Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ. ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
Holy and Great Week in our Orthodox Christian Church
Saturday of Lazarus
This is the Saturday before Palm Sunday. The Church celebrates the resurrection of the friend of Christ, Lazarus, which is recorded in the Holy Gospel. Orthodox Christians throughout the world begin observing the most solemn of Days leading up to the celebration of Pascha, Resurrection of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ on May 5th. Lazarus Saturday, Palm Sunday and Holy Week. These nine days are specifically set aside--consecrated--by the Church to commemorate the final and decisive events in the Lord's earthly life. Traditionally, during this time, Christians make an effort to "lay aside all earthly cares," in order to devote themselves to contemplating the central Mysteries of the Orthodox Christian Faith: the Cross, the Tomb and the Resurrection of Christ. So significant is this period that some have stressed that during Holy and Great Week "time seems to stand still or earthly life ceases for the Christian believers, as they go up with the Lord Christ to Jerusalem". May we all look upon the days ahead as sacred and salvific, dedicated to our God and Savior Jesus Christ.
In the Old days the Christian children would go door to door singing special songs for the resurrection of Lazarus. This tradition comes from the Gospel saying: "While Jesus was entering in to Jerusalem the Jewish children were singing "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest" (St. Matthew 21:9). Also, this act fulfilled the prophecy of Prophets Isaiah who said: "He will be recognized by the mouth of babes and children."
In humility, Jesus shows He has not come to reestablish the earthly kingdom of David. Jesus says to Pilate, "My Kingdom is not of this world" (St. John 18:36). He does not ride a chariot but upon a donkey, an animal of peace. This is no mere earthly king, but the King of Glory Who has come to reveal the Kingdom of God. Thus the Church sees the Son of God entering not the earthly Jerusalem only, but more importantly the Celestial Jerusalem, to establish His reign and His kingdom (St. Mark 11:10; St. Luke 19:38). He is taking the New Jerusalem to Himself as a pure bride, and the children celebrate His entrance as if it were a marriage (v. 15).
Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday
These two days form a double feast, anticipating the great joy of the Resurrection. At the grave of His friend Lazarus, Our Lord Jesus Christ encounters "the last enemy," death (1 Corinthians 15:26). By raising Lazarus, our Lord foreshadows His own decisive victory over death, and the universal resurrection granted to all who believe in Him. "Martha said to Him, 'I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.' Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life, He who believes in Me, though he may die he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?" She said to Him, 'Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, Who is to come into the world" (St. John 24-27).
This Entrance has a great importance for our salvation. He will be giving us the way to be united with Him, Mystical Supper. He will be betrayed. He will be put in prison. He will be judged in vain. He will suffer. He will be crucified and die to free us and save us from our sins. On this occasion our Lord allows the people to greet Him as a Ruler, the only time during His earthly Ministry when this occurs. Christ is indeed the King of Israel, but He comes to reveal and open to mankind His Heavenly Kingdom. We hold branches of palms and pussy willows of our own on Palm Sunday, greeting Christ as the Lord and Master of our lives.
At the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy the officiating priest or bishop blesses the palms. The palms represent the triumph of Christ over death and evil. It is a sign of acceptance of the Savior in our hearts and in our lives. Orthodox Christians take these blessed palm crosses and place them on their family sanctuary and over their holy icons.
Fish and wine is permitted this day.
Great and Holy Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday
Having just experienced a foretaste of Pascha we now enter the darkness of Holy and Great Week. The first three day stress the End Times, the Judgment, and the continual need for vigilance and repentance. They point out the fact that when mankind condemned its Creator, it condemned itself, "Now is the judgment of this world" (St. John 12:31). They remind us that the world's rejection of Christ reflects our own rejection of Him, inasmuch as we sin and accept the worldview of those who shouted, "Away with Him, crucify Him!" Central to the holy services for these days are the Gospel lessons, and the hymns which comment on these lessons. Among the chief hymns are the Exapostilarion, "Thy Bridal Chamber, I see adorned...", and the following troparion chanted during Orthros [matins] as the church is being censed: "Behold! The Bridegroom comes at midnight, and blessed is the servant whom He shall find watching: and again, unworthy is the servant whom He shall find heedless. Beware, therefore, O my soul, do not be weighed down with sleep, lest you be given up to death, and lest you be shut out of the Kingdom. But rouse yourself, crying, 'Holy! Holy! Holy! Art Thou, O our God. Through the Theotokos, have mercy on us!'"
On Holy and Great Tuesday the famous Hymn of nun Cassiani is chanted. It is a Christian poem of repentance:
Hymn of Kassiani-4th Plagal Tone
The woman who had fallen into many sins recognized Thy Godhead, O Lord. She takes upon herself the duty of a myrrh-bearer and makes ready the myrrh of mourning, before Thy entombment. Woe to me! saith she, for my night is an ecstasy of excess, gloomy and moon-less, and full of sinful desire. Receive the sources of my tears, O Thou Who dost gather into clouds the water of the sea; in Thine ineffable condescension, deign to bend down Thyself to me and to the lamentations of my heart, O Thou Who didst spread out the Heavens. I will fervently embrace Thy sacred feet, and wipe them again with the tresses of the hair of my head, Thy feet at whose sound Eve hid herself for fear when she heard Thee walking in Paradise in the cool of the day. O my Savior and soul-Saver Who can trace out the multitude of my sins, and the abysses of Thy Judgment? Do not disregard me Thy servant, O Thou Whose mercy is boundless.
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God