Holy Week and Pascha

Dear friends, following the celebration of Palm Sunday – Christ’s humble entry into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1-11) welcomed by palms and the hymn of praise: ‘Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord’ – we now find ourselves in the midst of Holy Week. Sunday night marked the first ‘Bridegroom’ service, which has taken place every evening until today.

‘At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Behold the Bridegroom! Come out to meet him…!’ (Matt 25:6) The Church hereby invites us to await the Lord’s Passion and Crucifixion with preparation and vigilance, keeping His commandments and awaiting His Parousia, His second coming. In fact, according to our Orthodox Christian tradition, the entire Lenten period is seen as a preparatory stage for the coming of Christ, for our meeting with the Risen Lord.
The rather solemn yet beautiful service of the Bridegroom consists of hymns relating to the parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13) The title also suggests an intimate and personal relationship between us, the faithful, and Christ the Bridegroom of His Church. This indicates the union of the Loving God with us, His people, as we struggle to unite with Him in worship, through prayer, in our efforts and actions. Last night’s Bridegroom service reminded us of our sinfulness before God, our calling to offer ointments and offerings as expressions of repentance, of prayerful thanksgiving and of praise.

‘The sinful woman ran to purchase ointment, costly ointment, to anoint her Benefactor, and to the perfumer she cried out, ‘Give me the ointment, so that I in turn may anoint the One who wiped away all my sins.’ (From last night’s Bridegroom service)

Just as we offer our worship and our acts of love towards Christ, He, in turn, anoints us, with His mercy, with His healing grace, sweetening and soothing the bitter wounds of our sins and our egos. Though a later addition to the Holy Week schedule, the Church, in Her care, offers us the chance to participate in the Sacrament of ‘Holy Unction’ this evening, as we are all in need of His healing Grace, of both body and soul.

‘Is any among you sick, let him call for the presbyters of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed…’ (Jas 5.14–16; see also Mk 6.13)

This week is truly a great opportunity for us as Orthodox Christians: we enter into Jerusalem with our Lord, taking His example of humility and obedience to the will of God, we will commemorate and participate in His last supper tomorrow – as His current disciples in the world – then we kneel and bow down before His voluntary passion and suffering for us. ‘He who hung the earth upon the waters is hung upon the wooden Cross…We venerate Thy Passion, O Christ. Show us also Thy glorious Resurrection.’

We then place our Lord’s body to lay in the tomb, decorating it with flowers, offering rose water and lamentations, as we await His Life-Giving Resurrection. Following our joyful mourning around His blossoming tomb, finally – after this period of preparation, of contemplation, of repentance and spiritual struggle – we are all invited to participate in the ‘feast of feasts,’ the Paschal joy of the Glorious Resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ on Holy Saturday night. St John Chrysostom in his paschal sermon summarises Christ’s boundless love through His resurrection – that all who come to Him for refuge will be given life and rest:

‘The Lord will accept the last even as the first; He gives rest unto him who comes at the last hour, even as unto him who has wrought from the first hour… And He shows mercy upon the last, and cares for the first; and to the one He gives, and upon the other He bestows gifts. And He both accepts the deeds, and welcomes the intention, and honors the acts and praises the offering. Wherefore, enter you all into the joy of your Lord… Enjoy ye all the feast of faith: Receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness. Let no one bewail his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed… O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory? Christ is risen, and you are overthrown… and life reigns.’

Therefore dear sisters and brothers, Christ’s life and love truly reign, all prophecy is fulfilled, and we are assured – through His Resurrection – that death nor evil have no power over us if we live in Christ. Let us then cultivate our relationship with Him for the remainder of Holy Week, in order for us to receive and share the light of His Resurrection on the day of Pascha, which will enlighten and illumine our hearts and brighten our entire lives eternally. A Blessed Pascha to all!