Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ,
Great and Holy Week is practically here. It is a unique opportunity for every Orthodox Christian family to strengthen and renew its spiritual commitment to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. There is no better time to experience and share the suffering, pain, sacrifice on the Cross, the entombment, and the glorious Resurrection of the God-man, Christ.
Every holy day of Holy Week is a personal encounter with the Divine. Our sights are on our Savior and His final days on earth. Great and Holy Week is the revelation of God's great and unconditional love for all of mankind. Its theme is one, the fulfillment of man's salvation through the Supreme Sacrifice of the Son of God, Jesus Christ.
No Orthodox Christian family should be absent from the divine services of Great and Holy Week. During this most sacred time, the Orthodox Christian, the Orthodox Christian family, transcends time and place, and stands before the Suffering Servant, Christ. We join the Most Holy Mother of God, the Holy Apostles and other disciples of our Lord as witnesses of His extreme humility.
We cannot consider ourselves as Christians, let alone Orthodox Christians, and not make our pilgrimage to the holy city of Jerusalem where these last events in the life of Christ unfold.
The parish children should not be deprived of this most significant spiritual embeiria (experience). All of our children need to believe in Christ, to understand Who He is, what He has done for us, what He has accomplished for mankind, what He offers to those who believe in Him. They need to know His Divine Commandments and how to implement them in their lives. They need to know of His infinite love for each, and every one of us. They need to know that He is their greatest Friend, their greatest Counselor, their greatest Teacher, their True God, their only Savior. They need to know that He is always with them no matter where they are. They need to turn to Him for guidance, for support, for courage, for inspiration, for edification, for comfort, for answers to their problems, for hope, for peace, for direction, inspiration, and to combat evil that surrounds us. Our Lord Jesus Christ is Our Greatest Hero Who fought the battle against evil and death and triumphed; bestowing upon all eternal life.
You, the Christian parents, make all kinds of sacrifices to please your children with sports and entertainment, don't you think that Great and Holy Week is important enough in the spiritual life of your children? Sports and entertainment will not save the souls of your children. They will not offer the Kingdom of Heaven. They will not protect them from evil. They will not give purpose to their lives. They will not bring fulfillment in their lives. They will not bring forgiveness and healing. They will not give them everlasting joy. They will not provide them with inner peace or hope. They will not grant them the resurrection and eternal life.
The first day of Great and Holy Week begins with Great Vespers of Saturday evening leading to the celebration of the services of Our Lord's Entry into Jerusalem the next morning, Sunday. In Western Christianity this day is usually called Palm Sunday. As Christ makes His triumphal entry into the holy city of Jerusalem, His Divine Kingdom on Earth is proclaimed under the branches of the palm tree.
The first three days of Great and Holy Week remind us of Christ's last instructions with His Disciples. These teachings are remembered in the celebration of the Great Compline, Matins, Hours, and Divine Liturgy during these days. The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts celebrated these days includes reading from the book of Exodus, Job, and St. Matthew.
The Matins (Orthros) services of the evening of Palm Sunday, Great and Holy Monday, and Great and Holy Tuesday, anticipating the events of the next day, share a common theme. These Bridegroom Services are derived from the Parable of the Ten Virgins, which calls for preparedness at the Second Coming, for the "thief comes in the middle of the night" (St. Matthew 26:1-13).
Great and Holy Wednesday
Within the past two centuries, Byzantine practice has developed to include the Mystery (Sacrament) of Holy Unction (Efchelaion), which is celebrated on Great and Holy Wednesday, commemorating Christ's anointing with myrrh. The service ends with the priest anointing the faithful with holy oil.
Great and Holy Thursday
This day begins with the celebration of Vespers and the Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil, in representation of the earthly presence of Christ realized at the Mystical (Last) Supper. In the evening, anticipating the Orthros (Matins) of Great and Holy Friday morning, the Holy Passion service of the reading of the Twelve Gospels is conducted.
Great and Holy Friday
This begins with reading of the Royal Hours leading up to Vespers of Great and Holy Friday afternoon, at which time the removal of the Body of Christ from the Cross (Apokathelosis) is commemorated. The priest removes the Body of Christ, the Epitaphios, from the Cross, wraps it in a white cloth and carries it into the holy Altar. In the evening service, called the Lamentations at the Tomb (Epitaphios Threnos), the priest carries the Epitaphios, the painted or embroidered cloth representation of Christ, from the Altar around the church before placing it in the Sepulchre, a bier (kouvouklion) symbolizing the Tomb of Christ. This procession, with the Orthodox Christian faithful carrying lighted candles, represents Christ's descent into Hades.
Great and Holy Saturday
Great and Holy Saturday Vespers and the Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great are served, marked with readings of Psalms and Resurrection hymns that tell of Christ's descent into Hades, celebrated as the "First Resurrection" or (Gk. Proti Anastasis) of Adam and the conquering of Death. It is appointed by the typikon to be celebrated in the afternoon, though it is served in the morning in many places.
THE ALL-HOLY PASCHA
Pascha, the Feast of Feasts, celebrations begins just before midnight with the singing of the Odes of Lamentations as the Resurrection Vespers begins with the church in complete darkness. As midnight approaches the priest taking a light from a vigil light within the altar passes the flame to the Orthodox Christian faithful for their candles while singing "Come ye and receive light from the Unwaning Light, and, glorify Christ, Who arose from the dead." Then the priest leads the faithful out of the church in procession. After circling the church either one or three times, as the procession nears the entrance door of the church, the priest reads the Gospel of the Resurrection and immediately begins singing the hymn of the Resurrection. "Christ is Risen from the dead, by death trampling upon Death, and has bestowed life upon those in the tombs." At this point the priest and faithful enter the well-lighted church for the remaining part of Vespers and the breaking of the fast with the Divine Liturgy.
PASCHA SUNDAY AFTERNOON
The Agape Vespers is conducted and the Gospel of the Resurrection is read in different languages. Following the celebration of the Resurrection of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Orthodox Christians greet one another with the words: "Christ is Risen! and responding with, "Truly He is Risen! The following Week is called the Bright Week or Diakainisimos Evthomas.
With agape in Christ,