Bright Monday: Reflections on the End of Holy Week

Christ is risen!

The Healy’s began their part of the intensive Orthodox Holy Week services with Good Friday Matins, which was celebrated Thursday evening. The Twelve Gospels are read and hymns sung for what was a liturgy lasting more than two and a half hours. During this service–in which the entire nave is dark, save for candlelight–a procession is made with the crucifix (a large cross on which the icon body of Christ is nailed) through the congregation. We slowly sing, “Today He Who hung the earth upon the waters is hung on the tree./The King of the angels is decked with a crown of thorns./He Who wraps the heavens in clouds is wrapped in the purple of mockery./He Who freed Adam in the Jordan is slapped on the face./The Bridegroom of the Church is affixed to the Cross with nails./The Son of the Virgin is pierced by a spear.” I wept. Nothing spectacular, but the tears just kept coming, despite my efforts to maintain some decorum. When we venerated the crucifix at the end, the tears came again. Anna asked me, “Are you alright?” I said, “Yes,” but was still on the verge of more tears on the ride home.

On Friday, we went to Good Friday Vespers at 3pm, then to Great and Holy Saturday Matins later that evening. Vespers were much less emotional, but still powerful. During the service, the burial shroud and a large icon of the burial are placed on a bier (decorated with red and white carnations and red roses), which we later venerated. Nelson asked me after service if I would be one of the men to carry the bier that evening during the Great and Holy Saturday Matins. I agreed, but inwardly I could only reflect on how unworthy I was to function as a “pall bearer” for Christ. Matins came, and I carried the bier. I was very near tears most of the time, but maintained an appropriate humility (I think). When we all went home after the service, it had been a long day. Sofie had done well, and Anna remained in good spirits. We slept the sleep of the exhausted.

On Great and Holy Saturday, we went to the Vesperal Divine Liturgy in the Morning. This was yet another moving service. One humurous point was when some of the parish young women went through the congregation and tossed out bay leaves over the worshippers. Sofie was slightly distressed by the loud rustling noise of all the leaves, but she never cried, and we held her and reassured her everything was okay. (Then spent the rest of the time trying to keep her from eating the leaves!)

The culmination of it all, however, was the Paschal Matins followed by the Paschal Divine Liturgy. Anna was somewhat incredulous about worshipping the Lord’s Resurrection in the middle of the night. And truth be told, a four-hour long service, during the time she and I (and, I hasten to add, Sofie) are normally asleep, does cause one to ask certain questions. But the service was powerful. From the pitch-darkness prior to lighting the Paschal Candle and the resulting growing light as more and more of us lighted our tapers from its light passed on to us from others, to the procession around the temple as we went to the Tomb of our Lord, to the knocking on the temple doors, to St. John Chrysostom’s Paschal Homily, to the joyous repetitions of the Paschal greeting, to the serving of the Great and Holy Mysteries and the blessing of the paschal baskets, to the feasting afterwards–it was one of the most joyous celebrations of the Lord’s Resurrection I’ve ever been to. It was Sofie’s first Easter. The first Easter that our family celebrated in an Orthodox Church. When Anna, Sofie and I fell asleep–exhausted and refreshed all at once–sometime between 4:30am and 5:00am, I could truthfully say, “That’s how you do Easter!” Through the day yesterday, as we shared Easter greetings with our family, it was great to hear Anna tell her family about the services in tones of joy and admiraton. God is working. May His Name always be praised.

What a blessed, blessed group of days.

5 thoughts on “Bright Monday: Reflections on the End of Holy Week

  1. Yes, my memories of the Episcopal Church Easter Vigil Service is that there were more Old Testament passages (though my recollection of the Episcopal Chruch Good Friday service was that there weren’t a series of lessons). But then, the Orthodox Church does do a lot of the OT readings for the Great and Holy Saturday Matins readings.

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