Hardly any of us will get to church for Holy Week this year. We don’t want to miss this blessed life-giving Week. So:
1 If you can, please worship at live-stream services, with your own parish or another. Here is a list of at least ninety American parishes who live stream: http://liveliturgy.com/orthodox/north-america/ – some, I’ve discovered, with better video and audio than others. I know there are many more.
2 I’ll repeat here (with a few relevant alterations) last year’s series of Twice-daily Commentaries on the Holy Week Services and their Gospel readings. (They will be short. I promise. Honest!) For the Gospels online go to https://www.goarch.org/chapel/
Read John 11:1-45
The raising of Lazarus was, as we sing, the “prefiguring of the General Resurrection”, when all mankind will be raised from our graves (or wherever we have fallen), “those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.” John 5:29 This day Jesus was showing He could “do it”, that He is the Lord of life and of death.
The authorities in Jerusalem did not see it in quite the same way. There had been fake Messiahs before. They had always been fools or charlatans. It was easy to discredit them, and their followers had disappeared into the woodwork. But now came another, this Jesus from Nazareth, whom they had not been able to stop. And here He is at Bethany only two miles from Jerusalem – pulling off this stunt, this supposed raising of a dead man. Many people in the city are now taking Him seriously and wondering: “Is this one the real One?” He must be stopped. Now. So thought the priests, the scribes, the sadducees, and the pharisees.
However Jesus was not ready to “get caught”. He would die at Passover, Pascha.
We Orthodox celebrate the raising of Lazarus on the day before Palm Sunday. Actually it took place some while earlier. Bethany was too close to Jerusalem for safety, so after He had raised Lazarus Christ and His disciples went down to a town called Ephraim and hid out for a while.
But now… “Six days before Passover He came again to Bethany.” The time had come.
The events early in Holy Week show clearly how Jesus Christ was in charge throughout, how He purposely timed His Death and Resurrection for Pascha. He would be the new Passover, the “voluntary” Paschal Lamb who would give His life for the life of the world and lead us into our true Promised Land.
Holy Week: How to Keep it
From the Palm Sunday Epistle: “Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” Philippians 4:4-9
Why do we read this as we begin Holy Week? Because there is nothing more noble, more lovely, better, more praiseworthy than what we celebrate during Holy Week. There is wonder and power and new life in this Week. As best you can, brothers and sisters, try to put lesser things aside, and live this week with Jesus Christ and His blessed Mother and His Apostles.
So now, prepare!
And beware! Satan often throws problems at us this Week. I’ve noticed at church especially that things suddenly break or go out of order.(Why won’t the tower bells ring!) So do what you must do, especially for charitable reasons. Otherwise, unless the house is on fire, put it off. There’s very little that can’t wait a week. Do not get distracted. Do not get upset.
This week Satan often tries to get us irritated by little things. Watch out for it especially this year, when many of us are “shut-in” and already frustrated and can easily get a bit testy. He hits clergy especially because we are (usually) together so much and so busy. At Saint Nicholas we make a Holy Week pact to “sit on it”. Dear ones, control your tongues this week. Whatever nasty you’re tempted to say, zip your mouth. Follow the advice of Thumper’s father: If you can’t say something nice about someone, say nothing at all. If nasty thoughts even enter your mind cast them out. Then we all can have a blessed, peaceful Holy Week with Jesus and with each other.
Normal Holy Week seems to me like a prefiguring of the Kingdom of Heaven: God’s people gathered together, worshipping him, loving Him and each other. This year we can live stream worship together while we’re apart. Make special effort to keep in touch with each other by e-mail or text or phone or however. Next Holy Week, God willing, we will all be together again. And at the End we look forward to an Eternal Holy Week, an Eternal Pascha, together.
Encompassed by Resurrection
Why did the Fathers move the celebration of the raising of Lazarus to the day before Palm Sunday? In order to surround Holy Week with resurrection. At the beginning we hear Christ’s words, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though he die;” John 11:25 Then He raises Lazarus who had been four days dead, his body now corrupt. At the end of Holy Week we will come to His own glorious Resurrection. “Christ is risen! Truly He is risen!”
The Church ever since has encompassed each week with Christ’s Resurrection. Sunday after Sunday we celebrate it and sing of it.
For any not acquainted with Orthodox worship, here is our Sunday Troparion/Apolytikion in Tone One – the first week of an eight week cycle. First a Russian choral setting, then traditional Byzantine chant.
At the dismissal at the end of Saturday evening/Sunday morning services, the Priest begins: “May Christ our true God who is risen from the dead…”
If you want to hear literally dozens of Resurrection hymns, come to Saturday Vespers and Sunday Orthros (Matins) regularly.
And so now our own lives are encompassed by resurrection – Christ’s Resurrection 2000 years ago and each week now, and finally by our personal resurrections which are to come.
The Orthodox Church is the Church of the Resurrection.
Next Post: Tomorrow afternoon, to prepare for Palm Sunday Divine Liturgy