Κυριακή 24 Απριλίου 2022

The Last Pascha – A Reverie

I had a reverie around the time of Pascha. My life has had many chapters. I have loved friends and lost friends. My memory is filled with much that is bittersweet – not my favorite flavor. But my reverie was a dream of Pascha – the Last Pascha. I wrote this in a Facebook post and have looked it up numerous times for balm for my tired soul. Today, I wanted more balm. So I’m posting this to share it with you. If it helps, that is well. If it doesn’t, then ignore the reverie of an old man. And have peace. And do not quit singing.

The Last Pascha.

It dawns and everyone is there. And we can’t quite remember what we might have had against each other. We’re so glad to see faces that we know. Memory fades like the pains in our bones as we stand with joy and see the Face of Christ. In the light of His Face, only the present has any reality. All things become present in Him. And a sound is heard, first in the distance, but we can’t quite figure where in the distance, and it draws nearer…

It is a song being sung. It seems strange though familiar and then I seem to know the words and I’m surprised at the sound and the strength of my own voice and how it interacts with every other voice, no two singing the same tune and yet it’s one song. Everyone hears it in their own language. It is the Song of the Lamb.

And since every moment is present, there is no sense of how long we have been singing or how long we will sing. But in the Song, everything comes right. The creation beneath our feet begins to awaken. And the Song is taken up by trees and rocks, rivers and sky, until all of creation sings.

And slowly, the motion of a Dance…

About The Paschal Lamb

by Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon
Preachers Institute

Very early in the Fourth Gospel, John the Baptist sees Jesus and exclaims,

Icon from here
“Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!” (John 1:29)
The Evangelist tells us that John repeated this identification on the following day (1:36).
For the rest of the Fourth Gospel, nothing more is said of John’s exclamation; he identified Jesus as the sacrificial lamb, but the theme is not further pursued in the story.
When Jesus dies, however, the Evangelist suddenly comments on the fact that Jesus’ legs were not broken on the Cross. Interpreting this fact as a fulfillment of biblical prophecy, he quotes the Book of Exodus:
“Not one of his bones shall be broken” (19:36; Exodus 12:46).
John expects his readers to be familiar with that text; he assumes they will recognize that this verse pertains to the Paschal Lamb. In citing it, John identifies Jesus as the true Paschal Lamb.
If we look closely at this imagery, however, we recognize that the image of Jesus as Paschal Lamb has passed through a filter, so to speak. In the Mosaic Law the paschal lamb was not a sin offering. It was a special sacrifice immediately tied to Israel’s deliverance from Egyptian slavery. It represented—if the expression be allowed—the embodiment of liberation from slavery.
How, then, does John the Baptist, who identifies Jesus as the Paschal Lamb, declare that he takes away the sins of the world? Here is where I want to employ the metaphor of the filter: the theme of the paschal lamb has been filtered through the Isaian image of the Suffering Servant, whom the prophet declares,
“He was led as a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb is silent before his shearers, so he opens not his mouth.”
Holy Week 2018, Kenya (here)
The original lamb was not a sin offering; it was offered in the context of Israel’s deliverance from slavery. The blood of that lamb marked the doorposts of the houses of the Israelites, so that the angel of the Lord would spare those houses the dreadful tenth plague which was visited on Egypt on the night of Passover.

This new Lamb of God, however, does more than free the Israelites from servitude in Egypt. He is the Suffering Servant of the Lord, described in the Book of Isaiah as a sin offering. This new Paschal Lamb takes away the sins of the whole world. He does not perish for one people only, but to gather into one all the scattered children of God. This verse from Exodus, cited at the scene on the Cross, ties the end of John’s account back to the exclamation of John the Baptist in the first chapter.
This imagery ties St. John’s theology to that of St. Paul, who wrote to the Corinthians,
“Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed.”
It ties John also to Peter, who declared our redemption by
“the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:19).
We are now observing the Christian Passover, that feast of which St. Gregory the Theologian wrote,
“Then comes the Sacred Night, the anniversary of the confused darkness of the present life, into which the primeval darkness is dissolved, and all things come into life and rank and form, and that which was chaos is constrained to order. Then we flee from Egypt; that is, from sullen persecuting sin; and from Pharaoh the unseen tyrant . . . (Orations 45.25).

