April 8 – 16, 2017
The Orthodox Holy Week and Pascha services set before us a rich feast of Christian experience that no seeker of God should miss. This article is to speak briefly of them to give our guests an idea what to expect. Many people ask me how long these services last, so I have given the time as well as I remember. Orthodox are not very conscious of time in the Church services; if you think you can’t stay for the entire service, just come for what you can.
LAZARUS SATURDAY, April 8, 9:00 a.m. – This is the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom such as we have on most Sundays, celebrating the raising of Lazarus (John 11). It lasts about an hour and 45 minutes. This is considered the beginning of Holy Week, since His love for His friend Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha was the immediate reason that Our Lord returned to Judea (John 11:8). This service is served in bright vestments as the raising of Lazarus is a precursor of Our Lord’s own Resurrection and ours.
PALM SUNDAY, April 9, 9:30 a.m. – Procession with palms outdoors around the Church and Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. This is a festive service recalling Our Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. After a meal we return to the Temple for the first Bridegroom Matins service, so that our out-of town members can attend it.
BRIDEGROOM MATINS is so called from the haunting theme song which begins:
Behold, the Bridegroom comes at midnight. And happy is that servant whom he shall find watching, But behold, unworthy is that servant whom he shall find heedless… (cf Matt. 25:1 ff, Luke 12:35 ff)
Our Lord is the Bridegroom whom His beloved bride, His people, were not ready to receive. At these services we read the scathing prophesies addressed these three days to the leaders of Israel (Matthew 21:18 – 23:39). Will we be ready when He comes? Each Bridegroom service lasts about an hour.
HOLY MONDAY and TUESDAY, April 10 – 11, 6 p.m. – Bridegroom Matins (see above).
HOLY WEDNESDAY EVENING, April 12, 6 p.m. – we bless olive oil and members are anointed with it for healing. Our Lord’s death and Resurrection are for our healing and salvation: “By His stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). This service lasts about an hour, and will be followed by Bridegroom Matins.
HOLY THURSDAY, April 13, noon – we serve the Vesperal Liturgy of St. Basil celebrating the Mystical Supper at which Our Lord washed His disciples’ feet and instituted the Eucharist.
HOLY THURSDAY, April 13, 6 p.m. – Matins of Holy Friday. During it we read twelve Gospel readings of Our Lord’s crucifixion, interspersed with some of the most beautiful hymns of the whole year. In the middle of this service a large Cross is placed in the center of the Church for veneration. This service lasts over two hours.
HOLY FRIDAY, April 14, 3 p.m. – Vespers. The Epitaphios, a fabric with an image of the Lord laid in the tomb, representing the burial cloth of the Lord, is carried in procession and laid on a special table covered with flowers representing His Tomb.
HOLY FRIDAY, April 14, 7 p.m. – Matins of Holy Saturday – the Epitaphios is carried in procession through the cemetery next to the Church, as Christ descended among the dead to raise them to himself. This service lasts about an hour and a half. The many readings and hymns of the Holy Friday services present us with many different facets of the awesome and compelling mystery of our Lord’s Passion.
HOLY SATURDAY, April 15, 9 a.m. – Initiation of new members and Divine Liturgy. This is the ‘Blessed Sabbath’ on which God rested — in the Tomb, the real meaning of Genesis 2:2. It is the most appropriate time for Baptism, as those baptized are ‘buried’ with Christ to share His Resurrection (Romans 6:3-4). Lent has its origin as the last intensive preparation for those who would be baptized this day. We read 15 Old Testament readings that illuminate Baptism, including the Creation and the Exodus. Our new members are Baptized and Chrismated (Anointed), then we continue with the Divine Liturgy. This service lasts about three hours.
HOLY SATURDAY, April 15, 11:30 p.m. – this is THE service of the year for Orthodox, and no one wants to miss it. At midnight all lights in the Church are put out. This is the darkness and silence of the Tomb. Finally the bishop or priest comes out of the altar with a candle. Everyone comes forward and lights a candle from this light. Carrying the candles, we make a procession outside around the Temple, coming back to the front porch. There we hear the greeting ‘Christ is Risen!’ for the first time and reply, ‘Indeed He is Risen!’ We will greet each other this way for forty days. We go into the Temple, now brightly lighted and adorned with flowers, and sing the joyous Paschal Matins and Liturgy, and members receive the Body and Blood of the Risen Lord. After this service we go to the Parish Hall and find the tables sagging with every kind of good food, and we celebrate together until quite late.
SUNDAY April 16, there is NO MORNING SERVICE (the midnight service was the Sunday Liturgy).
SUNDAY, April 16, 4 p.m. we will gather for the short, joyous Paschal Vespers and more feasting. This will take place at Holy Trinity and St. John the Theologian Greek Orthodox Church, Pear Orchard Rd. at Old Canton Rd., Jackson. Members and clergy of Holy Resurrection and St. Peter Orthodox Church, Madison, will participate. The Jackson area Orthodox churches do this service together every year; join us for the service and the feast afterwards.