in Christ. We live our spiritual lives whether fasting or feasting in Christ. We are saved by His faith, for He is God’s faithful servant, chosen to give life to the world.

Holy Friday (2017)

“Even though he was crucified in weakness, he lives through the power of God!” (2 Corinthians 13:4, EOB)

 

On many occasions in the Old Testament God appears to have human attributes, human emotions, human limits.  God takes the dust of the earth to fashion human beings and breathes into the dust of the earth to create life. God walks in the Garden of Eden. God is saddened by human evil and grieves over having created humans. And while we who have sophistication today realize God doesn’t have hands and feet and lungs nor eyes and ears, we also realize that all of these primitive anthropomorphic descriptions of the invisible, incomprehensible, and ineffable God, prepared us humans for the incarnation, when God in fact took on flesh and became human. Not just any human, but perfect human. He became what we are created to be.  And, as a human, our God takes upon Himself our mortal nature, dying on a cross for us.  Holy Friday is the day on which we contemplate God’s love for us.  God endures everything we have to endure in His creation, including suffering and death.  Divine Love knows no limits, descending not only to earth but into Hades itself to restore life to all.  With His death on the cross, God shows His love for us is complete, total and absolute.

It is finished!

Finally finished and finally completed.

Finished and completed: “Behold the man” (John 19:5), the true human being, the image of God, the one who loved us till the end, even if I do not know him and do not comprehend him.

Among the gods there is not like thee O Lord; neither are there any works like thy works (Ps. 86:8).

God’s ways are past our understanding, shattering every constraint that limits our feeble imagination.

Christ shows us his divinity, not in a superhuman–inhuman–manner, but as truly human, human in the end common to us all.

Put to death on the cross, he yet voluntarily laid down his life in love for us, showing us what it is to be God in the way that he dies as human, for us.

And so, for us mortals, he opens up the possibility to share in his life, to live the life of God himself.

If he had shown us what it is to be truly human in any other way, what part could I have had in it?

But by his death, his life lived for others, a path of sacrifice and service, in his love and compassion for us, he has shown us a more noble way still, beyond our self-aggrandizing aspirations and merely human projections. And this life has led, as it must to the grave; yet it is not bound by the tomb.”   (Fr John Behr, The Cross Stands while the World Turns: Homilies for the Cycles of the Year, pp. 66-67)

God became human in order to die for us on the cross, to descend to the place of the dead in order to destroy death.  What we truly commemorate and celebrate on Holy Friday is not only the death of the Son of God, but the death of death itself.  God overthrows the tyranny which Death claimed over humanity.  

Holy Thursday (2017)

“For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”  (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)

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On Holy Thursday, our Lord instituted the Eucharist, blessing the bread and wine, declaring them to be His Body and Blood and giving them to His disciples at the Mystical Supper.   As is normative in the Church, our commemoration of the Lord’s Last Supper with His disciples makes Christ present for us today.  We are with the disciples contemplating the Mystery which Christ places before us:  the bread and wine of the Passover transformed into His Body and Blood.   In a prayer from the Didache, a late First Century Christian document, we find the following prayer of the Eucharist:

“As this broken bread, once scattered over the mountains was gathered into one,

So gather Your Church together from the ends of the earth, in your Kingdom.

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Yes, to You be glory and power

Through Jesus Christ, for ever and ever.

We give you thanks, O holy Father,

For Your Holy name

That you have caused to dwell in our hearts,

For the gnosis, the faith, and the immortality,

That you have granted us through Jesus your servant,

Glory to you through the ages!

You it was, O all-powerful Master,

Who created the universe, to the praise of your Name:

You have given men food and drink

That they may enjoy them

And give you thanks.

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But You have favoured us

With a spiritual food and drink

And with eternal life through your servant.

We give you thanks above all

Because you are mighty!

Glory to you in the ages.

Remember, Lord, to deliver your Church

From all evil, and to perfect it in Your love.

Gather together from the four winds

The Church that You have sanctified

In the Kingdom that you have prepared for it.

For to You is the power and the glory

for all ages!

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May your grace come and the world pass away!

Hosannah to the God of David!

If anyone is holy, let him come:

If he is not, let him do penance,

Marana, tha!

Amen.”

(Louis Bouyer, The Spirit of the New Testament & the Fathers, pp. 178-179)

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Of Your Mystical Supper, O Son of God, accept me today as a communicant! Holy Week is not focused only on past historical events, it is focusing on our relationship today with Jesus Christ our Lord.  We live in Christ in the present, not in the past.