 "The Lamb" in the Holy Commuion, Orthodox Holy Liturgy (from here)

St. Gregory perceives the conflation of the imagery from Exodus 12 and Isaiah 53. Here is how he describes the Paschal Lamb:
“Thus then and for this cause the written Law came in, gathering us into Christ; and this is the account of the Sacrifices as I account for them. And that you may not be ignorant of the depth of His Wisdom and the riches of His inscrutable judgments. He did not leave even these unhallowed altogether, or useless, or with nothing in them but mere blood. But that great—and if I may say so—in its first [divine] nature ‘unsacrificeable’ Victim was intermingled with the Sacrifices of the Law, and was a purification, not for a part of the world, nor for only a short time, but for the whole world and for all time.”
Recognizing that the wool of the lamb—though it is the lamb’s native nakedness—provides the clothing for the human being, Gregory transposes this imagery to the case of Christ, whose very innocence becomes the proper clothing for the wedding feast, the very garment of incorruption:
“For this reason a Lamb was chosen for its innocence, and its clothing of the original nakedness. For such is the Victim offered for us, who is both in name and fact the garment of incorruption.”
Gregory continues the symbolism of the lamb, finally identifying it with the suffering Victim in Isaiah 53:
“And he was a perfect Victim not only on account of his divinity, than which nothing is more perfect; but also on account of that which he assumed, having been anointed with the divinity, and having become one with Him who anointed it, and I am bold to say, made equal with God. He was a male, because he was offered for Adam . . . He both took on Him our sins and bore our weakness (Isaiah 53:4), yet he did not himself suffer anything that needed healing. For he was tempted in all points like as we are yet without sin. For he that persecuted the Light that shines in darkness could not overcome him” (45.13).
This is the meaning of the Passover, said Gregory, because
“the Lamb is slain, and act and word are sealed with the Precious Blood” (45.25).
He goes on,
“we will feed on the Lamb toward evening— for Christ’s Passion was in the completion of the ages; because, in addition, he communicated his disciples in the evening with his Sacrament, destroying the darkness of sin” (45.26).
Here we perceive the symbolism of the darkness that covered the earth for three hours, as the true Paschal Lamb was being slain. Here we detect the mystery of the redemptive blood that flowed from his side to anoint our hearts and minds against the avenging angel.

Σάββατο 23 Απριλίου 2022

Old Testament prophecies hinting the Crucifixion and confirmed historically


Source: https://ethnegersis.blogspot/ -  (selected excerpts from Catechesis No.13)

Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries / Translation:  K.N.



Saint Cyril of Jerusalem**:  “....and was crucified for our sake during the time of Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried....”


But let us now return to the subject of prophetic proofs that you asked for. The Lord was crucified - you have heard all the testimonies. You have seen the location of Golgotha hill. You agree with the information and applaud it as praiseworthy and you glorify it. But take care lest there come a time during a period of persecution that you renounce Him.  Do not delight in the Cross only during a period of peace, but preserve the same faith also during a period of persecution. Do not be a friend of Jesus in a time of peace, and in a time of war become an enemy. (…)


So, Christ was crucified for our sake:  He, who had been judged during an icy-cold night – which is why there was a coal burning fire nearby:

John 18:18: “Now the slaves and servants who had made a fire of coals stood there, for it was cold, and they warmed themselves. And Peter was with them and warming himself.”

Christ was crucified at the third hour:

Mark 15:25:  Now it was the third hour, and they crucified Him”...

(The “third hour” means it was 3 hours after sunrise, that is, at 9 in the morning when they crucified Him)

Matthew 27:45: “Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land.”

(The 6th hour was 12 noon, so from 12 noon, darkness covered the entire land, until 3 in the afternoon).

Could these same details have been written by the Old Testament Prophets also? Let us check it out:

The prophet Zacharias said:

Zacharias 14:7:  On that day there shall be no light; it will be cold and icy for one day – and that day is known to the Lord – and it is not day and not night, and at evening time there shall be light.”

