188. Great and Holy Friday Afternoon: Great Vespers – “The Descent from the Cross”

In many Orthodox churches *  the Crucifix stands behind the Altar. But from the middle of the Twelve Gospels Service on Holy Thursday night until Holy Friday afternoon – less than 24 hours – it is placed out in front of the icon screen for veneration. Then it returns to its usual place often half hidden from view –  almost as if it is too “strong”, too “heavy” for us to handle it full-strength…

187. Thursday Evening Matins – “The Twelve Gospels Service”

    Gospel Readings: 1 John 13:31-18:1, 2 John 18:1-29, 3 Matthew 26:57-75, 4 John 18:28 -19:16, 5 Matthew 27:3-32, 6 Mark 15:16-32, 7 Matthew 27:33-54, 8 Luke 23:32-49, 9 John 19:25-37, 10 Mark 15:43-47, 11 John 19:38-42, 12 Matthew 27:62-66 I will not (believe me!) comment on each of these readings, which carry the story from Holy Thursday evening through Holy Saturday evening. Please try to worship live-stream tonight. Be prepared for well over two hours. I have never felt the story of our Lord’s Passion more strongly than at this intense service. First,…

186. Holy Thursday Vesperal Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil

In the Orthodox tradition, the full Divine Liturgy is not celebrated on fasting, penitential days, including all the ordinary weekdays of Great Lent. That is why on Lenten weekdays we serve the Divine Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, omitting the consecration of the Holy Bread and Wine.  But Great and Holy Thursday is a feast day, the day when Christ instituted the Holy Eucharist. At this service we “anticipate” that Thursday evening,…

185. Holy Wednesday Evening Matins and Holy Unction

For most of our history the Holy Wednesday night service was Matins/Orthros alone, which continues the Holy Week narrative. However, beginning a few hundred years ago in Greek and Antiochian churches, Matins began to be replaced by Holy Unction. The Anointing was used as part of the preparation for Pascha Communion. In those days the Holy Eucharist was received rarely, for many only at Pascha, and there was extensive preparation – strict…

184. Holy Wednesday Morning Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts

Gospel: Matthew 26:6-16 A short Gospel reading in Holy Week! Matthew repeats the story we heard last Sunday from John, about Christ being anointed with fragrant oil. John said Mary sister of Martha did the anointing. Matthew says only that it was “a woman”. Luke places this earlier in Jesus’ ministry and says it was done by a sinful woman. (How to harmonize these? I don’t know.) Then Judas Iscariot went to the…

183. Holy Tuesday Evening Bridegroom Matins

Holy Tuesday Evening Bridegroom Matins Before we get into the Gospel story… Tonight at the end of the Aposticha we hear the Hymn of Kassiane, a Ninth Century nun and hymnographer.*  She was one of several young women interviewed by Emperor Theophilus as a prospective bride. The story says he was so flummoxed by Kassiane’s beauty that he said something stupid, as men have been known to do: “From a woman came…

182. Holy Tuesday Morning Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts

Gospel Reading: Matthew 24:36-51; 25:1-46; 26:1-2 This music is from Valaam Monastery in far western Russia.   Behold, the Bridegroom comes at midnight, And blessed is that servant whom He shall find watching, But unworthy is the servant whom He shall find heedless. Beware, therefore, O my soul, do not be weighed down with sleep, Lest you be given up to death, and lest you be shut out of the Kingdom. But rouse yourself crying:…

181. Holy Monday Evening Bridegroom Matins

The Exaposteilarion (here in Russian chant) is sung late in Bridegroom Matins. It will help if you read the Gospel passages before you read this Post. Gospel Reading: Matthew 22:15-46; 23:1-39 In tonight’s Gospel, the confrontation between Jesus and the authorities continues. They must stop this man. Killing Him was the last option. The better way, the cleanest way, was still to outwit Him, discredit Him. They’d had no success at this so…

180. Holy Monday morning: Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts

Gospel Reading: Matthew 24:3-35 In the Gospels today and tomorrow we hear Jesus’ teachings about the Last Things. Matthew says on Monday the disciples (most of them “small town boys” from up north) were marveling at the great buildings in Jerusalem. Jesus said, “I tell you, the time is coming when not one stone will be left upon another.” Later as they sat on the Mount of Olives the disciples asked, “When will…

179. Palm Sunday Evening: Bridegroom Matins

I’m posting short daily commentaries on the Holy Week services. I hope this will be of help to the many of us (including me) who can’t get to church this week. These Posts are based on Holy Week homilies I’ve given at Saint Nicholas, Cedarburg, over the last thirty years. First take out your Bible and read the Gospel passage below, since I’ll now do a lot of paraphrasing of the actual text. Gospel reading:…