Holy Unction (2017)

“…there is no health in my bones because of my sin.”  (Psalm 38:3)

On Holy Wednesday evening in some Orthodox traditions, the service of holy unction is offered. Throughout Lent we were called to repent of our sins, to receive the healing forgiveness of Christ. On Holy Wednesday we experience that forgiveness and healing through the sacramental oil of unction.  Confession, Holy Communion and Unction are all Mysteries in which we received healing from Christ.  They are all means for us to experience the salvation which Jesus Christ, the incarnate God, made possible for all humanity.   All three Mysteries become available to us during Holy Week.

Here is one of the prayers the priests say at the service:

“For you are great and wonderful God: you keep your covenant and your mercy toward those who love you, granting forgiveness of sins through your holy Child, Jesus Christ, who grants us a new birth from sin, who gives light to the blind, who raises up those who are cast down, who loves the righteous and shows mercy to sinners, who leads us out of darkness and the shadow of death, saying to those in chains, ‘Go forth,’ and to those who sit in darkness, ‘Open your eyes.’

You made the light of the knowledge of his countenance to shine in our hearts when for our sake he revealed himself upon earth and dwelt among us. To those who accepted him, he gave the power to become children of God, granting us adoption through the washing of regeneration and removing us from the tyranny of the devil. For it did not please you that we should be cleansed by blood, but by holy oil, so you gave us the image of his cross, that we might become the flock of Christ, a royal priesthood, a holy nation; and you purified us with water and sanctified us with the Holy Spirit…

Let this oil, O Lord, become the oil of gladness, the oil of sanctification, a royal robe, an armor of might, the averting of every work of the devil, an unassailable seal, the joy of the heart, and eternal rejoicing. Grant that those who are anointed with this oil of regeneration may be fearsome to their adversaries, and that they may shine with the radiance of your saints, having neither stain nor defect, and that they may attain your everlasting rest and receive the prize of their high calling.” (Paul Meyendorf, The Anointing of the Sick, p. 82)

Throughout Holy Week we encounter our Lord, God and Savior Jesus, the Messiah, who comes seeking us, who heals us, who gives us His Body and Blood for our salvation.  Sin is another illness which affects our souls and bodies.  In unction we come like so many did in Christ’s own lifetime to be healed by Him of our physical and spiritual infirmities.

“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.”    (1 Peter 2:24)

 

 

Holy Wednesday (2017)

8508303611_afc7c30ae6_nThroughout Holy Week, the Scripture readings are also reminding us of the Passover story in the book of Exodus. That first Passover and Exodus serve as a prefiguring of Christ’s own life, death and resurrection. Those ancient events help us understand the events of Holy Week, and what transpires in Holy Week reveals the true meaning of the original Exodus and Passover.

In the Gospels, the Evangelists intentionally remind us of the Passover narrative – by remembering the events of the Exodus, we come to understand the Christian life as being revealed in the Old Testament.   Holy Week reminds us that as Christians we are sojourners on earth – in exile from our true home in Paradise – we should have a sense that there is something more to life than than which we experience daily.

“In the missionary account in Matt. 10, Jesus forbids his disciples to take several items: on their way they should not take gold, silver, copper, wallet (for bread), two shirts, sandals, or staff. Mark 6 allows the staff and sandals and says that the disciples should not take bread, wallet, copper, or two shirts. Luke 9 and 10 together disallow taking staff, wallet, bread, silver or purse. Now it is intriguing that most of the items in Matt. 10 and its parallels famously appear in the exodus from Egypt. Exodus 12 tells us that Moses commanded the Israelites to eat the Passover hurriedly, with sandals (12:11) on their feet and staff in hand, and that they went forth on their way (12:39) with bread, with silver (12:35), with gold (12:35) and with clothing (12:35-36). Deuteronomy 8:4 and 29:5, moreover, relate that the Israelites’ garments were indestructible, so that they only needed one pair of sandals and one set of clothes. Is it just coincidence that Jesus’ disciples are similarly in a hurry but still more so, and that they accordingly take even less than the fleeing Israelites? Maybe Matt. 10 and its parallels are drawing some sort of analogy or contrast. Certainly elsewhere the Synoptics draw analogies between the history of Jesus and the history of the exodus.” (Dale C. Allison Jr., Studies in Matthew, pp. 120-121)

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As we sing at Pascha, the new Passover of Christ takes us not from slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land, but from death to life and from earth to heaven. We are the new sojourners, God’s people sojourning toward God’s kingdom.  Fasting reminds us that this world, no matter how much we love it, is not our permanent home, nor our final destination.