(During that one day, there will be no sunlight, so it will be a cold, icy day – hence Peter warming himself at a coal fire outside).

”So?  Didn't the Lord know about the other days?  Indeed, days are many, but this was the day of the Lord's patience, a day “which the Lord had created” (Psalm 117:24).  He likewise knew the day that was “not day and not night” (Zacharias 14:7).

What was the meaning of this enigma mentioned by the Prophet: “...and that day is known to the Lord – and it is not day and not night”?

What was that day? What should we call it?

The Gospel interprets this, as it narrates the events:  It was not “day”, because the sun did not shine while moving from east to west; instead, from the 6th hour (12 noon) until the 9th (3 afternoon), complete darkness prevailed (as above, Matthew 27:45), in the middle of the day! Hence, darkness suddenly prevailed in the middle of the day – which darkness God had named “night” (Genesis 1:1: “...and God called the light “day”, and the darkness He called “night”).

That is why it was neither “day” nor “night” literally, for there was not enough light to be called “day”, nor dark enough to be called “night”, given that after the 9th hour (3 afternoon) the sun shone again in the sky. This too was foretold by the Prophet when saying:not day and not night” (Zacharias 14:7), and adding at the end of v.7: “and at evening time there shall be light”.

Do you see the accuracy of the Prophets? Do you see how much truth there is in what has been prophesied and written in advance of the actualized events?


Do you want to know exactly what time the sun was blotted out from the face of the earth? Was it perhaps on the 5th hour or the 8th or the 10th?  

Then state the exact time to the inconvincible Jews, o Prophet! When did the sun set?

The prophet Amos said:

And it will be on that day, says the Lord God, and the sun will set at noon, and the light will be darkened upon the earth in the daytime.”  (Amos 8:9)

– exactly as above:  

Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land.” (as above, Matthew 27:45)

What season would it take place in, o Prophet, and what day will it be?  

And I will turn your feasts into mourning and all your songs into lamentation. And I will bring sackcloth on every loin and baldness on every head. And I will make Him like the mourning for a loved one and those with Him like a day of suffering” (Amos 8:10]

These details implied the feast days of Unleavened Bread and the Jewish Passover - which was to “contain” the event of the Crucifixion during those days.  To which the Prophet adds the following:  And I will make Him like the mourning for a loved one and those with him like a day of suffering.”

And a great multitude of the people followed Him, and women who also mourned and lamented Him  (Luke 23:27)

While the Apostles may have remained in hiding, nevertheless, their souls were also filled with despair and mourning....

This prophecy also deserves our admiration.


Now someone else might say:  Find yet another characteristic from the Passions of Christ which had been preannounced by the Prophets with such precision.'

What other accurate evidence is there, related to the event of the Crucifixion?  When Jesus was being led to be crucified, He was wearing only a tunic and His robe was thrown over Him.



Then the soldiers, after they had crucified Jesus, took His clothes and made them into four parts, to each soldier one part, and also His undergarment (tunic). Now the tunic was seamless, woven from the top all in one piece.”  (John 19:23)

This garment was not torn into parts, as it would have become useless. So they decided to cast lots to see who it would fall to:

They said therefore among themselves, ‘Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be’, so that the Scripture might be fulfilled which says: ’They divided My garments among them, and on My clothing they cast lots.” (John 19:24)

Was this also mentioned somewhere else?  Let us see what the Book of Psalms (11th century B.C.)says:  

they divided my clothes for themselves, and on my tunic they cast lots.”  (Psalm 21:19)


Also, when He was being interrogated by Pilate, He had been wrapped in a red cloak:  

And they stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him”. (Matthew 27:28)

They had intentionally stripped Him, wishing to mock Him for making claims of royalty.

Was this also written in the old Testament?

Isaiah says:

Who is He that has come here from Edom, with a redness of garments from Bosor – so splendid in apparel, mighty, with power?”   (Isaiah 63:1)

Who is He that wears scarlet and is being dishonoured? Bosor apparently had such an interpretation for the Jews.

