Dear Readers, I came across this lovely portrayal of an Orthodox Holy Week from the associate priest of our parish who grew up in an Orthodox Christian country. I always say that we converts (those who became Orthodox as adults) can learn so much from those who knew it from their very cradle, for to them the faith is as natural as breathing air. This kind of simple innocence shines through in father’s words below. And if you have never been to any Orthodox services, behold NOW is the time, while Divine Services last until this Sunday when we celebrate the Feasts of all Feasts, Great and Holy Pascha!
Having prepared through weeks of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, we are now approaching the “feast of feasts and the holy day of holy days.” But before we can arrive at that sacred day of Pascha, we first must traverse the Church’s Great & Holy Week, where there will be more services than usual, sometimes both in the morning and in the evening. That means more opportunities to emerge from our daily jobs, homes, and chores and into the Church – not unlike the way in which the ancient monastics would return to their monasteries after spending the entirety of Great Lent in the wilderness.
Growing up in the countryside, I remember how everyone’s work days would be transformed by the liturgical life of Great Week. Even though spring is the busiest time of year for farmers, the women would somehow find time in their schedule to dye eggs, plant flowers, pull weeds, and prepare lambs for roasting, all of which was surely hard work! The long, tiring services seemed calm and restful by comparison. More importantly, the daily chores were nothing like the passions that the Lord endured.
As the week wore on, Thursday night would signal a dramatic turn. Work had to be wrapped up even earlier. With flowers and candles in hand people would ascend the hill upon which the church sat. Some would carry a small pillow on which they would kneel during the Gospel readings. The next day, those who were able would arrive early for the morning service on Holy Friday. Having commemorated the laying in the tomb of the Lord they would stop at the tombs of their ancestors, laying fresh candles on them in preparation for the evening service. Later on that evening, they would be back for the lamentations and a procession around the church. The women would weep, as did once the myrrh bearers, and form a choir on the left side of the church, the side of the Theotokos. The men would likewise gather in song on the right. Then, the procession of the epitaphio would exit the church to the melody of the funeral trisagion. The sea of candles from the tombs of the reposed would surround the slow procession… the living and the dead all lamenting the Lord’s burial… the bells dirging sadly.
But just twenty-four hours later, the night of Pascha would witness another procession: light begets light! More candles, more incense, more bells, more chanting. All joyful this time around. If the reposed seemed to have the upper hand at Christ’s laying in the tomb, now the living boast that He is risen from the dead! Women in action arrive at the church with hands full, heavy laden with baskets of Paschal bread, red eggs, wine and other treats to be blessed after the midnight Liturgy. They do it the way they learned from their parents, who learned from their parents, who learned from their parents. Recipes might be improved, ovens newer, baskets more capacious, but the culture of offering is the same. And though depleted and exhausted, the faithful are inexplicably joyful and bright. The mystery of Pascha unfolds and transforms the world!
Some of you are seasoned and have walked this beautiful path to Pascha many times. Others are new to the experience and traditions of Great & Holy Week. Regardless, this abbreviated edition of our parish’s newsletter is meant to serve as a guide for your week-long journey through the story of our salvation.
May your week be as beautiful and transformative as all those I grew up with. Have a blessed Pascha!
With love & blessings,
Father Teodor Anastasoaie