Dear Parish Faithful,
CHRIST IS RISEN!
INDEED HE IS RISEN!
As we pass through the paschal light of Bright Week, I want to look back to some extent on Holy Week and our recent Paschal celebration. In doing so, I asked one of our parishioners who was present for most of the Holy Week and Paschal services to write up an account of her experience. Jennifer Haynes knows the challenges of balancing family life with a commitment to the life of the Church, so I appreciate her “offering” below and hope that you also enjoy her reflection on her immediate experience. For ultimately, Holy Week and Pascha are events to be experienced, rather than analyzed.
Just another brief note: There is a special – and quite wonderful – Rule of Prayer for Bright Week that is very different than the usual daily prayer found in our Prayer Books. It is a brief but intense and festal summation of Pascha. A PDF file exists on our parish website that you can print up for your use. It is immediately present under Quick Links on our home page. I strongly urge you to print this out, if you do not already have a copy and pray it through the remainder of Bright Week.
JOURNEY THROUGH HOLY WEEK
By Jennifer Haynes
My journey through Holy Week toward the Feast of Feasts was met with joyful anticipation. Holy Week is one of the greatest tutors for the Gospel and teaches us how to "number our days." As with everything Orthodox, there are layers upon layers in my experience. During Holy Week, Fr. Hopko's podcast on Holy Week helped to keep a good perspective on the services along with deeper meaning and reflection. Certain scriptural verses would repeat in my mind. Jesus asks one of his disciples "Can you not watch with me one hour?" This question deserved a honest answer from me. Could I watch for one hour? two hours? perhaps three? After all, this is our Lord & Savior Jesus Christ who was "crucified, buried, and on third day He rose again and Ascended into Heaven" for us while we were still sinners.
The more services I attended, the more the choir would resonate in my mind. The experience is similar to having a song stuck in your head. All week I heard "I see Your Bridal Chamber adorned, O my Saviour, and I have no wedding garment that I may enter" along with "Behold the Bridegroom comes at midnight, and Blessed is the servant whom He shall find watching, but unworthy is the servant whom He shall find heedless." It reminded me to remain vigilant.
By the time the celebration on the Institution of the Eucharist arrived, it was like an oasis in the middle of a desert. I rested and gathered strength for the Royal Hours on Holy Friday. Attending one of the Royal Hours and the Descent from the Cross at 3pm helped to put the hour and day into perspective. My hope is that I will not lose sight of the meaning of the Life Giving Cross after the festive tone of Bright Week changes. Later that evening, I returned back to the church at 9:30pm and caught the last part of the Matins. Then it was time to chant Psalms before the Tomb of Christ in the Church. I had one hour to read in quiet supplication by candle light. A few tears flowed from my eyes while reading. Towards the end of my session, my voice became hoarse and thankfully Gabriel was there to start the next hour of vigil.
On Saturday morning I returned to church to continue the vigil and saw Cerasela chanting quite beautifully. Fr. Steven was preparing the church with the help of Andrew for service of the Divine Liturgy. Around 9am, Andrew and I took turns reading the Psalter until the Vesperal Divine Liturgy (15 OT Prophecies) at 10am. The choir and readers began their work. Some parishioners had a chance to help read the OT Prophecies. The church was alert & full.
We all had to make one last final push of vigilance and strength to Nocturns. Personally there was a genuine fear that I would sleep right through Nocturns & miss the joyous sight and sounds of the Paschal Procession & Divine Liturgy. So on Holy Saturday afternoon through the evening, I couldn't sleep. I could only rest my eyes. The hymn "Behold the Bridegroom comes at midnight and Blessed is the servant whom He shall find watching."
Earlier in the week, before Holy Week started, Father said something to me that I thought I understood at the time, but was quite profound after I realized what he truly meant. He said "by the time we arrive at the Feast, we are crawling." It wasn't until Holy Saturday morning when utter exhaustion from all of the services and travelling finally caught up with me, that I understood. I also understood something new. "Those who labor and those that sing" are just as tired, if not more tired, than myself. Our spiritual father, our choir, our readers, our altar boys, our silent workers -- all labor "unceasingly" in zealous love for God. Some people may look to monastics, but they need to look no further than the great spiritual athletes within our parish.
As the church became dark, one candle lighting another, all of us together in procession, tired, but vigilant, entering the Church singing the triumphant hymn "Christ is Risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!" I could not help but allow the warm tears to run down my face freely and experience the festive joy of our Risen Lord granting Eternal Life.
Christ is Risen!