Why are your clothes red, and your garments like those of a wine press worker?”  (Isaiah 63:2)

To which He replied:

I had My arms outstretched all day long towards an inconvincible and contrary people who did not walk in a true way, but after their own sins.”   (Isaiah 65:2)


He extended His arms upon the Cross, thus “embracing” the ends of the inhabited world. Because the centremost point on earth is Golgotha. And this is not my own reasoning. The Prophet is the one who said:

Yet God is our King from before aeons; He laboured for salvation in the midst of the earth.”  (Psalm 73:12).

 (You, o Lord, forged our salvation through Your world-saving Passions at the centre of the earth).

He who had stretched out the firmament with His divine arms has stretched out His human arms, which were pierced with nails so that when His human nature was nailed to the Cross – bearing the sins of mankind – and eventually perished, sin would also perish with it, but we would also be resurrected blameless and righteous.

For one may die with difficulty for a righteous man; but for a good man, perhaps someone may dare to die”. (Romans 5:7)

So, because death originated from a man (Romans 5:17), life was restored also by a Man – our Saviour - who died voluntarily. To be certain that this is the case, remember the One who said:

No one takes it away from Me, but I lay it down of Myself.  I have authority to lay it down, and I have power to take it back again”.    (John 10:18].

(No-one has the authority to take my life and kill Me if I do not want it. But I give it up on my own. I have the authority to offer my life, and I have the authority also to take it back again)


But He of course had endured all these things in order to save everyone, but His people reciprocated with a wretched repayment.  Jesus said “I am thirsty” (John 19:28].  He who made abundant water spring from a steep precipice, and had asked for the fruits of the vine that He had planted:

Yet I planted you as a fruitful vine, from pure stock. How did you turn to bitterness, you foreign vine?”  (Jeremiah 2:21):

But what was that “vine”?  As regards its nature, it is of course mentioned by the Holy Fathers; as for its proclivity, it was Sodomic, because their vine originated in Sodom and its branches in Gomorrah; and yet, when the Lord thirsted, they took a sponge dipped in vinegar, tied it to a reed and offered that to Him!

Immediately one of them ran and took a sponge, filled it with soured wine, and put it on a reed, and offered it to Him to drink.”  (Matthew 27:48)

 In the book of Psalms we read:

And they gave gall as my food, and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.”     (Psalms 68:22)

Do you see the transparency in the foretelling by Prophets?  Well, what kind of gall (bile) did they put in His mouth? They gave him, he says, 'wine mixed with myrrh, but He did not take it (Mark 15:23).

Myrrh is disgusting and terribly bitter to taste; is that how you reciprocate to the Lord?  Is that the kind of offering that the vine gives to its master?  Isaiah has rightly mourned for you ever since, saying:  

I must sing to my beloved one a song concerning My vineyard: A vineyard was created for My beloved one upon a hill, on a fertile place”.    (Isaiah 5:1)

But let us see what he says further on:

2 And I put a border around it and furrowed it and planted a Sorech vine, and I built a tower in the midst of it and dug out a wine vat in advance in it and I waited for it to produce grapes but, it produced thorns. And now, those who dwell in Jerusalem and you of Judah, judge between Me and My vineyard.  4 What more should I do for My vineyard that I have not done for it? For I have waited for it to produce grapes, but it produced thorns.5 So now I will announce to you what I will do to My vineyard:  I will remove its border and it shall be seized; and I will tear down its wall, and it shall be trampled on. 6 And I will abandon My vineyard and it shall not be pruned or dug, and they shall walk over it as if it is a wasteland of thorns; and I shall command the clouds to not deposit any rain on it. 7 For the vineyard of the Lord Shavaoth is the house of Israel and the man of Judah is the beloved new plant. I waited in order to make judgment, but it has made lawlessness; not justice, but noisiness.”  (Isaiah 5:2-7)

Look at the border of thorns that they surrounded My head with; I waited for the vine (Israel) to make Me grapes to quench My thirst with its wine, but My vineyard brought forth thorns.... So what decision should I make? I will order the clouds not to let rain fall on this vineyard... And of course the clouds stopped raining over that vineyard - that is, the prophetic voice stopped revealing God's will to them.

