An Explanation of the Holy and Great Week Services

Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,


Lazarus and his sisters, Martha and Mary, the friends of the Lord Jesus, had given Him hospitality and served Him many times (St. Luke 10:38-42; St. John 12:2-3). They were from Bethany, a village of Judea. The name Lazarus is a Hellenized form of "Eleazar", which means "God has helped." On arriving at Bethany, He consoled the sisters of Lazarus, who was already four days dead. Jesus groaned in spirit and was troubled at the death of His beloved friend."Where have ye laid his body?" and He wept over him. When He drew near to the tomb, He commanded that they remove the stone, and He lifted up His eyes, and giving thanks to God the Father, He cried out with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come forth." And he that had been dead four days came forth immediately, bound hand and foot with the grave clothes, and Jesus said to those standing there, "Loose him, and let him go." This is the supernatural wonder wrought by the Savior that we celebrate on this day.

According to an ancient tradition, it is said that Lazarus was thirty years old when the Lord raised him; then he lived another thirty years on Cyprus and there reposed in the Lord. It is furthermore related that after he was raised from the dead, he never laughed till the end of his life, but that once only, when he saw someone stealing a clay vessel, he smiled and said, "Clay stealing clay." His grave is situated in the city of Kition, having the inscription: "Lazarus the four-days dead and friend of Christ." In 890 A.D. his sacred relics were transferred to Constantinople by Emperor Leo the Wise, at which time undoubtedly the Emperor composed his stichera for Vespers, "Wishing to behold the tomb of Lazarus..."


On Sunday, five days before the Passover of the Law, the Lord came from Bethany to Jerusalem. Sending two of His disciples to bring Him a foal of an ass, He sat thereon and entered into the city. When the multitude there heard that Jesus was coming, they straightway took up the branches of palm trees in their hands, and went forth to meet Him. Others spread their garments on the ground, and yet others cut branches from the trees and strewed them in the way that Jesus was to pass; and all of them together, especially the children, went before and after Him, crying out: "Hosanna: Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord, the King of Israel" (St. John 12:13). This is the radiant and glorious festival of our Lord's Entry into Jerusalem that we celebrate on this day.

The branches of the palm trees symbolize Christ's victory over the devil and death. The word Hosanna means "Save, I pray," or "Save, now." The foal of an ass, and Jesus' sitting thereon, and the fact that this animal was untamed and considered unclean according to the Law, signified the former uncleanness and wildness of the nations, and their subjection thereafter to the holy Law of the Gospel.


Troparion. Plagal of Fourth Tone.

Behold, the Bridegroom (Christ) cometh in the middle of the night, and blessed is that servant whom He shall find watching; and again unworthy is he whom He shall find heedless. Beware, therefore, O my soul, lest thou be borne down with sleep, lest thou be given up to death, and be shut out from the Kingdom. But rather rouse thyself and cry; Holy, Holy, Holy art Thou, O our God; by the protection of the bodiless hosts, have mercy on us.


The Holy Passion of our Savior begins today, presenting Joseph the all-comely as a prefiguring of Christ. He was the eleventh son of Jacob, and his first son by Rachel; because he was so beloved of his father, his own brethren came to envy him and cast him into a pit. Later they sold him to foreigners for thirty pieces of silver, who later sold him again in Egypt. Because of his virtue, his master gave him much authority in governing his house; because he was fair of countenance, his master's wife sought to draw him in to sin with her; because of his chastity, he refused her, and through her slanders was cast into prison. Finally, he was led forth again with great glory and was honored as a king. He became lord over all Egypt and a provider of wheat for all the people. Through all this, he typifies in himself the betrayal, Passion, death, and glorification of our Lord Jesus Christ (see Genesis, chapters 37, 39-41).

To the commemoration of Patriarch Joseph is added also the narration concerning the fig tree, which on this day was cursed and subsequently dried up because of its unfruitfulness. It portrayed the Jewish synagogue, which had not produced the fruit demanded of it--that is, obedience to God and faith in Him--and which was stripped of all spiritual grace by means of the curse (St. Matthew 21:18-20).


Today we bring to mind the parable of the ten virgins, which our Savior related as He was coming to His Passion. This parable teaches us that the accomplishment of the great work of virginity should not make us careless in other matters, especially an almsgiving (philanthropy), wherewith the lamp of virginity is made radiant. Furthermore, it teaches us that we should not be remiss about the end of our life, but should prepare for it at every moment, like the wise virgins, so that we may meet the Bridegroom (Christ), lest he come suddenly and the doors of the heavenly bride chamber be shut, and we also, like the foolish virgins, hear that dread sentence: "Amen, I say unto you, I know you not" (St. Matthew 25:1-13).


Two women--say the more discerning interpreters of the Gospel--anointed the Lord with myrrh; the one, a long time before His Passion; the other, a few days before. One was a harlot and sinner; the other, chaste and virtuous. The Church commemorates this reverent act today. While mentioning herein the person of the harlot, it also mentions Judas' betrayal; for, according to the account in St. Matthew, both of these deeds took place two days before the Passover, on Wednesday.

