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Category: Feast Days (Page 1 of 6)

Holy Week 2023

For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Holy Week is a great opportunity for learning about Orthodoxy.

In 2023, the Orthodox Church will be celebrating Christ’s Resurrection on Saturday midnight/Sunday morning, April 15/16. Because Orthodox Easter falls one week after Western Easter, this will give those interested in Orthodoxy an opportunity to learn about Orthodoxy by attending the Holy Week services.

Holy Week begins on the evening of Palm Sunday and reaches a climax on the evening of Great Saturday. Most Orthodox parishes will be having services every day in Holy Week and sometimes multiple services in a day. If you are planning to attend a Holy Week service, be sure to contact the local Orthodox parish or visit their website.

These services are more than a ritual reenactment of the last days of Jesus Christ’s life on earth. There is a sacramental reality to the services. In a very real way we are there with Christ and his disciples. In Revelation 1:10, the Apostle John notes that he was “in the Spirit” on the Lord’s Day. It was by the grace of the Holy Spirit that he was able to experience the reality of heaven where Christ, the saints, and the angels dwell. So likewise, the key to the Holy Week services is listening to the chants and prayers with a heart open to the Holy Spirit.

Through the Holy Week services we participate in the events described in the Gospels. We are there with the disciples watching Jesus confronting the Pharisees and the Jewish leaders. We are there listening to Jesus giving the Upper Room discourse. We are there beholding Jesus’ being condemned by the Jewish leaders and by the Roman governor Pontius Pilate. We are there with the Virgin Mary and the beloved Disciple at the foot of the Cross. We are there as Jospeh of Arimathea and Nicodemus lay Jesus’ body in the tomb. And, we are there as the women make their way to the tomb to annoint Jesus’ body.

Holy Week is like a spiritual roller coaster ride with incredible highs and lows. The best way to learn about Orthodoxy is not by reading books but by attending the services. Come and see!

Below is a description of the services held during Holy Week.

Bridegroom Service

The Bridegroom Service is held Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday evenings. The theme of the bridegroom comes from the Parable about the Ten Virgins who are waiting for the coming of Bridegroom (Matthew 25:1-13). Those who are spiritually ready will be welcomed into the marriage feast, while those who are not ready will be shut outside.

Troparion (hymn)

Behold, the Bridegroom cometh in the middle of the night, and blessed is that servant whom He shall find watching; and again unworthy is he whom He shall find heedless. Beware, therefore, O my soul, lest thou be overcome with sleep, lest thou be given up to death, and be shut out from the Kingdom. But rouse thyself and cry: Holy, Holy, Holy art Thou, O God, through the Mother of God, have mercy on us.

Hymn of the Bridegroom Service

Holy Unction Service

The Holy Unction Service is held on Wednesday night. The theme of the service is the healing of our souls, minds, and bodies. Passages from Scripture relating to Christ healing the sick are read out loud. Interspersed with the Scripture readings are hymns about Judas’ fall into apostasy interspersed with hymns about the rise of the woman who annointed Jesus. At the end of the service the Orthodox faithful go up to be annointed with Holy Chrism.

The Sacrament of Holy Unctiion

Holy Thursday – Twelve Gospels

On the evening of Holy Thursday, the Orthodox Church reads out loud from all four Gospels passages relating to Jesus’ Passion in twelve separate readings. In this very moving service, we hear of Judas’ betrayal of Christ, Peter’s denial of Christ, Christ being condemned by the Jewish leaders and by the Roman governor, his crucifixion, ending with his burial. After each Gospel reading a candle in the candelabra is lit. By the end of the service, all twelve candles are blazing with light in the darkened church.

Holy Cross OCA

In the middle of the Twelve Gospels, the priest comes out carrying a life-sized icon of the crucified Christ. He processes around the church interior then erects the icon of the crucified Christ up in the front of the nave. At the end of the service people will line up to bow down and kiss the feet of the crucified Christ. We are reminded that Christ died to save us from our sins, and we respond with faith and love.