Holy Tuesday (2017)

The events of Christ’s life some 2000 years ago are remembered in order to make Christ alive for us today. The events are history, but their importance lies not so much in being ancient history, but because they are alive in the Church today and help orient all believers to the coming Kingdom of God.   Our Gospel proclamation is: “Christ is risen!”  We don’t celebrate that He was risen but rather that He is risen and is alive right now, as of this moment.  His life means the power of death is overthrown. We remember the life of Christ to seek Christ, because Christ is alive now, and because He seeks us.

In the days of Holy Week we remember Christ coming again, as a Bridegroom seeking His beloved – seeking us! – inviting us into His Paschal Banquet.  Our orientation is toward the eschaton, and life in the world to come, far more so than toward past events.  The past has happened and can’t be changed, but the present and future are becoming reality, and in our interactions with God, we are shaping that reality.

“In a series of marvelous images, St. Makarios told us why Christ was born, lived on earth, suffered, died, was buried, and rose. Why? In order to stand and knock at the door of our heart (Rev. 3.20). The fact that he knocks is a sign the He does nothing without our consent: He cannot enter unless I want Him to. Christ seeks us out and knocks on our door, waiting patiently outside like a stranger seeking warmth and shelter. In so doing, He creates within us the sense and experience of His kenosis, His self-emptying (Phil 2.7).

Why does the God of the universe stand outside in the cold, day after day, knocking on our door? Because He can’t do without us. Just as a married woman can’t do without her husband, or a married man without his wife–because each partner is integral to the identity of the other–so too has Christ arranged things so that He can’t do without us. Without us, He is naked, hungry thirsty, and has no place to rest his head (Mt 8.20). He has made us His food and drink, His clothing and shelter: He has made our hearts His only place of repose. And when we open the door and welcome Him in, He fills us with His life and light. But make no mistake: without Him we are dead; a dark, empty place, designating only His absence.”  (Archimandrite Aimillianos of Simonopetra, The Way of the Spirit: Reflections on Life in God, p. 249)

Christ is our food – we eat His Body and drink His blood. We are today His hands and feet and eyes and ears in the world. We carry out His work and ministry. When we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless, visit the sick and imprisoned, we are doing this to and for Christ.  The practice of Lenten self-denial has the goal of freeing ourselves from enslavement to the self so that we can serve others.  Abstinence and asceticism have the goal of freeing us from enslavement to the self so that instead of being self oriented and engaging in constant self-love, we can become like Christ and live to love and serve others.

 

Holy Monday (2017)

The services of Holy Week evolved through the many centuries of the Church’s existence. In keeping Holy Week we are joining our Christian forefathers and mothers from as far back as the Third Century in honoring Jesus as Lord.

“A fast of six days before Easter was common by the mid-third century, and towards the end of the fourth century Great Week or Holy Week was beginning to be established in Jerusalem under the influence of its bishop, St. Cyril (Bishop of Jerusalem c. 348/50-386/7).

Under the inspiration of the Emperor Constantine and his mother St. Helen the area known as Golgotha or Calvary was greatly modified to allow the sites of the crucifixion and the burial to be integrated into one complex of buildings capable of accommodating large numbers of pilgrims. Here by the late fourth century the Good Friday liturgy included lengthy readings from the Gospel accounts of Christ’s Passion and death, and the veneration of the Cross of Christ, which had been discovered by St. Helen; the burial of Christ was then commemorated in the church of the Anastasis (Resurrection).

The pattern of Holy Week ceremonies that developed in Jerusalem gradually influence observances elsewhere in the Byzantine Empire and by the ninth century the more dramatic Jerusalem ceremonies replaced other rites in Constantinople. Also in the capital there was a great devotion to the Sacred Lance which had pierced the side of Christ; huge crowds were attracted to Hagia Sophia to venerate the lance and other relics of the Passion but by 1200 this popular devotion had declined, and no longer took place in Hagia Sophia.

Another significant development in Constantinople was the growth of intense devotion to the Passion of Christ in some of the smaller monasteries during the twelfth century. At this time there was an increasing interest in human psychology and emotion, and this led to reflection on the relationship between the Theotokos and Christ during the last stages of his earthly life. Much poetry was written on the subject, and some has found a place in the liturgical texts for Good Friday and Holy Saturday. This in turn had its influence on icon painting.”   (John Baggley, Festival Icons for the Christian Year, p. 102).

