Pastoral Letter - Holy Week, Pascha, and Bright Week
April 22, 2016
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
By the grace of God we are now at the door of Holy Week. Some of you are seasoned and have walked the Lenten journey many times and some of you are new to the experience and traditions of Holy Week and Pascha. I have outlined for you a very brief description of most of the Holy Week services and Pascha as a help and a guide. My prayer for each one of you is to be filled with grace and blessing during this week and always. Be strong, have faith, and look forward to a wonderful week. Those of you who have children and have questions about which services are most appropriate for them and for how long please feel free to ask the Popadias, the experienced mothers or me. I would be glad to discuss this further with you or answer any questions.
Great Lent technically ends Friday evening at the vigil for Lazarus Saturday. At vespers we sing: “Having fulfilled the Forty Days… we ask to see the Holy Week of Thy passion.” . Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday act as a bridge to Holy Week. Saturday morning at 7:00am we serve Orthros followed by Divine Liturgy for the raising of Lazarus. This Saturday there will also be a baptism at 8am Saturday evening will be the vigil for Palm Sunday, one of the twelve Great Feasts of the Church.
At Palm Sunday vigil palms and pussy willows are blessed as the symbols of the Lord’s Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. They are distributed then and also at Liturgy and are often held throughout these services with a candle as a sign of our participation with the children and disciples who chanted and exclaimed the triumph of the Lord. We participate not just in symbol and remembrance but also by consciously recognizing His authority over us and over all things: Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!
The palms and pussy willows should be taken home after the services and can remain on our home shrines or tucked behind an icon on the wall. There is a way to make the palms into crosses which are beautiful and make them easier to display. Someone can show you if you need help. These items should be burned or buried after their final usefulness but not thrown in with the trash. Also do not leave them strewn around the church or parish hall. When you receive them, respectfully bring them home and place them on an icon corner to remember the meaning of the Feast throughout the year. Please help your children care respectfully for these palms. It is good for them to learn to respect blessed items.
Great and Holy Week begins with the unique services which we call the Bridegroom Matins. They are celebrated starting the evening before so the first one begins Sunday after the Sunday repast at 1:00pm. At the Monday night Matins/Bridegroom service it is our tradition for the young girls to process with the special icon of the Lord called “extreme humility” as we sing the hymn: “Behold the Bridegroom comes at midnight…” A candle is held during this procession while the girls under 7years old will hold an electric taper. At the Tuesday night service, the Altar is specially adorned with candles and opened for us to see at the singing of the exapostalarion: “Behold Thy Bridal Chamber…”
Holy Unction on Wednesday
On Holy Wednesday in the evening at 6:00pm, we serve the Holy Unction service which is the sacrament of healing. As a sacrament of the Church it can be served at any time that someone is in need of healing. St. James said in his epistle to the early Christians: “If there is any sick among you, let him call for the elders of the church and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord” (St. James 5:14). Every Great Lent we are all called to healing whether bodily or spiritually because of our sins. It is important to come to the service having confessed recently, that is, within the last two weeks at most, even better the last weekend. And it is expected that all will receive communion soon after the Holy Unction. (Of course we will have the opportunity on Holy Thursday, Holy Saturday and Pascha). At the service we will be anointed seven times. The priest will anoint you each time on your forehead and face, throat or chest and hands. This takes place while we listen to Scriptural passages which describe the Lord’s healings and healings from the accounts of the Acts and Epistles. If you need to blot off excess oil during or after the service, please use the napkins provided and leave them in the basket so they can be disposed of properly by the altar servers. After the anointings are complete, the Gospel will be held high and open and each of us will pass under it as the priests assert that the healing is not by their hands but by the Lord Himself.
Great & Holy Thursday
Thursday morning at 9:00am there will be a Vesperal Liturgy in which we commemorate four things: a) the washing of the disciple’s feet, b) the institution of the Holy Communion , c) the prayer and agony in the Garden of Gethsemene by the Lord and d) the betrayal by Judas. Thursday evening at 6:00pm, in anticipation of Holy Friday, we will read the 12 Gospels readings of the final events of the Lord’s earthly sojourn from the finishing of the “Mystical Supper” to the crucifixion, burial and sealing of the tomb. After the fifth Gospel reading the beautiful hymn: Today He Who Hung the Earth is chanted while the Priest solemnly processes bearing the cross until it is places in the center of the Church Nave. It is then that all of us bring flowers for the Lord and place them at the foot of the cross as we go up to venerate. Please bring your own flowers as an offering and as part of your veneration. If you have flowers from your garden, that is fine, or you may purchase a bouquet at a local market. The sacristans will be prepared with vases but a gesture of love is to bring a bouquet of flowers which you chose yourself.