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

Holy Friday Service

On Holy Thursday night, the Orthodox Church commemorates Christ’s death on the Cross. Then on Friday night, it commemorates the Body of the Crucified Christ being reverently lowered from the Cross and lovingly placed in the sepulcher (tomb). Unlike graves dug in the ground, in first-century Palestine graves were often dug horizontally into the hillside and covered with a massive circular stone.

Visitors not familiar with Orthodoxy might wonder about the wooden object being carried around the church interior then outside the church. They might hear about a mysterious object called the epitaphio–a cloth embroidered with the image of Christ’s crucified body. The embroidered image is placed on the Holy Table, a wooden table with four pillars that support a domed roof symbolizing the sepulcher in which Christ’s Crucified Body would be placed. Carrying the epitaphio in procession around the parish is much like a being part of the honor guard for Christ’s funeral procession. In grief and love we carry Christ’s body to the tomb.

Women decorating the epitaphio.
Gold embroidered epitaphio depicting Christ’s crucified body.
The epitaphio being carried in procession. Holy Friday Service – Source: McBrooklyn

Basically, the Good Friday service is a lamentation service in which the Orthodox Church laments the death of our God and Savior Jesus Christ. During the service a long hymn with many stanzas will be sung. The lamentations are profoundly rich reflections on Christ’s death on the Cross. Below is a sample of the stanzas that will be sung on Good Friday.

Today He who hung the earth upon the waters is hung upon the Cross. He who is King of the angels is arrayed in a crown of thorns. He who wraps the heavens in clouds is wrapped in the purple of mockery. He who in Jordan set Adam free receives blows upon His face. The Bridegroom of the Church is transfixed with nails. The Son of the Virgin is pierced with a spear. We venerate Thy Passion, O Christ. Show us also Thy glorious Resurrection. [Fifteenth antiphon]

YouTube: “Εγκώμια – The Lamentations – 1st, 2nd & 3rd Stasis – Holy Friday

Holy Saturday Morning

Holy Saturday morning marks the period between Christ’s death and his resurrection. On Holy Saturday morning, the Orthodox Church celebrates Christ’s descent into Hades. Having died on the Cross, Jesus Christ the God-Man enters into the realm of the dead in order to liberate them from the power of Death. As a flesh-and-blood man Jesus enters the realm of the dead, yet as Undying Life he overwhelms Death and Hades. This is the basis for the paradoxical statement: By death Christ destroyed Death.

In Hebrews 2:14-15 we read:

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same nature, that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage. (RSV)

Here we see the motif of Christus Victor – Jesus Christ who conquers and defeats death, the ancient enemy of humanity. In many Orthodox parishes, Holy Saturday services are marked with the priest walking down the aisle throwing rose petals left and right in joyful anticipation of Christ’s impending Resurrection.

Holy Saturday service – priest scattering flowers.

Daniel Manzuk wrote “Great and Holy Saturday: The Forgotten Feast” in which he explains the significance of Holy Saturday. On Holy Saturday morning, a subtle shift takes place between the despondency of Good Friday and the ecstasy of Pascha. One could say that Holy Saturday marks the transition from the black darkness of the night to the early glow on the horizon. Much of the sky is still shrouded in black but those who keep watch know that in a short while brilliant sunlight will break forth over the horizon ushering in the New Day.

Great and Holy Pascha

On the Great and Holy Feast of Pascha, Orthodox Christians celebrate the life-giving Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This feast of feasts is the most significant day in the life of the Church. It is a celebration of the defeat of death, as neither death itself nor the power of the grave could hold our Savior captive. In this victory that came through the Cross, Christ broke the bondage of sin, and through faith offers us restoration, transformation, and eternal life. (Source)

Orthodox Christians will come to church late Saturday night to celebrate Pascha (Orthodox Easter). Typically, the Pascha celebration takes place from around 11 p.m. Saturday night to 2 a.m. Sunday morning. It is actually a series of services, each with a particular theme, that culminates in the Divine Liturgy and the reading of Saint John Chrysostom’s Paschal homily. The famous sermon concludes with the unforgettable call and response: Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen!

