Holy Week is a reenactment of the last week of Jesus’ life. Through Scripture readings, songs, chants, and prayers, the Orthodox Church relives the last days of Christ. Holy Week is an opportunity for us to follow our God and Savior to the Cross. In Orthodoxy’s sacramental understanding of reality, we are there in spirit partaking of the events of Holy Week.
On Great Friday we observe the Holy, saving, and awesome Passion of our Lord, and God, and Saviour Jesus Christ; the spittings, the scourgings, the buffetings, the scorn, the mocking, the purple robe, the reed, the sponge, the vinegar, the nails, the spear, and above all, the Cross and Death, which He willingly suffered for us.
(Holy Thursday service, p. 251)
The goal of Holy Week is the Cross. On Holy Thursday we hear twelve Gospel readings taken from all four Gospels. This makes it one of the longest services in the year. During this service, there is an intermission of sorts when the congregation is invited to come up and venerate the Cross. It is a moving moment to stand before the Cross, knowing that Jesus is there because of your sins, and because of his love for you.
It is an opportunity for us to show our appreciation of Christ’s sacrifice by dedicating our lives to him. To venerate the Cross is a far more powerful experience than hearing sermons about the Cross. We stand before the Cross looking at Jesus’ broken body. We reflect on our inner brokenness. We behold God’s love reaching out to us. It is touching to see people prostrate themselves before the Cross and then bend down to kiss Jesus’ nail-pierced feet.
We come back to church on Friday night for the Lamentations service and on Saturday midnight for the Resurrection (Pascha) service. From the Cross on Thursday night, we follow Christ as he is laid to rest in the tomb in the Friday Lamentations service. Then we await his glorious and joyous resurrection on Sunday.