Today is Great and Holy Saturday and I am preparing to celebrate the Divine Liturgy this morning but I have a few moments and thought I would jot down some thoughts about Holy Week here in Southbridge. This is my 6th Holy Week here in this parish and it just keeps getting better! I am sure every priest could say this but I have some of the most faithful people! I was trying to think if there was someone who could get the perfect attendance award for coming to all the services, but with so many people attending it is hard to tell. Keep in mind that if you include the Liturgies of Lazarus Saturday we have 15 services during Holy Week.
This year was very different for me. As many of you know, if you follow these pages, I have been working for the Fire Department in the Town of Dudley, Massachusetts since January as the Administrative Fire Chief. I worked through Wednesday so it was a very different Holy Week. I guess you could say I now have the parishioner perspective on what it is like to keep Holy Week Whilst working. It is very difficult to balance it all.
The week starts of in darkness with the solemn services of the Bridegroom and gradually the light comes. Jesus is the light that comes into the darkened world and we slowly see that light emerge this week. Tonight at the resurrection service the entire church will be in darkness until we sing “Christ is Risen” when the light come back in full force.
I will speak for a moment about confession. As Orthodox (regardless of what some will tell you) we still practice the Sacrament of Confession. Every Orthodox Christian needs confession as we are all sinners and have fallen short of the mark. We might not be mass murderers, thanks be to God, but we are all sinners is some way and Confession is an important part of our spiritual life. I can remember right after my ordination hearing my first confessions, man was I scared, but now confession has become some of my most blessed moments of my priesthood. Sometimes I think I get more out of it then the person does! I have been with people when they have died, I have baptized and married people but some of the most spiritual moments come during confession. I feel sorry for Churches that do not practice Sacramental Confession you are really missing out. Anyway, this year I heard more confessions then the last two years combined. God is Good for sure!
I was remembering a song that I have not listened too for quite sometime. Written and performed by Steven Curtis Chapman the title of the song is “The Great Adventure” that is how I would describe this week. We walk with Jesus as He takes his final steps and we are with him as He hangs on the Cross for our sins. I cannot understand how churches can have pageants and dramatic readings of the Gospels with different people reading the different parts. All the need do is reach back to the rich tradition of the undivided church, the Church of the first thousand or so years, and you will find all the pageant you need. We do not need modern innovations and projection screens. That’s not to say that we do not have pageantry in the Orthodox Church, but it is pageantry that has a traditional feel to it. To know that fifteen hundred years ago these services were being celebrated is an awesome thing! No projection screens and guitars needed, just the Gospel of Jesus Christ that is the only pageant that is needed. A dark Church, the priest carrying the cross, the pounding of the nails, the hoisting up of the cross, the taking down and the entombment, and not a guitar or tambourine in site!
One of the most solemn moments of all of the Holy Week comes on Thursday night. On this night we read the passion Gospels, or should I say twelve pericopies from the Gospels about the Crucifixion of Jesus. After the fifth reading the Holy Doors are closed, the light are dimmed, and the priest emerges from the Holy Place carrying the Cross. A silent procession around the Church to the solea where the body of Jesus, in Icon form, is nailed on the Cross. The Cross is then hoisted up for all to see. In the darkness sits the form of the creator of the world, the One who created the very Tree that now has become the instrument of His death. The One who created the one who drove the nails through His flesh. There He hangs!
While the Church is still in darkness we sing the 15th Antiphon of the service. The same Antiphon that has been sung for more than fifteen hundred years, again no guitars or projection screen is needed.
I will close with the words of that Antiphon and a video of Archbishop Job of Blessed Memory singing this Antiphon shortly before His own death. May the joy of the Risen Christ be upon you and remain with you long after the Lilies of Easter have passed.
Today is hung upon the Tree, He who suspended the earth upon the waters. A crown of thorns crowns Him, Who is the King of the Angels. He is wrapped about with the purple of mockery, Who wrapped the Heavens in clouds. He was struck, Who freed Adam in the Jordan. He was transfixed with nails, Who is the Bridegroom of the Church. He was pierced with a spear, Who is the Son of the Virgin. We worship Thy passion, O Christ. Show us also your Glorious Resurrection.