And as the apostle Paul said, Prophets thereafter would act within the Church:

28 But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God. 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge.   30 But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be encouraged. 32 And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. 33 For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.   (1 Corin.1:28-33)

And elsewhere:

And He Himself gave that some  be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for edifying the body of Christ.”  (Ephesians 4:11-12)

Agabus was also a prophet, who tied his hands and feet with a waistband and thus prophesied the apostle's imprisonment in Jerusalem

10 And as we stayed many days, a certain prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11 When he had come to us, he took Paul’s belt, bound his own hands and feet, and said, ‘Thus says the Holy Spirit - thus shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man who owns this belt, and deliver him into the hands of the Gentile Romans.’ ”    (Acts 21:10-11)


Saint Cyril of Jerusalem on the Creed**

Cyril became Bishop of Jerusalem ca. 350, during the years of Arian controversy that persisted after the first ecumenical Council of Nicea, convened by the emperor Constantine in 325. Cyril came to accept wholeheartedly the Nicene Creed’s definition of the divinity of Christ as “consubstantial” with God the Father. He attended the First Council of Constantinople in 381. Of his many writings, Cyril’s twenty-four famous catecheses (lectures on aspects of the faith), which he delivered as bishop in about 350, have been preserved. The first five of the catecheses concern 1) the prerequisites for Baptism, 2) repentance and remission of sins, 3) the Sacrament of Baptism, 4) ten key points of doctrine, and 5) on faith and the Creed, or Symbol of Faith.

Following is an excerpt from his Catechesis No. 5 on the Creed, §§12 and 13.

But in learning the Faith and in professing it, acquire and keep that only, which is now delivered to you by the Church, and which has been built up strongly out of all the Scriptures.  For since all cannot read the Scriptures, some being hindered as to the knowledge of them by want of learning, and others by a want of leisure, in order that the soul may not perish from ignorance, we comprise the whole doctrine of the Faith in a few lines.  This summary I wish you both to commit to memory when I recite it, and to rehearse it with all diligence among yourselves, not writing it out on paper, but engraving it by the memory upon your heart, taking care while you rehearse it that no catechumen chance to overhear the things which have been delivered to you.

I wish you also to keep this as a provision through the whole course of your life, and beside this to receive no other, neither if we ourselves should change and contradict our present teaching, nor if an adverse angel, transformed into an angel of light (II Corinthians 11:14) should wish to lead you astray.  For though we or an angel from heaven preach to you any other gospel than that you have received, let him be to you anathema. (Galatians 1:8-9)

So for the present listen while I simply say the Creed, and commit it to memory; but at the proper season expect the confirmation out of Holy Scripture of each part of the contents. For the articles of the Faith were not composed as seemed good to men; but the most important points collected out of all the Scripture make up one complete teaching of the Faith.  And just as the mustard seed in one small grain contains many branches, so also this Faith has embraced in few words all the knowledge of godliness in the Old and New Testaments.  Take heed then, brethren, and hold fast the traditions which you now receive, and write them on the table of your heart. (§12)

Guard them with reverence, lest per chance the enemy despoil any who have grown slack; or lest some heretic pervert any of the truths delivered to you. For faith is like putting money into the bank, even as we have now done; but from you God requires the accounts of the deposit. I charge you, as the Apostle says, before God who quickens all things, and Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed the good confession, that you keep this faith which is committed to you, without spot, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.

A treasure of life has now been committed to you, and the Master demands the deposit at His appearing, “which in His own times He shall show, Who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; Who only has immortality, dwelling in light which no man can approach unto; Whom no man has seen nor can see. To Whom be glory, honor and power for ever and ever. Amen”. [I Timothy 6:15-16] (§13)


Translated by Edwin Hamilton Gifford. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 7. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co.,1894.) Revised and edited by Kevin Knight for New Advent. Reprinted with permission. (Complete text: newadvent.org/fathers/310105.htm).


