Thursday, April 10, 2014

Our Commitment to Holy Week

Dear Parish Faithful,

I am trying to fit in one more book before Pascha, and that is The Final Days of Jesus by two PhDs and professors at a Baptist Theological Seminary(!).  It is a day-by-day account, based on the Gospels, of Christ's last week before His Death and Resurrection. It is very well done and provides a good chronology and excellent background material that allows the reader to better understand the religious, cultural, political and social realities of 1st c. Jerusalem. All of this is based upon a close reading of the four canonical Gospels.

The authors actually refer to "Holy Week" in the process, and write about it very reverently, but as if this is something their fellow Baptist or Evangelical believers are not overly familiar with. 

In fact, a kind of sub-text to the book is precisely to awaken a sense of Holy Week in their fellow (Protestant) Christians.  That is not our problem!  As Orthodox, we "live" for Holy Week and realize that it is the key week of our liturgical year, as it will culminate in the Lord's Death and Resurrection - the great paschal mystery.  As Fr. Sergius Bulgakov once wrote:  Holy Week sweeps the Orthodox believer along as if on a mystic torrent. 

Our problem may just be observing Holy Week with focused attention and prayerful participation, as other demands of life impinge upon us in a never-ending flow of responsibilities - and distractions.

Therefore, I would simply like to provide a few pastoral suggestions that everyone can think about and perhaps incorporate into your daily lives as Holy Week unfolds:

+  One must first make a commitment to Holy Week and  make it the priority for your respective households, regardless of how often you actually make it to the services. This is a week of strict fasting, and no other activities should impinge upon that.  Your commitment to making Holy Week the center of your lives is synonymous with your commitment to Christ.

+  Try and arrange your schedules so that you are able to attend the services as well as possible.  However, if you are not able to attend the services, it must not be because of something of "entertainment value;" or some other distraction that can wait for a more appropriate time.  Be especially aware of Great and Holy Friday and Saturday.  These are the days of the Lord's Death and Sabbath rest in the tomb.  These are days of fasting, silence and sobriety.  Respect that fact that you are participating in a great mystery - the mystery of redemption and salvation.

+  Parents, you may think of taking your children out of school on Holy Friday and attending the Vespers service in the afternoon.  (This may already be solved for you in some school systems as we celebrate Pascha this year with Roman Catholics and Protestants and perhaps your school district allows for a taking Good Friday off).

+  Reduce or eliminate TV and other viewings for the week.  Keep off the internet except for essential matters.

+  Be regular in your prayers.

+  Try not to gossip or speak poorly of other persons.

+  Choose at least one of the Passion Narratives from the four Gospels - MK. 14-15; MATT. 25-26; LK. 22-23; JN. 18-19 - and read it carefully through the week.  There is also other good literature about Holy Week and Pascha that could be read.

+  If you have access to any of the Holy Week service booklets, read and study the services carefully before coming to church.  This will deepen your understanding of that particular service's emphasis as Holy Week unfolds.

+  If you come to the midnight Paschal Liturgy, do your best to stay for the entire service, prepared to receive the Eucharist.  You may or may not choose to stay for the meal to follow, but what matters is the Liturgy.


Yesterday evening, at the last of our Presanctified Liturgies for this year, we heard the following hymn:

I am rich in passions,
I am wrapped in the false robe of hypocrisy.
Lacking self-restraint I delight in self-indulgence.
I show a boundless lack of love.
I see my mind cast down before the gates of repentance,
starved of true goodness and sick with inattention.
But make me like Lazarus, who was poor in sin,
lest I receive no answer when I pray,
no finger dipped in water to relieve my burning tongue;
and make me dwell in Abraham's bosom in Your love for mankind.

Does this possibly sound familiar to anyone?  Do you know of anyone that this hymn may be describing?  Is this person well-known to you?  If so, you may want to keep this person in your prayers so that they may one day - by the grace of God - be freed of these spiritually-devastating traits.

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