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Category: Easter (Page 2 of 2)

Christ Is Risen!

 

Christ Trampling Down Death

 

Today Hades cried out groaning: “My power has been trampled on; the Shepherd has been crucified, and Adam He raised up.  I have been deprived of those, over whom I ruled; and all those, I had the power to swallow, I have disgorged.  He, Who was crucified has cleared the tombs.  The dominion of Death is no more.”  Glory O Lord, to Your Cross and Your Resurrection.

Holy Saturday Morning – Liturgy of St. Basil

 

 

The “Apocrypha” Anticipates Christ’s Passion

 

Many Protestants know of Isaiah 53 which predicted Christ’s suffering, but few know of the Wisdom of Solomon which predicted the persecution of Christ by ungodly men.

One unexpected blessing of becoming Orthodox has been a larger Old Testament.  Where many Protestant bibles omit the Deuterocanonical books (often referred to as “Apocrypha”), Orthodox bibles include them.  The reason for the inclusion is because the Old Testament used by the Apostles was the Septuagint which included the Wisdom of Solomon.  The Septuagint is a Greek translation of the Jewish bible that also included books written from the fourth century to the first century before Christ.

It may surprise some readers that the King James Version originally contained the “Aprocrypha,” and even has the Wisdom of Solomon.  Reformed Christians may be surprised that the Geneva Bible likewise contained a section, “the Apocrypha.”  Originally, Protestants accepted the “Apocrypha.” This reflected their respect for historic listing of biblical books.  It would not be until the 1700s and 1800s that there would take place the large scale exclusion of the Deuterocanonical books leading to the Protestants’ loss.

 

Christ the Son of God

The second chapter of Wisdom of Solomon describes the sufferings of no ordinary man, but that of the Christ, the Son of God.  Augustine of Hippo in City of God Book 2 Chapter 20 (NPNF vol. 2 p. 357) saw this passage as a prophecy of Christ’s Passion. These verses describe the inner thoughts or dialogue among the ungodly about the righteous man.  Their indifference to God becomes manifest in their hatred to God’s Son.

He professes to have knowledge of God,
And calls himself a child of the Lord.

He became to us a reproof of our thoughts;

The very sight of him is a burden to us,
Because his manner of life is unlike that of others,
And his ways are strange.

We are considered by him as something base,
And he avoids our ways as unclean;
He calls the last end of the righteous happy,
And boasts that God is his father.
(Wisdom of Solomon 2:13-16; RSV)

The Christ to Suffer

Where Isaiah 53 focuses on Christ’s sufferings, Wisdom of Solomon 2 highlights the inner thoughts of Christ’s enemies.

Let us see if his words are true,
And let us put these last things to the test
at the end of his life.
For if the righteous man is a son of God, He will help him.
And deliver him from the hand of those who oppose him.
(Wisdom of Solomon 2:17-18)

Let us test him with insult and torture
That we may know his gentleness
And test his patient endurance.
Let us condemn him to a shameful death,
For there shall be a visitation because of him.
(Wisdom of Solomon 2:19-20; RSV)

On Holy Thursday evening, the Orthodox Church remembers the horrific events of Christ’s last hours in the service known as the “Twelve Gospels.”  During this service passages from all four Gospels are read commemorating Christ’s saving death.  Knowing Old Testament passages like Isaiah 53 and Wisdom of Solomon 2 can help us better understand Christ’s suffering.

Holy Thursday Service at St. Mary Orthodox Church in Cambridge, MA.

 

Scripture Fulfilled

It is possible that Jesus had Isaiah 53 and Wisdom of Solomon 2 in mind when he informed his disciples of his imminent death.  We read in Mark’s Gospel:

And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.  (Mark 8:31-32)

Later we read  in Mark 15:29-31 of the chief priests and scribes making fun of Christ:

And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself, and come down from the cross!”

Likewise the chief priests also, mocking among themselves with the scribes, said, “He saved others; Himself He cannot save.  Let the Christ, the King of Israel, descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” (Mark 15:29-32; OSB)

 

The Good News

Behind the horrific indignities and torture inflicted on Jesus Christ is the mystery of God’s powerful and redemptive love.  Apostle Paul explained in Romans:

But God demonstrates his love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.  For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.  (Romans 5:8-10; OSB)

The phrase “by His life” points to Christ’s resurrection.  Christ’s death on the Cross is followed by his resurrection.  The two together comprise the Good News.  Between Good Friday and Easter Sunday is Holy Saturday — a time of waiting.  As we wait, let us meditate on God’s tender mercies for us sinners.

 

 

Following Christ in Holy Week

 

Icon - Entry into Jerusalem

Icon – Entry into Jerusalem

One surprise for me when I converted to Orthodoxy was the frequency of church services during the week.  After several years of being an Orthodox Christian I began to understand that the middle of the week services was a form of Christian discipleship.  Being at the services deepens one’s prayer life and serves as a “Sunday School” lesson of sorts.

How should one view these services?  They are not “good works” to earn “brownie points” with God.  A more Orthodox perspective is to view attendance at these services as an expression of Christian discipleship, a means of uniting one’s self with Christ.