Πέμπτη 21 Απριλίου 2022

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday: The End


by The Very Reverend Alexander Schmemann

These three days, which the Church calls Great and Holy have within the liturgical develop­ment of the Holy Week a very definite purpose. They place all its celebrations in the per­spec­tive of End Times; they remind us of the eschatological meaning of Pascha. So often Holy Week is considered one of the “beautiful traditions” or “customs,” a self-evident “part” of our calendar. We take it for granted and enjoy it as a cherished annual event which we have “observed” since childhood, we admire the beauty of its services, the pageantry of its rites and, last but not least, we like the fuss about the Paschal table. And then, when all this is done we resume our normal life. But do we understand that when the world rejected its Savior, when “Jesus began to be sorrowful and very heavy . . . and his soul was exceedingly sorrowful even unto death,” when He died on the Cross, “normal life” came to its end and is no longer possible. 

For there were “normal” men who shouted “Crucify Him” who spat at Him and nailed Him to the Cross. And they hated and killed Him precisely because He was troubling their normal life. It was indeed a perfectly “normal” world which preferred darkness and death to light and life. . . . By the death of Jesus the “normal” world, and “normal” life were irrevocably condemned. Or rather they revealed their true and abnormal inability to receive the Light, the terrible power of evil in them. “Now is the Judgment of this world” (John 12:31). The Pascha of Jesus signified its end to “this world” and it has been at its end since then. This end can last for hundreds of centuries, but this does not alter the nature of time in which we live as the “last time.” “The fashion of this world passeth away” (I Cor. 7:31).

Pascha means passover, passage. The feast of Passover was for the Jews the annual commemoration of their whole history as salvation, and of salvation as passage from the slavery of Egypt into freedom, from exile into the promised land. It was also the anticipation of the ultimate passage—into the Kingdom of God. And Christ was the fulfillment of Pascha. He performed the ultimate passage: from death into life, from this “old world” into the new world into the new time of the Kingdom. And he opened the possibility of this passage to us. Living in “this world” we can already be “not of this world,” i.e. be free from slavery to death and sin, partakers of the “world to come.” But for this we must also perform our own passage, we must condemn the old Adam in us, we must put on Christ in the baptismal death and have our true life hidden in God with Christ, in the “world to come.”

And thus Easter is not an annual commemoration, solemn and beautiful, of a past event. It is this Event itself shown, given to us, as always efficient, always revealing our world, our time, our life as being at their end, and announcing the Beginning of the new life. . . . And the function of the three first days of Holy Week is precisely to challenge us with this ultimate meaning of Pascha and to prepare us to the understanding and acceptance of it.

1. This eschatological (which means ultimate, decisive, final) challenge is revealed, first, in the common troparion of these days:

Troparion—Tone 8

Behold the Bridegroom comes at midnight, And blessed is the servant whom He shall find watching, And again unworthy is the servant whom He shall find heedless. Beware, therefore, O my soul, do not be weighed down with sleep, Lest you be given up to death and lest you be shut out of the Kingdom. But rouse yourself crying: Holy, Holy, Holy, are You, O our God! Through the Theotokos have mercy on us!

Midnight is the moment when the old day comes to its end and a new day begins. It is thus the symbol of the time in which we live as Christians. For, on the one hand, the Church is still in this world, sharing in its weaknesses and tragedies. Yet, on the other hand, her true being is not of this world, for she is the Bride of Christ and her mission is to announce and to reveal the coming of the Kingdom and of the new day. Her life is a perpetual watching and expectation, a vigil pointed at the dawn of this new day. But we know how strong is still our attachment to the “old day,” to the world with its passions and sins. We know how deeply we still belong to “this world.” We have seen the light, we know Christ, we have heard about the peace and joy of the new life in Him, and yet the world holds us in its slavery. This weakness, this constant betrayal of Christ, this incapacity to give the totality of our love to the only true object of love are wonderfully expressed in the exapostilarion of these three days:

Thy Bridal Chamber I see adorned, O my Savior And I have no wedding garment that I may enter, O Giver of life, enlighten the vesture of my soul And save me.

2. The same theme develops further in the Gospel readings of these days. First of all, the entire text of the four Gospels (up to John 13: 31) is read at the Hours (1, 3, 6 and 9). This recapitulation shows that the Cross is the climax of the whole life and ministry of Jesus, the Key to their proper understanding. Everything in the Gospel leads to this ultimate hour of Jesus and everything is to be understood in its light. Then, each service has its special Gospel lesson :

On Monday:

At Matins: Matthew 21: 18-43—the story of the fig tree, the symbol of the world created to bear spiritual fruits and failing in its response to God.