Greek Orthodox Easter Celebration

Christos Anesti! (Christ is Risen!)

Many non-Orthodox will find it hard to believe that Orthodoxy celebrates Easter Saturday midnight. Back when I was a curious Protestant, I called the local parish and did not believe the secretary when she told me that the Easter service would be Saturday midnight. I came to the church on Sunday morning and to my surprise and bewilderment heard lay people reading from the Bible in their own languages. This was not the Orthodox Easter service but the Agape Vespers service.

If this is your first time, please call the local parish ahead of time to inquire about the schedule of services. It also helps to inquire about the availability of parking and if one should plan on coming earlier.

One other word of advice, be sure to get a candle when you enter the church. Everyone there will have a candle. At a certain point in the service, all the lights inside the church will be extinguished. Then the priest will come out from the altar area announcing Christ’s resurrection. He will walk down the aisle lighting people’s candle. Then people will light their neighbor’s candles. Soon, the entire interior will be filled with candle light and the joyous refrain: “Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen!”

Sunday Morning – Agape Vespers

On most Sunday mornings, it is the priest who reads the Gospel, but in the Agape Vespers service lay people will read out loud John’s Gospel 20:19-25 in their respective languages. This is done to demonstrate the universality of the Good News of Christ’s Resurrection. In comparison to the exuberant celebration of the Pascha service, the tone of the Agape Vespers is much more subdued and reflective.

Agape Vespers at St. James Antiochian Orthodox Church – Ft. Collins, Colorado

Service Text for Agape Vespers (PDF)

For many first-time visitors, Holy Week is like stepping into a very different kind of Christianity–ancient, mystical, and holy. Come and See!

Robert Arakaki


Learn: Holy Monday, Tuesday & Wednesday: Services of the Bridegroom

Rev. Alkiviadis Calivas. “Great Friday.

Fr. Nicholas Magoulias. “A Journey Through Holy Week.”

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A Time of Waiting, A Time of Hoping

Christ Resurrecting Lazarus


On the Saturday preceding Palm Sunday, the Orthodox Church commemorates Christ bringing Lazarus back from the dead.  This event is a foreshadowing of Christ’s greater victory over Death and Hades.

In 2020, Western Easter falls on a different date.  While the Western churches celebrate Easter, Orthodoxy will be celebrating Palm Sunday.  The COVID19 (coronavirus) pandemic has impacted many of us directly or indirectly.  The pandemic has made us aware that the threat of death is not far away. In this time when the menace of death stares us in the face we need to hold fast to our faith in God.

The story of Lazarus’ falling ill, Jesus’ delay in coming, and Lazarus’ surprising resurrection is given in the Gospel of John 11:1-44.  Lazarus’ two sisters, Martha and Mary, are depicted at the bottom of the icon above.  In the Gospel narrative is an interesting exchange between Martha and Jesus.

Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

Martha said to Him, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.  And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.  Do you believe this?”

She said to Him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”  (John 11:23-28; NKJV)

Here we see Martha moving from faith in an event to faith in a Person, Jesus Christ.  Jesus’ goal here is to lead Martha (and us) to a personal trust in him.  Here Saint Martha serves as an example of Christian discipleship.

The story of Lazarus teaches us about the need for faith in a time of sickness, suffering, and even death.  The story also teaches us about God’s compassion in our times of suffering and confusion and darkness.  The Orthodox Church sings this hymn on the Saturday of Lazarus:

O Saviour who lovest mankind, Thou hast wept over the dead, in this way showing to all the peoples that, being God, Thou hast become man for our sakes; and, shedding tears by Thine own choice, Thou hast given us proof of Thy heartfelt love. (Lenten Triodion p. 472)

Lazarus’ resurrection is significant as the first of many defeats that Christ would inflict on Hell.  The Orthodox liturgy recounts in a dialogue between Hell and Lazarus:

