In the past I have written a little about the atmosphere of Holy Week in the Orthodox Church. I have only been breathing it by means of a few, perhaps shallow, breaths, over the years. I feel that way because of the distractions that I haven’t been able to avoid, or the weaknesses of my flesh and will, which prevent me from staying close to the Lord through this last week before Pascha. I suppose I am like His disciples that way.
With all that, I have been affected, and every year finds me looking forward to the riches that we live in, this week that does indeed carry the scent of holiness. The days with their minutes and hours are not in themselves vessels for the treasures, but it is in the services of the Church and their rich liturgical hymnography and prayers that we receive the gift.
Even after years of knowing better, I still occasionally notice the thought trying to push itself forward: “Why would I want to go to another church service? Won’t I be bored, since it is basically the same as the last one, and it is so long?” I have to laugh, because of the ways that the idea is so silly. Do you ever get tired of your spouse or your child saying, “I love you?” It takes a while in church to settle oneself enough to really hear God speaking, and then, He says “I love you” with so many hymns and songs and words of Scripture, not to mention bread and water, wine and oil, candlelight and incense….
I suppose you could say that the message is always the same, but no two services are ever exactly the same. The message, essentially being the Giver of Life Himself, is never tiresome; in this life we barely begin to experience His Life.
I am writing this a few days before, so as to keep my calendar as free as I can. I wanted to pass on this meditation that I saved from when I read it last year – I hope it is a grace-filled breath of fresh air to you.
HOLY WEEK: A MYSTIC TORRENT
As we enter Holy Week, the festal atmosphere of Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday yields to the solemnity, sobriety and sadness of Holy Week as the Lord moves toward His voluntary and life-giving Passion. The Son of God came into the world “to bear witness to the truth” and “to give His life as a ransom for many.” It is our privilege and responsibility to accompany Christ to Golgotha to the extent that our lives make that possible, especially by our participation in the services that guide us to Golgotha and beyond—to the empty tomb.
As Father Sergius Bulgakov wrote, “The beauty, the richness and the power of these services take possession of the soul and sweep it along as upon a mystic torrent.” Therefore, during Holy Week we are challenged to “lay aside all earthly cares” and focus on our Lord Jesus Christ, whether we are at a particular service or not. This is a week filled with school, church and other necessary responsibilities. There is no room or time for worldly entertainment -— not when the Lamb of God will be slain for the sins of the world.
At the services of Holy Week, we enter into the “today” of the events being reactualized so that the event and all of its salvific power is made present to the gathered community. Thus, we are not simply commemorating a past event for its dramatic impact, or presenting something of an Orthodox “passion play.” Rather, we re-present the event of the Crucifixion so that we participate in it within the liturgical time of the Church’s worship.
As Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev writes, “Each one of us receives Christ as our personal Savior, and so we each make our own all the events of Christ’s life through personal experience, to whatever extent we can. The feast day is a realization here and now of an event that occurred once in time but is always happening outside time.” And he adds, speaking of the great saints and their faith in the Resurrection of Christ, “They lived… by their experience of eternity and knew that Easter was not a single day of the year, but an eternal reality in which they participated daily.”
-Fr. Steven Kostoff