That woman, then, anointed Jesus' head and feet with very precious myrrh, and wiped them with the tresses of her hair. The disciples, especially the avaricious Judas, were scandalized, supposedly because of the waste of the myrrh, which could be sold for a great price and given to the poor. The Lord Jesus reproved them and told them not to trouble the woman. Indignant, Judas went to the high priests, who were gathered in the court of Caiaphas and were already taking counsel against Jesus. On agreeing with them to betray his Teacher for thirty pieces of silver, Judas sought from that time opportunity to betray Him (St. Matthew 26:14-16). Because the betrayal took place on Wednesday, we have received the tradition from Apostolic times to fast on Wednesdays throughout the year.


On the evening of this day, which was the eve of the feast of unleavened bread (that is, the Passover), our Redeemer supped with His Twelve Disciples in the city. He blessed the bread and the wine, and gave us the Mystery (Sacrament) of the Divine Eucharist (Holy Communion). He washed the feet of the disciples as an example of humility. H said openly that one of them was about to betray Him, and He pointed out the betrayer by revealing that it was he "that dippeth his hand with Me in the dish." And after Judas has straightway gone forth, Jesus gave the disciples His final and sublime instructions, which are contained in the first Gospel Reading of the Holy Passion (St. John 13:31-18:1, known as the Gospel of the Testament). After this the God-man went forth to the Mount of Olives, and there He began to be sorrowful and in anguish. He went off alone, and bending the knees He prayed fervently. From His great anguish, His sweat became as it were great drops of blood falling to the ground. As soon as He had completed that anguished prayer, lo, Judas came with a multitude of soldiers and a great crowd; on greeting the Teacher guilefully with a kiss, he betrayed Him.

The Lord Jesus was then apprehended and taken prisoner to the high priest Annas and Caiaphas. The disciples were scattered, but Peter, who was more fervent than the others, followed Him even into the court of the high priest, but in the end denied thrice that he was His disciple.

Then our Divine Teacher was brought before the lawless Sanhedrin and was interrogated concerning His disciples and His teaching. The high priest adjured Him before God that He tell them whether He was truly the Christ. And having spoken the truth, He was judged guilty of death, supposedly as one who had blasphemed. Then they spat in His face, beat Him, smote Him with the palms of their hands, and mocked Him in every way, throughout the whole night until the morning.


When Friday dawned, Christ was sent bound from Caiaphas to Pontius Pilate, who was then Governor of Judea. Pilate interrogated Him in many ways, and once and again acknowledged that He was innocent, but to please the Jews, he later passed the sentence of death against Him. After scourging the Lord of all as though He were a runaway slave, he surrendered Him to be crucified.

Thus the Lord Jesus was handed over to the soldiers, was stripped of His garments, was clothed in a purple robe, was crowned with a wreath of thorns, had a reed placed in His hand as though it were a scepter, was bowed before in mockery, was spat upon, and was buffeted in the face and on the head. Then they again clothed Him in His own garments and bearing the cross, He came to Golgotha, a place of condemnation, and there, about the third hour, He was crucified between two thieves. Although both blasphemed Him at the first, the thief at His right hand repented, and said: "Remember me, O Lord, when Thou comest in Thy Kingdom," to which our Savior answered, "Today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise." As He hung upon the Cross, He was blasphemed by those who were passing by, was mocked by the high priests, and by the soldiers was given vinegar to drink mixed with gall. About the ninth hour, He cried out with a loud voice, saying, "It is finished." And the Lamb of God "Which taketh away the sin of the world" (St. John 1:29) expired on the day when the moon was full, and at the hour when, according to the Law, was slain the Passover lamb, which was established as a type of Him in the time of Moses.

Even lifeless creation mourned the death of the Master, and it trembled and was altered out of fear. Yet, even though the Maker of creation was already dead, they pierced Him in His immaculate side, and forthwith came there out Blood and Water. Finally, at about the setting of the sun, Joseph of Arimathea came with Nicodemus (both of them had been secret disciples of Jesus), and they took down the All-Holy Body of the Teacher from the Cross and anointed it with aromatic spices, and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth. When they had buried Him in a new tomb, they rolled a great stone over its entrance.

Such are the dread and saving sufferings of our Lord Jesus Christ commemorated today, and in remembrance of them, we have received the Apostolic commandment that a fast be observed every Friday throughout the year.


On Saturday, the high priests and Pharisees gathered before the Pilate and asked him to have Jesus' tomb sealed until the third day; because, as those enemies of God said, "We suspect that His disciples will come and steal His buried body by night, and then proclaim to the people that His Resurrection is true, as that deceiver Himself foretold while He was yet alive; and then the last deception shall be worse than the first." After they had said these things to Pilate and received his permission, they went and sealed the tomb, and assigned a watch for security, that is, guards from among the soldiers under the supervision of the high priests (St. Matthew 27:62-66). While commemorating the entombment of the Holy Body of our Lord today, we also celebrate His dread descent with His soul, whereby He destroyed the gates and bars of Hades, and made His Light to shine where only darkness had reigned (St. John 38:17; Isaiah 49:9; I Peter 3:18-20); death was put to death, Hades was stripped of all its captives, our first parents and all the righteous who died from the beginning of time rant to Him Whom they had awaited, and the holy Angelic Orders glorified God for the restoration of our fallen race.

(Source: The Great Horologion)



With sincere agape in Christ our Savior,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George