At the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts: Matthew 24: 3-35: the great eschatological discourse of Jesus. The signs and announcement of the End. “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.”

On Tuesday:

At Matins: Matthew 22:15-23:39; condemnation of Pharisees, i.e., of the blind and hypocritical religion, of those who think they are the leaders of man and the light of the world, but who in fact “shut the Kingdom of heaven against men.”

At the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts: Matthew 24:36-26:2; the End again and the parables of the End: the ten wise virgins who had enough oil in their lamps and the ten foolish ones who were not admitted to the bridal banquet; the parable of the ten talents “… Watch, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” And, finally, the Last Judgement.

On Wednesday:

At Matins: John 12:17-50; the rejection of Christ, the growing conflict, the ultimate warning: “Now is the judgement of this world. . . . He who rejects me and does not receive my sayings, has a judge; the word that I have spoken will be his judge on the last day.”

At the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts: Matthew 26:6-16; the woman who poured the precious ointment on Jesus, the image of love and repentance which alone unite us with Christ.

3. These Gospel lessons are explained and elaborated in the hymnology of these days: the sticheras and the triodia (short canons of three odes each sung at Matins). One warning, one exhortation runs through all of them: the end and the judgement are approaching, let us prepare for them:

When the Lord was going to His voluntary Passion, He said to His Apostles on the way: behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man shall be delivered up, as it is written of Him. Come therefore, and let us accompany Him, with minds purified from the pleasures of this life, and let us be crucified and die with Him, that we may live with Him, and that we may hear Him say to us: I go now, not to the earthly Jerusalem to suffer, but unto My Father and you Father, and My God and your God, and I will raise you up into the upper Jerusalem, in the Kingdom of Heaven. (Monday Matins)

Behold, O my soul, the Master has confided to Thee a talent; receive the favor with fear; lend to Him who gave; distribute to the poor, and acquire for thyself thy Lord as thy Friend; that, when He shall come in glory, thou mayest stand on His right hand and hear His blessed voice: Enter, my servant, into the joy of thy Lord. O my Savior, deem me, the wanderer, worthy of this, through Thy great mercy. (Tuesday Matins)

4. Throughout the whole Lent the two books of the Old Testament read at Vespers were Genesis and Proverbs. With the beginning of the Holy Week they are replaced by Exodus and Job. Exodus is the story of Israel’s liberation from Egyptian slavery, of their Passover. It prepares us for the understanding of Christ’s exodus to His Father, of His fulfillment of the whole history of salvation. Job, the sufferer, is the Old Testament icon of Christ. This reading announces the great mystery of Christ’s sufferings, obedience and sacrifice.

5. The liturgical structure of these three days is still of the Lenten type. It includes, therefore, the prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian with prostrations, the augmented reading of the Psalter, the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts and the Lenten Liturgical chant. We are still in the time of repentance for repentance alone makes us partakers of the Pascha of our Lord, opens to us the doors of the Paschal banquet. And, then, on Great and Holy Wednesday, as the last Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is about to be completed, after the Holy Gifts have been removed from the Altar, the Priest reads for the last time the prayer of St. Ephraim. At this moment the preparation comes to an end. The Lord summons us now to His Last Supper.


The Mystery of Holy Week

Among the more pernicious ideas that inhabit our contemporary world is the notion that we are all isolated, independent, and alone. Even when we gather, we think of ourselves as but one among many. Among the most glaring exceptions to this form of thought, however, are sporting events. People attend a football game and declare when it is finished, “We won!” or “We lost!” We feel genuine joy at the first and sadness at the second. We do not say, “They won” (unless we mean the opposing side). This is not actually strange. Sport has, from its earliest beginnings, been a religious experience. That said, it is an experience that we fail to consider or understand. It is also a shallow, meaningless, religion.