‘I implore thee, Lazarus,’ said hell, ‘rise up, depart quickly from my bonds and be gone.  It is better for me to lament bitterly for the loss of one, rather than of all those whom I swallowed in my hunger.’ (Lenten Triodion p. 473)

Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday serve as the prelude to Orthodoxy’s Holy Week.  As we progress through Holy Week, we come closer to the darkness and pain of Christ’s Passion.  As Orthodox Christians we do not rush to the happy ending of Easter Sunday, rather through the Holy Week services we walk with Christ in the last days of his earthly life, then we stand patiently at the foot of the Cross with the Virgin Mary and the Apostle John (John 19:25-27).  When we fall sick or experience deep pain, time seems to come to a standstill.  We find ourselves waiting for God to come through for us.  This waiting for God is a test of our faith in God.  Holy Week is a time for waiting and a time for hoping.  So likewise our life here on earth is a time of waiting and a time of hoping.  We are like Jesus’ friend Lazarus who suffered sickness and death, and we are like Martha who looked forward to the hope of the resurrection.

Robert Arakaki



The Lenten Triodion.  2002.  Translated by Mother Mary and Archimandrite Kallistos Ware.  (pp. 472-473)



Preparing for Lent

Feeling overwhelmed by sin?


The Orthodox Church prepares for Lent by observing a series of Sundays, each with a particular theme. On the Sunday of the Prodigal Son, the Orthodox faithful hear one of Jesus’ well known parables and are urged to reflect on the importance of repentance for our spiritual recovery. One way we learn the meaning of repentance is through the hymns and prayers of the Church. One especially powerful prayer sung in the Vespers service for the Sunday of the Prodigal Son goes:

I was entrusted with a sinless and living land, but I sowed the ground with sin and reaped with a sickle the ears of slothfulness; in thick sheaves I garnered my actions, but winnowed them not on the threshing floor of repentance. But I beg Thee, my God, the pre-eternal husbandman, with the wind of Thy loving-kindness winnow the chaff of my works, and grant to my soul the corn of forgiveness; shut me in Thy heavenly storehouse and save me. (Lenten Triodion p. 112; emphasis added)

Frederica Mathewes-Green in Facing East (p. 13) describes this hymn as a blend of the just-as-I-am humility but with a flourish of eloquent rhetoric. This prayer resonates with me because I spend a fair amount of time doing yard work. I find it frustrating after having made a part of my yard immaculate seeing weeds reappear over and over. This for me is a picture of the situation in my soul.

Heaven was intended to be our home, but due to our sins we have gone into exile, living in a foreign land strangers to God. In another part of the Vespers service is the prayer:

As the Prodigal Son I come to Thee; merciful Lord. I have wasted my whole life in a foreign land; I have scattered the wealth which Thou gavest me, O Father. Receive me in repentance, O God, and have mercy on me. (Lenten Triodion p. 113)

Sin is more than a legal violation. It is also the state of estrangement in which one is far removed from God. Therefore, salvation is more than legal righteousness; it also involves union with God. Repentance is key to our return to God. Repentance is more than remorse – feeling bad or having regrets over what one has done. Repentance goes a step beyond remorse and involves the renunciation of sin and a return back to God. Judas Iscariot had remorse, but Simon Peter returned to Jesus. The prodigal son had remorse when he longed to eat what the pigs were eating, but repented when he came to himself and resolved to go back home to his father (Luke 15:17-18).

In Orthodoxy, repentance is more than a one-time event. For Orthodox Christians, repentance is a continuous, ongoing process throughout life. We sin; we repent; we sin again; and we repent again. This cycle continues throughout life. Every Sunday we pray that we may live out our lives in peace and repentance. The good news is that when we repent, God is there to receive us back.


