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 →
“So, what what kind of fun stuff have you been up to lately?” I had been engaging my favorite Syracusan barber in friendly conversation about his favorite pastime, hockey, when he politely turned the question towards me and my world. How does one encapsulate the joyful sorrow of Holy Week, the gut-wrenching agony of Golgotha, and the unexpected hope of Easter morning into a 5-second elevator speech? I told him that we had not celebrated our Easter yet and that this was our week to get ready for it. “Wow, that’s cool. So what is it like?” Words fail to describe the rich details of Holy Week and Pascha, yet I wanted to leave a strong impression. Knowing that he had not attended any church for quite some time, I used a comparison that I hoped was familiar. “It’s the one time out of the year that my kids actually drag their parents to church and not the other way around. Who doesn’t like the thought of staying up into the wee hours of the morning for a party that initially lasts until the sun comes up? I mean, what rock concert has ever lasted that long?” Continue reading →
Worse case scenario, if you are unable to appear hypostatically (in person), you can at least listen to a youtube channel created that has much of the key music or the ever-mellifluous Ancient Faith Radio. WARNING: Once you have gone to one service, you won’t be able to stop, so clear your schedule for God because He deserves your praise more than baseball games, concerts, or that addicting TV series. Let the divine drama begin!
Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:11)
“If there were only one book left in the Bible, only one chapter, yea only one verse, it would have to come from Romans chapter 6.” I was used to hearing such hyperboles from our pastor and teacher growing up, so when he made this particular declaration, it did not make much of an impression on me at the time. I mean, if I had to lay my bets on the most seminal verse in Scripture, I might have chosen something about love like the ever-popular football verse, John 3:16. But this spiritual father of mine was closer to the truth than I realized. For the next time I heard his declaration ringing in my ears was the first time I heard that chapter situated in the very heart of the church year. Continue reading →