Forbid it Lord that I should boast, save in the death of Christ my God. All the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to His blood.
When i survey the wondrous cross by isaac watts
The hymn writer’s meditation on the cross of the Lord has always made a profound impact on my personal devotion. I was reminded of this verse this morning as we chanted the Royal Hours at the foot of the cross in Church. Watts’ verse is based on the epistle read at the first hour, St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians, “But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.”
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.
For those of you in my faithful readership who have yet to experience an Orthodox Christian Holy Week, now is your chance. At an Orthodox parish near you,begins a week of services next week unlike any you have experienced anywhere else on the planet. If you are local to Boston, you are cordially invited to attend all of the services our parish offers. If you can only do one, come to either Saturday morning Liturgy or late Saturday night, early Sunday morning for the Feast of Feasts, GREAT AND HOLY PASCHA.
In the thick of Holy Week now in the Orthodox Church. This always happens to me every year when we get to this moment. So many impressions. So many rich and deep spiritual conversations between my soul and the voice of the Church in the divine services. If those of you in my readership have never been to an Orthodox Church, NOW is the time. Between now and the celebration of Pascha this coming Sunday, you will experience the Lord’s suffering, death, and resurrection in a way you never thought possible.
This Wednesday’s service contains one of the most memorable characters of Holy Week, the woman Mary Magdalene, caught in many sins that broke open a very costly jar of ointment and anointed Jesus’ feet in an extreme act of repentance. The hymn that is sung to her at the end of the service is a masterpiece of repentance. Her deep humility and repentance provide a foil to the betrayal and hard-heartedness of Judas, but she also provides hope to those of us who by this point in Great Lent feel very far gone. Read these words of her hymn and feel drawn into her great story:
And who is the God who will deliver you out of my hands?
— Pharaoh, King of Egypt to Moses the Great, Patriarch, Prophet & God-seer
The taunt of this particular Egyptian ruler rings down through the centuries and is rehearsed every Great and Holy Saturday during one of the 13 readings from the Old Testament. But it is more than a taunt or even an honest query: It is the prayer of every person in the grip of some power beyond their making or control.
“How do you, Father Herman, manage to live alone in the forest, don’t you get bored?” He answered, “No, I’m not alone there! There is God, and God is everywhere! There are holy angels! How can one be bored with them? With whom is it more pleasant and better to converse, angels or people? Angels, of course.”
In this forth week of our at-home Coronavirus quarantine, we struggle as a family with where to go and what to do. Our travelogue has been quickly and suddenly restricted to our immediate vicinity, and we labor at how to overcome feelings of isolation and boredom. The saints in heaven and especially the monastic hermits like St. Herman of Alaska can teach us what to do with our boredom, and it does not involve surfing to the next binge-worthy series or reaching for our favorite comfort food. It involves a rediscovery of our blessed habitation, that home which Father Herman called, “the blessed place which will render my soul’s salvation.”
Every year around this time I encourage those of you in my world wide readership that have never been to an Orthodox Church or visited an Orthodox worship service to GO. This year we have the especial privilege and blessing to not have much on our schedule as most are quarantined. I hereby encourage you then to live stream the Holy Week services in very own living room!
Starting today and continuing throughout next week until Pascha (Orthodox Easter) and beyond will be served throughout the world the most sublimely beautiful and divinely inspired worship you have ever seen, heard, felt, smelled or touched, except this year the feeling, smelling and touching will be left to only a few (those few who are left to serve what is being live streamed).
I love how the character of Christ is portrayed in the 2016 film Risen. In the movie, a Roman tribune is assigned by Pilate to investigate the alleged theft of the body of one late Hebrew rabbi who claimed to be the Messiah. This same tribune had witnessed Christ’s crucifixion himself, so he knew his man. But upon his first encounter of the risen Lord, he was taken aback. This mighty Roman tribune who had commanded legions of soldiers and put down entire insurrections against Caesar was terrified not so much by Jesus’ resurrectional power, but by the way in which it was manifest: an uncanny sober levity and a peculiar nonchalance. He was smirking like one who had pulled off the most enormous con game ever played. Continue reading →
I am an art collector. A good painting with an equally good story has a way of catching my eye and heart. But because I have neither the time nor the pocketbook, most of my collecting happens online via Google image searches. And once I find an image that means something particular to me, I like to hunt it down to its source, where it lives, usually in a museum or sometimes in a church.
Holy Week and Pascha are definitely the most amazing and wonderful jewels of the Orthodox Christian Church. Holy Week and Pascha are not only incredible but also personal leaving me crying of sorrow and of joy of Christ’s resurrection. Christ died on the cross only because of our sins. He loves us. Only a person that truly loves us would die for us.
Now, let me explain what is so beautiful about Holy Week and Pascha. First, Palm Sunday: The Lord rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, where the people praised and glorified him. Then, Holy Monday: The Bridegroom Matins service foretells of the future sufferings of Jesus Christ. Holy Tuesday: The last musical Presanctified Liturgy, in which the Holy Communion(Eucharist) is pre-sanctified. There is harmonious music in the service like “Let my prayer arise…“. Holy Wednesday: Holy Unction is the service in which Orthodox Christians receive holy oil to heal us physically and spiritually. Continue reading →