Celebrating Great and Holy Week
How the Church Helps Us Prepare
The Church helps to prepare us for the celebration of Holy Week by offering us the healing ministry of the Great Fast. This journey, that began with the commemoration of Adam and Eve being cast out of Paradise, has now brought us to the impetus of Great and Holy Week. Our time of preparation - Great and Holy Lent - is now complete. We endeavor on the course of Holy Week and Christ’s victory over death and the reopening of the Gates of Paradise through His Glorious Resurrection!
The prayers and hymns of the Church also play an important role in our preparation. As we look towards the celebration of the Saturday of Lazarus we can read the Biblical account in John 11:1-45. We may also incorporate the following prayer from the Pre-Sanctified Liturgy of the fifth week of Lent, that speaks to our own spiritual state, as we seek to prepare ourselves to be true vessels of the Light of Christ.
This first prayer references the example of the Rich Man and Lazarus (not the same Lazarus who is raised from the dead) as found in Luke 16:19-31. It refers to the neglected state of our own soul and seeks to provides us with words of repentance as we seek God’s Heavenly Mercy.
Rich am I in passions and clothed in the deceptive robe of hypocrisy, feasting in the evils of self-indulgence. I display immense lack of compassion, for I have neglected my spiritual mind, which lies at the gate of repentance, famished of anything good, and sick with inattention. But now I pray You, Lord, make me like Lazarus, to be poor in sins, lest I be denied when I pray that a finger cool my burning tongue, in unquenchable fire; and make me dwell in the bosom of Abraham, in Your love for humanity.
The following three prayers refer directly to the events leading up to the resurrection of Lazarus as celebrated this Saturday:
Jesus, across the Jordan you went; * as man You stayed there; * then you said to Your followers, * "Our friend Lazarus has fallen * asleep, in fact he has died, * and he has been buried and laid in a tomb. * My friends, I am glad for you, * for through this you will surely learn * that I have not ceased * being God knowing everything, * although visibly I appear to be just a man. * So let us go and bring him back * to life, so that in this way * death might experience fully * its own defeat and might clearly feel * the total destruction * which I shall effect, while granting great mercy to the world.”
Faithful, come let us imitate * Martha and Mary, * and dispatch as our messengers * to Christ godly deeds and actions, * so that He come now to us * and resurrect our minds, which * grievously lie dead, * inert as if in a tomb * of neglect and of carelessness, * wholly unfeeling, * with no sense of the fear of God, * and not having in them the life- giving energy. * Let us cry out to Him and say, * "Compassionate Lord, behold, * and as You once resurrected * of old Your friend, righteous Lazarus, * by Your awesome power, * so now vivify us, granting great mercy to us all.”
Lazarus has now been in the tomb for two days. He sees the dead from the beginning of time. He gazes at strange and frightening sights, at a countless multitude being held prisoner in the bonds of Hades. Therefore do his sisters lament bitterly, as they look at his tomb. But Christ is coming to bring His friend back to life, so that with one voice everyone might say: "Blessed are You, O Savior! Have mercy on us."
How We Can Assist In The Church’s Preparation
We are all invited to assist in the Church’s preparation for Pascha by prayerful participating in the services of the Church and volunteering our time by assisting some of the necessary tasks of the Church. For instance:
1. We can pray.
2. We can plan to stay after the Divine Liturgy on the Saturday of Lazarus and help weave Palm Crosses for Sunday’s Celebration. If you are not sure how to create a Palm Cross, no worries, fellow parishioners will be happy to show you how to weave the palms!
3. We can assist in the adorning of the Kouvouklion with beautiful fresh flowers on Great and Holy Friday Morning/Afternoon beginning at the conclusion of the Service of the Royal Hours.
4. We can volunteer to assist in setting up of the Luminaria on Great and Holy Friday Evening. If you are willing to help in this important task simply call the Church Office at 203-795-1347 and sign up.
5. We can ask members of the Parish Council if they need any assistance throughout the week and volunteer to help in any way possible.
6. We can plan on prayerfully attending as many of the services together with our family as possible. Holy Week Service Books are available for purchase to be able to assist us in praying the services.
The following pages include an explanation of each of days of Great and Holy Week including scriptural references; festal hymns of the day; and an explanation of the themes of each service. Links for each day can be found in the navigation pane on the left. It is my prayer that these brief explanations help to make Holy Week come alive in our hearts as we prepare to receive our resurrected Lord on Pascha.
The English translation of the Hymns have been taken from the book entitled: "The Service for Holy Week and Easter" which is available through Narthex Press (P.O. Box 280758, Northridge, CA 91328-0758). This book, as well as the book written by my beloved professor and friend, Rev. Alkiviadis Calivas entitled, "Great Week and Pascha in the Greek Orthodox Church," (Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 50 Goddard Avenue, Brookline, MA) are indispensable resources for all Orthodox Christians.
Father Peter Orfanakos