The mystery of sport is that we have some sense not only watching, but participating in what takes place. The team’s victory is my victory. The emptiness of this mystery is that what is being “participated” in has no substance or true being. We feel robbed when a referee blows a call and the game ends with the wrong winner. At such a moment the emptiness of the game is revealed. It had no more meaning than a mistake.

This meditation on sport is a very vacuous way to get at the notion of true participation (of which it is but the least shadow). True participation lies at the heart of all worship and much else in our lives. A marriage, at its best, is a participation, a literal sharing in the life of the other. The language of Scripture describes a spouse as “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” What each does affects the other, both for good and for ill. The same is true for other relationships to lesser extents. St. Silouan said, “My brother is my life.” This participation is the very nature of love itself. We are commanded to “love your neighbor as yourself.” There can be no other form of love.

Scripture describes the knowledge of God as a participation – it is a sharing in His life. God can never be the “object” of our love for He is not an object. Because knowledge of God is by participation, Christ can say, “This is eternal life, that they might know Thee… and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.” (Jn. 17:3) This, of course, is a great frustration to atheists who claim that God does not exist because they cannot perceive Him as object. The emptiness of modern life presumes that there is no participation anywhere, only life as an object among objects. Little wonder that modernity thrives on violence (if people are objects, then we can do violence without damage to ourselves).

Participation in the Holy

Our modern mind-set has difficulties with the long, exhausting services of Orthodox Holy Week. Each of the services is something of a liturgical presentation of the significant events of that day that led up to the death and resurrection of Christ. They are also a “deep-dive” into the rich meanings, both in the events themselves, but also in hearts of all involved. But more than this, the services constitute a participation in the events themselves. Just as the Holy Eucharist is a “participation” in the Body and Blood of Christ (1Cor. 10:16), so the various services of the Church are a participation in that which they represent.

St. Paul writes, “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live.” (Gal. 2:20) The death and resurrection of Christ are not simply events that we think about, things that happened long ago that we think of as significant. The crucifixion of Christ (to use but one example) is an event of eternal reality (as an extension of its historical character), as well. It is not just eternal, but reaches out and includes all things. It is a misunderstanding when Christians say that “Christ died for me,” without also saying, “Christ died in me, and I have died with Him.” St. Paul describes this as the very nature of Holy Baptism (Rom. 6:3).

The same mystical link that unites the sacrament of Holy Baptism and the death of Christ, is also found in the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, and is the mystery that unites us to Him in all of the services. Worship has a sacramental character at all times.

In Holy Week, we do not make an extra effort merely to engage in liturgical excess. We extend that which is contained in the Liturgy of every Sunday morning across the days of an entire week that we might concentrate our souls on every detail of that most holy sacrifice, and in that concentration, allow ourselves to become aware of the grace given to us in that holy union. The services are long because the days of that week were long. We exhaust ourselves because He was exhausted. At its deepest moment, Christ Himself asked if it were possible for all of this to happen some other way. Our own doubts and hesitations are thus sanctified, and participate in the agony of the Garden. St. Paul gives voice to our hearts in our longing for participation in Christ:

“…that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship [lit. “communion”]of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (Phil 3:10-11)

Christ gives Himself for us that He might give Himself in us. We give ourselves to Him, that we might be with Him: crucified, buried, risen. It is our inheritance in the Kingdom.

Good strength in the events of this week!

See also   

The Bridegroom and Judgment // Orthodox Holy Week

God’s Tattoos

Lazarus Saturday: Christ “stole him from among the dead.” Next weekend there will be a blasting of the gates of hell itself! 


Great and Holy Friday + Great and Holy Saturday!... 

The end of Judas and the potter's field

Knocking Down the Gates of Hell 

Who Can Close Paradise if the Lord Opens It?

"ክርስቶስ ተነስቷል!" - "ልጄ በዚህች ሌሊት ሰማያት ተውበዋል"

This Time Is That Time – Holy Week Thoughts  

An Atonement of Shame – Orthodoxy and the Cross

Victory Against Death - The Sadness and Joy of Holy Saturday!

About The Paschal Lamb

The Mystery of Holy Week and Pascha

The Orthodox Holy Week & Holy Easter (Pascha)

"And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself",
John 12: 32 (icon from here)