Category Archives: Holy Week

Am I a stone and not a sheep?

GOOD FRIDAY

Am I a stone, and not a sheep,
That I can stand, O Christ, beneath Thy cross,
To number drop by drop Thy blood’s slow loss,

Not so those women loved
Who with exceeding grief lamented Thee;
Not so fallen Peter weeping bitterly;
Not so the thief was moved;

Not so the Sun and Moon
Which hid their faces in a starless sky,
A horror of great darkness at broad noon—
I, only I.

Yet give not o’er,
But seek Thy sheep, true Shepherd of the flock;
Greater than Moses, turn and look once more
And smite a rock.

-Christina Rossetti

Here it thickens to the limit.

“…what transformed the cross and eternally transforms the cross into victory if not the love of Christ, the same divine love that, as the very essence and glory of the kingdom of God, Christ manifested and granted at the last supper? And where, if not at the last supper, do we find the consummation of the full, complete self-sacrifice of this love, which in ‘this world’ made the cross — betrayal, crucifixion, suffering and death — unavoidable?

“The gospels and the church services, particularly the wonderfully profound services of passion week, witness precisely to this link between the last supper and the cross, to their connection as the manifestation and victory of the kingdom of God. In these services, the last supper is always referred to that night that surrounds it on all sides and in which particularly shines the light of the festival of love that Christ accomplished with his disciples in the ‘large upper room, furnished,’ as if prepared in advance from all ages.

“This was the night of sin, night as the very essence of ‘this world.’ And here it thickens to the limit, it prepares to devour the last light shining in it. Already the ‘princes of the people are assembled together against the Lord and his Christ.’ Already the thirty silver pieces  — the price of betrayal — are paid. Already the crowd, incited by their leaders, armed with swords and spears, are heading out on the road leading to the garden of Gethsemane.

“But — and this is infinitely important for the Church’s understanding of the cross — the last supper itself took place under the shadow of this darkness. Christ knew ‘the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table’ (Luke 22:21). And it was precisely from the last supper, from its light, that Judas, after taking the morsel (John 13:27) went out into that dreadful night, and soon after him, Christ.

And if in the services of Holy Thursday, the day of the express commemoration of the last supper, joy is all the time interlaced with sadness, if the Church again and again recalls not only the light but also the darkness overshadowing it, it is because, in the double exits of Judas and Christ from that light into that darkness, she sees and knows the beginning of the cross as the mystery of sin and the mystery of victory over it.”

-Father Alexander Schmemann, The Eucharist

God-fearing midwives, and humility.

While I was at church between services today, a fellow parishioner, George, came with his little truck and removed all the palm branches from yesterday’s feast. Now we have this icon of Christ, “Extreme Humility,” lavishly adorned in the middle of the church:

Icon Reader shares an explanatory quote about the icon:

“At the arrival of unjust persecution, bow your head. At the jeers of false accusations, cross your arms over your heart, whether physically or interiorly, and gratefully receive what is spitefully offered. And when faced with the question, ‘How far, how far do I tolerate this shame, this injustice,’ remember that the answer is the grave. This is what the icon labels ‘Extreme Humility,’ and it is humility that we must strive to emulate each day.”

-Hieromonk Irenaeus

One of the Old Testament readings for this day is from the first chapter of Exodus, the story of how, generations after Joseph, the Israelites as a people group grew large and strong, and the current Pharaoh began to feel threatened and to oppress them. Here is one little story within that story:

“And the king of Egypt spake to the Hebrew midwives, of which the name of the one was Shiphrah, and the name of the other Puah:

“And he said, When ye do the office of a midwife to the Hebrew women, and see them upon the stools; if it be a son, then ye shall kill him: but if it be a daughter, then she shall live. But the midwives feared God, and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the men children alive. And the king of Egypt called for the midwives, and said unto them, Why have ye done this thing, and have saved the men children alive?

“And the midwives said unto Pharaoh, Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are lively, and are delivered ere the midwives come in unto them. Therefore God dealt well with the midwives: and the people multiplied, and waxed very mighty.”

The mood and the glow.

Today was Palm Sunday for us Orthodox Christians, and tonight I attended the first of the Bridegroom Matins services. Until this year, at least as long as I’ve been a member, our parish has held this service in the morning, but this year we are doing it in the evening. Here is an explanation of the tradition:

“Bridegroom Matins is a service specific to the first four evenings of Holy Week and commemorates the last days in the earthly life of the Lord. Incorporated into these services is the theme of the first three days of Holy Week; which is the last teachings of Christ to his disciples. As such, these services incorporate readings and hymns inspiring this theme. The mood of the services is to experience sorrow and to feel Christ’s voluntary submission to His passions and highlight the purpose behind the evil that is about to take place against the Lord. The atmosphere is one of mourning (for sins) and is symbolic of the shame the Christian should feel for the Fall of Adam and Eve, the depths of hell, the lost Paradise and the absence of God.”

Those mornings that seem so long ago, I would arrive in the dark, and come out from the service after the sun had risen; many times I’d walk around the church property and take pictures before driving home. This evening, I came straight home and visited my own garden, which was radiant with the setting sun after a rainy day.

One of the Gospel stories featured in today’s Matins service is the parable of the barren fig tree. Here is my own tree, that is not likely to be fully illustrative of that parable, come fall.

At least seven Psalms are read at every Orthodox Matins service, and tonight two more were read, including this one:

Psalm 19 (20)

May the Lord hear thee in the day of tribulation:
may the Name of the God of Jacob protect thee.

May he send thee help from the sanctuary:
and defend thee out of Zion.

May he be mindful of all thy sacrifices:
and may thy whole burnt offering be made fat.

May he give thee according to thine own heart;
and confirm all thy counsels.

We will rejoice in thy salvation;
and in the Name of our God we shall be exalted.

The Lord fulfill all thy petitions:
now have I known that the Lord hath saved his anointed.

He will hear him from his holy heaven:
the salvation of his right hand is in powers.

Some trust in chariots, and some in horses:
but we will call upon the Name of the Lord our God.

They are bound, and have fallen,
but we are risen, and are set upright.

O Lord, save the king:
and hear us in the day that we shall call upon thee.