Great & Holy Friday
Great and Holy Friday begins with Royal Hours at 8am. At the Royal Hours the messianic psalms and prophetic scriptures are read with the Gospels that describe in summary the Passion of our Lord. . At 11:00am the women of the church gather to adorn the Lord’s tomb and to pray for our departed loved ones. Young girls accompanied by an adult are welcome to participate in a spirit of respect and solemnity. This is when the Lord’s tomb is prepared for the evening service.
Starting at 4pm we begin Vespers followed by Matins and Lamentations
At Vespers of Great and Holy Friday the priest removes the Body of Christ from the Cross, in imitation of Sts. Joseph and Nicodemus, then wraps it in a cloth and lays it upon the altar as if in a new tomb. The epitaphion( the beautiful embroidered icon of the Lord after He was taken down from the cross) is brought to the tomb in the center of the Church. Then we will begin Matins for Holy Saturday (sung Friday evening) with the Lamentations, and procession with the epitaphion outside. The Lamentations are beautiful hymns that start out sorrowful and end with intimation of the Resurrection. They are very special. At the end of Matins a procession begins. We take the tomb of our Lord outside on the street, the Clergy and faithful following, singing Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal One…. This is our witness in the world of our love for the Lord. We are sharing the deep feelings that we just expressed in the Church Nave through the Lamentations. Then we all re-enter the church temple. The epitaphion will be held high so that we can all go under it as we ask the Lord for His special blessing. At the very end of the service everyone will be given flowers from the tomb to take home in remembrance of the Lord's crucifixion and burial
Great & Holy Saturday
Saturday Vesperal Liturgy which is celebrated at 9:00am is sometimes referred to as the best kept secret of Pascha. Here all the vestments suddenly are changed from dark to white as the priest exits to the chanting of Arise O God and Judge the Earth, and the fresh smelling herbs are scattered with a blessing of new life in Christ. As the colors in church change to white, the mood and the early light of the Resurrection dawns in a joy-filled service.
Then it is all hands on deck to help prepare for our communal celebration and Feast of Feasts. This is a wonderful Church workday where we adorn the inside and outside of the Church with flowers and set up for the Paschal Feast. Men, women and children are all encouraged to participate. Please sign up multiple times on the sign up sheet in the Parish Hall and capture the grace and opportunity of selfless service!
Pascha, the Feast of Feasts
To prepare for the midnight Divine Liturgy, fasting from food and water from 6pm on is the norm.
Saturday evening in preparation for Pascha, the Acts of the Apostles are read starting around 10 pm through the evening. Midnight office starts at 11:20pm The first glimmers of Pascha start at midnight with the Paschal flame and procession around the Church building. EVERYONE should have purchased a candle and stand ready to light it from the Priests as they bring it forth. Monitor your candles closely so they stay lit outside and so they are held with safety and awareness. (During the kiss of peace may I humbly ask that everyone be careful with their flame? While greeting each other hold the flame out of the way of clothes, hair and beards.)
A note about candles: For the safety of our children and all, lit candles are to be held only by children over 7 years old and only with full adult supervision. There will be electric tapers provided for the younger children to hold. Please hold your candles upright and keep a candle-saver under the flame to prevent wax from getting on our beautiful floor. Please monitor even the electric tapers. They are NOT weapons, teething apparatus or toys. When your child has tired of holding them, put them away until later.
A note about sleepy children: Some children may stay awake for the entire service. Others may sleep on laps. It is not recommended for children to stretch out on the pews as others do need places to sit. Please try to hold sleeping children on laps as much as possible. It is perfectly OK for them to sleep.
After Services we will bless the Paschal Baskets. There will be a table in the Parish Hall for the baskets to be placed for blessing. The blessing of the Paschal baskets is a tradition that is followed in many Orthodox countries. Saturday in the middle of the night after Paschal Liturgy there is a Paschal repast to fortify us on our journey home. Do your best to remove any dishes you may have brought with you as you are leaving.
Bring your Lantern with you to carry home the Paschal Flame. The Paschal Flame will be placed on a table on the stage in the Parish hall. Bring the Paschal Flame home with you to bless your home. Some people light the pilot lights of their gas stove with the flame, to have a source of the Paschal Flame for their lampadas. Others may just light their home lampada with it for the day.
At 1:00pm on Sunday (obviously there is no service at 9:30am) we will gather again for the Agape Vespers and hear the announcement of the Resurrection to the Apostles in various languages.
If possible take off from work to rest and join us on our yearly Bright Monday picnic and outdoor vespers. It is wonderful to be together as a parish with your brothers and sisters in Christ.
Extend the joy by coming to the Bright week vespers and Liturgies. All the Doors of the altar are open as we continue to rejoice in the Resurrection and empty tomb. Remember this is the Feast of Feasts and also the feast of our Church! Have a blessed Holy Week and glorious Pascha!
With love in our Lord,
Fr. Patrick and Popadia Paula