One of the things I like about being an Orthodox Christian, is how we live through the Gospel.
It's true all the time, but at this time of year it is especially obvious. While we do search the Holy Scriptures and seek to be obedient to all it's precepts, what I mean when I say live through the Gopsel, is that we allow the Gospel of Jesus to affect our time. Better than any well-crafted VBS program that might have children "take a walk through the Bible, and re-live the gospel stories", the Orthodox Church does just that, on a grander scale and in a very set form: the liturgical calendar. And at no time is this more obvious than during Holy Week.
This Saturday is Lazarus Saturday. The day Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, caused an uproar thereby and got the pharisees really plotting his death. It's sort of the precursor to what happens next in Holy Week. We gather as a community to hear the story, to see the icon of this event, and to worship our risen Lord. I love Lazarus Saturday because it foreshadowing. One week hence, and the Living One will be lying in a tomb. The Author of Life will be harrowing the place of the dead. And on Lazarus Saturday he gives death a little foretaste of his Authority and Power. Tee hee.
Then on Sunday, it's Palm Sunday. Open your gospels and notice how this event follows the Lazarus event. Jesus comes riding into Jerusalem on the foal of an ass, fulfilling the ancient prophecies, and the children are discerning: Blessed is He that comes in the Name of the Lord. Hosanna to the Son of David.
And so begins Holy Week, in which we walk through the events of Christ's Passion, Christ's Pascha...just as the Jews of Old walked through the Passover event, which foreshadowed Christ. In Christ is fulfilled all things, he is our Passover Lamb, our Pascha (which is merely the Greek word for Passover).
One Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday are Bridegroom services. The bridegroom in the parable of the Ten Virgins in Christ himself, and he tells us to be prepared. We sing "Behold the Bridegroom comes at midnight..." and we watch the events unfold.
On Wednesday the services commemorate is betrayal by Judas. (This is why Wednesday is always a normal fasting day for Orthodox Christians). Also, this is the night for foot washing and holy unction for the sick in soul and body.
On Thursday, as he prepares for the Passion, we find Christ in Gethsemane, and there is a really long special service on Thursday evening of Holy Week in which all the Gospel passages are read that surround the events of holy week, leading up and including the death of Christ. There are twelve readings in all, three selections taken from each Gospel, and this is a very long service.
On Friday, an icon of Christ called the corpus is nailed to an icon of the cross (usually close to life size), while prayers are said to remind us that it is OUR sins which put him on that tree.
And on Friday evening the corpus is brought down, and an icon of Christ's body called the Epitaphios is brought out, and processed around the Church. The first time I ever was a part of this service, years ago, was a very very powerful spiritual experience for me. Experientially, it was as if time collapsed and I really was there, witnessing these events. And I wept and wept and wept. That's the whole point of all of this. We all wear black, and bawl our eyes out and it's like a funeral. I'm not one to equate emotions with spiritual reality, but on Holy Friday, all the sadness is there, and it IS spiritual.
During the night, as the icon of Christ's body is laid in the front of the Church the entire Psalter is read. People take turns.
On Holy Saturday, we gather once again for Liturgy in the morning, and on this day we sing many songs remembering Christ's burial, and his harrowing of hades, and his promise to rise from the dead. There is hope. For in harrowing hell, he harrows my hell, and in trampling death, he tramples my death.
Then, Pascha! The resurrection! We gather at 11 pm on Saturday night. Anticipation! Matins is sung, the ancient psalms of the hours are sung (the same ones used in the pre-Christian Church of Israel) and then, at midnight, the glorious resurrection! The Church is transformed from darkness to light. The vestments are white, where they had been black. The Icon that greets us on the icon stand is the Icon of Christ's resurrection from the dead, pulling Adam and Eve out of their graves. And we pray and we sing and the priest goes crazy with the incense and there are charismatic shouts of "Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!" in as many languages as can be mustered. The resurrection Gospel is read in as many languages as can be mustered, too. The Church goes on for hours this way, and Christ is Risen, and He is our hope and our joy and our salvation!
Then we gather as a community to break the long lenten fast.
Around sunrise we all go home and try to get some sleep. Later that Sunday, we come together again for Paschal vespers. Oh, what joy!
So, that's what I'll be doing this weekend and next week. It's impossible to describe the beauty of it all, the exhaustion too. This week is the joy of my life. It's our revival week.
Please pray that God gives me the strength once again for this journey.