How services have been done for Holy Week have changed and evolved through the centuries.  We are not simply trying to imitate the past in keeping Holy Week, we are entering into Christ’s own life, death and resurrection. We do this also in baptism where we die with Christ and are resurrected with Him. Holy Week is another way we experience and reflect on our own baptism each year.  Below is one hymn from Holy Monday in which we see clearly how we are moving between considering the historic events of Christ’s crucifixion and how we live that crucifixion in our own lives today.

As the Lord was going to His voluntary passion, He said to the Apostles on the way: ‘Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man shall be delivered up, as it is written of Him.’  

Come, therefore, let us also go with Him, purified in mind.  Let us be crucified with Him and die through Him to the pleasures of this life.  Then we shall live with Him and hear Him say: ‘I go no more to the earthly Jerusalem to suffer, but to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.  I shall raise you up to the Jerusalem on high in the Kingdom of Heaven.”

The hymns often call us spiritually t0 live the events of the life of Christ in our own lives.  What happened liturgically over time is that the services got changed into re-enacting the life of Christ, rather than calling us to enact Christ’s life in our own lives.  As St. Paul put it, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

Some of the currently most popular Holy Week rituals are not the oldest practices, and many are relatively new in Orthodox history.  The Holy Week services are at heart simply the daily liturgical services (Vespers – evening worship and Matins – morning worship) modified with additions for the days of Holy Week.  But their original place and purpose in Holy Week has now been altered so that commonly  Matins (morning worship) is served in the evening and Vespers (sunset worship) is served in the morning.  The services of Holy Friday and Saturday have become increasingly dramatizations of the last days of Christ’s life.  Liturgy is always living and changes to meet the needs of the Church and its members.

Palm Sunday (2017)

The Epistle reading for Palm Sunday (Philippians 4:4-9) is not directly related to the events we commemorate on this day. It does however remind us to rejoice in the Lord, which is what the disciples did on this day 2000 years ago.  And despite the events we consider during Holy Week – Christ’s arrest, torture, crucifixion and death – the Epistle tells us to think about things that are good and beautiful.  The horrendous events of Christ’s death hide the salvation that is being won for us.   St. Mark the Ascetic reminds us of the importance of this New Testament passage:

“Take up the weapons of righteousness that are directly opposed to them: mindfulness of God, for this is the cause of all blessings; the light of spiritual knowledge, through which the soul awakens from its slumber and drives out of itself the darkness of ignorance; and true ardour, which makes the soul eager for salvation.

So, through the power of the Holy Spirit, with all prayer and entreaty, you will contend bravely against the three giants of the demonic Philistines. Through mindfulness of God, you will always reflect on ‘whatever is true, whatever is modest, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good report, whatever is holy and deserving of praise’ (Phil. 4:8); and in this way you will banish from yourself the pernicious evil of forgetfulness. Through the light of spiritual knowledge you will expel the destructive darkness of ignorance; and through your true ardour for all that is good you will drive out the godless laziness that enables evil to root itself in the soul. When by deep attentiveness and prayer you have acquired these virtues, not only through your own personal choice but also through the power of God and with the help of the Holy Spirit, you will be able to deliver yourself from the three powerful giants of the devil. For when real knowledge, mindfulness of God’s word and true ardour are firmly established in the soul through active grace and are carefully guarded, the combination of these three expels from the soul and obliterates every trace of forgetfulness, ignorance, and laziness and henceforth grace reigns within it, though Christ Jesus our Lord. May He be glorified through all the ages. Amen.” (The Philokalia: Vol. One, pp. 159-160)

If we rejoice in the Lord always, we never forget God. The sojourn through Holy Week calls us to remember the events of the last week of Christ’s earthly life. It reminds us to be with Christ, even in His suffering. It reminds us to rejoice always, even in moments of our own suffering or doubt. Holy Week is walking with Christ in His life, as well as having Him walk with us in ours.  Where is your heart and mind this week when your fellow Christians gathered to contemplate the sufferings of Christ?  We remember every year the events of Christ’s last week on earth because despite His suffering, Christ is obtaining for us eternal life.  We miss the beauty and truth if we stop reading the story too early or stop thinking about it.  When we know the full story then we know God’s plan for our salvation.

“… looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.”  (Hebrews 12:2-3)

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”   (Philippians 2:5-11)