The middle of the week services – feast days – are not distributed evenly throughout the year.  Sometimes there are no services and other times there are multiple services during the week.  Holy Week is full of services.  These services offer us an opportunity to follow Jesus Christ in the final week of his life.  Oftentimes when we read the Bible we feel in our hearts: “I wish I had been there.”  This can happen in the Holy Week services.  The Holy Week services in Orthodoxy have a sacramental aspect to them.  By the grace of the Holy Spirit we are no longer separated by time from the life of Christ recounted in the Gospels.  Through the services we are there when Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead and when he enters Jerusalem on the donkey.  We are there at the Last Supper, and we stand with Mary and the beloved disciple at the foot of the Cross.  We are also witnesses to Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial.  All this takes us to the wrecking of hell and Christ’s glorious resurrection.

Holy Week is part of the ancient tradition of the Church.  Its roots go back to the second and third century when candidates were prepared to undergo baptism on Easter Sunday.  In the fourth century the services celebrating Christ’s death and resurrection were elaborated becoming longer and more complex.  The result of this evolution can be seen in the Holy Week service book almost 500 pages long!  Many church members have a copy of the Holy Week service book to help them to follow along.

 

Holy Week commences after Palm Sunday on Sunday night.  Below is a general outline of the Holy Week services.

Sunday night, Monday night, Tuesday night – Bridegroom services.  The name of the services come from the parable of Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13) in which a group of virgins are waiting for the arrival of the bridegroom.  Some stayed awake and were ready to receive the bridegroom while others dozed off and were not there to greet the bridegroom when he came.

Wednesday nightHoly Unction service.  This services teaches us about salvation as healing, both spiritual and physical.  At the end of the service the Orthodox faithful go up to be anointed by the priest.  Because Holy Unction is a sacrament visitors should refrain from going up to receive it; but they are free to watch the service.

 

Holy Thursday Service at St. Mary Orthodox Church in Cambridge, MA.

Holy Thursday Service at St. Mary Orthodox Church in Cambridge, MA.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday night – This service is also known as the Twelve Gospels.  In this service the Gospel accounts of Christ’s betrayal and the events leading up to his death are read out loud in twelve separate excerpts.  In this service one is literally saturated with Scripture.  During this service the priest carries the cross around the sanctuary like Jesus did.  Then the icon of the crucified Christ is affixed onto the Cross and the parishioners line up to bend down and kiss Christ’s feet.  We kiss Christ’s feet to show our appreciation of the fact that Christ died for our sins.

 

Holy Friday Service - Source: McBrooklyn

Holy Friday Service – Source: McBrooklyn

Friday night – In this service we celebrate Christ’s burial in the tomb and also his descent into hell.  There is a joy atmosphere in this service because it was not so much that death defeated Christ but rather that his death destroyed Death itself.

When You, the Immortal Life, descended to Death, You struck Hades dead with the lightning of the Godhead; and when you raised up the dead from the abyss, all the powers of Heaven cried aloud; “O life-Giver, Christ, our God, glory to You! (p. 373)

Visitors will see the entire congregation processing around the church.  Up in the front is a group of men carrying on their shoulders a wooden table covered with flowers.  The “epitaphion” is a table on which is an image of Jesus Christ lying in state.  We mourn Christ’s death but we also rejoice because by his death Death is destroyed.  One could say that this is a funeral procession in reverse!

 

Saturday night/Sunday morning – The Pascha (Easter) service is the high point of the Orthodox year.  On this night we celebrate Christ’s rising from the dead.  His resurrection is proof that death is not final and that one day we too will be resurrected.

O King and Lord, having slept in the flesh as a mortal, You arose on the third day, raising up Adam from corruption, and abolishing Death.  O Pascha of incorruption, the salvation of the world. (p. 457)

One deeply engrained habit among Protestants is celebrating Easter on Sunday morning.  Many attend a sunrise service to celebrate Easter, but this is not the case for the Orthodox.  We go to church late Saturday evening.  In many Orthodox churches the Easter service begins at midnight and goes on into the early morning hours.

As an example of the Protestant mental habits the first time I attempted to visit an Orthodox Easter service I called the church office, the lady who answered the phone told me that their Easter service was being held that Saturday night.  I had a hard time believing her so I went to the Orthodox Church that Sunday morning and heard the Gospel account of the resurrection being read by at least a dozen different languages.  This is the Agape Vespers service.  At the end of that service I saw children going up to receive a chocolate Easter bunny; I thought to myself: “That’s a funny way of doing Communion.”  Looking back, I can only smile at my naiveté about Orthodoxy.  I learned from my mistake and the following year I was there for the real thing.

 Lurkers Alert!

Holy Week is a good time for lurkers to learn more about Orthodoxy.  Call the local Orthodox Church and ask about the Holy Week services.  Then sneak in quietly into the back pews and listen to the prayers and chants.  Don’t be surprised if you get lost or feel overwhelmed.  This is not Orthodoxy lite but the deep waters of Orthodox worship.

Practical Tip #1: It would probably be a good idea to find out how much of the service will be in English.  Some Orthodox parishes will do more of the service in the language of the old country.  If you have an Orthodox friend, the friend can guide you along in the often confusing complexity of the services.  And don’t be surprised if even long time Orthodox get lost during the services!

Practical Tip #2: Don’t feel obliged to do anything.  Some Protestants might feel nervous and anxious when they see people doing prostrations or kissing icons.  We’re happy you are visiting us and we don’t expect non-Orthodox do the same thing we do.

Robert Arakaki

 

Sources

George L. Papadeas, compiler and translator.  2003.  Greek Orthodox Holy Week & Easter Services.  New English Translation.  Patmos Press.

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