Icon of the Prodigal Son

Repentance in the Reformed and Orthodox Traditions

Repentance is a good example of how synergy underlies our salvation in Christ. We repent and God receives us back gladly. Unlike the heresy of Pelagianism which teaches that salvation depends on our exercising our will power, Christianity teaches God’s grace and mercy prepares the way for our return. God initiates and we respond.  God is the source of our salvation.

The Orthodox paradigm of salvation rests on two premises: (1) that God loves all people and (2) that all of us, even though fallen sinners, still retain free will. Our souls may have been damaged and corrupted by sin, but we still have the capacity to respond to God who is Love (1 John 4:8). Love does not coerce, but waits. The father in the parable of the Prodigal Son considered the wayward son dead in a certain sense but was waiting in hope for his return (see Luke 15:32).  The Orthodox paradigm of synergism differs sharply from the Reformed paradigm of monergism. In the Reformed paradigm the human will has been so damaged by the Fall that humanity lacks the capacity to return to God unless one has been predestined. We find the doctrine of monergism in the major confessions of the Reformed tradition.

Other men do not share this conflict since they do not have God’s Spirit, but they readily follow and obey sin and feel no regrets, since they act as the devil and their corrupt nature urge. But the sons of God fight against sin; sob and mourn when they find themselves tempted to do evil; and, if they fall, rise again with earnest and unfeigned repentance. They do these things, not by their own power, but by the power of the Lord Jesus, apart from whom they can do nothing. (Chapter 13 – Scots Confession; emphasis added)

Now we expressly say that this repentance is a sheer gift of God and not a work of our strength. (Chapter 14 – Second Helvetic Confession; emphasis added)

Where Calvinism believes that humanity has lost all capacity to respond to God’s grace, Orthodoxy and the early Church Fathers taught that man has retained free will after the Fall the ability to respond to God. See my articles: (1) “Calvin Dissing the Fathers” and (2) “Plucking the TULIP.”

While Calvinism part ways with Orthodoxy over synergism, there is a shared understanding that repentance involves dying to self and being renewed in the Spirit.

Because they acknowledge Christ the only head and foundation of the Church, and, resting on him, daily renew themselves by repentance, and patiently bear the cross laid upon them. (Chapter 17 – Second Helvetic Confession; emphasis added)

Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience. (Q. 87 – Westminster Shorter Catechism)


Ladder of Divine Ascent. Source

Repentance and Spiritual Warfare

Repentance is an important part of spiritual warfare. When we sin, we under the influence of demons. Repentance is key to breaking the power of the demons in our lives.

I have become enslaved to every evil and in my wretchedness I have bowed down before the demons that provoke the passions; through heedlessness I have lost possession of myself. O Saviour, heavenly Father, take pity on me as I flee for refuge to Thy many mercies. (Lenten Triodion p. 117)

Missing from the Reformed understanding of repentance is the context of spiritual warfare. A search of the PCUSA’s Book of Confessions yielded only three results for “demons.” In Orthodoxy, there is a keen awareness of the Christian life as spiritual warfare. Prior to baptism, in the Rite of Exorcism the catechumen (candidate) renounces Satan three times. Throughout the Orthodox life are reminders of the need to battle the passions of the flesh and resist the demons. We do this in order to “fight the good fight” and to “finish the race” as the Apostle Paul put it in 2 Timothy 4:7.


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

Repentance and Returning to God

Lent is a journey. During the season of Lent, just as the Prodigal Son repented and made his journey back home, so likewise Orthodox Christians daily repent of their sins and undertake a return journey to the kingdom of God. Our journey is not outward and physical, but rather inward. Every day of Lent we undertake the disciplines of fasting, prayers, and acts of charity. The Lenten journey culminates in the midnight Pascha (Easter) Liturgy. After weeks of carrying our cross, repenting of sins, battling the passions of the flesh, and spending time in prayer, we are welcomed home by our loving heavenly Father. The fatted calf symbolizes the Eucharistic celebration. The Prodigal Son reclothed with the best robe symbolizes the newly baptized who are clothed with Christ. In the joyful resurrectional hymns the Church rejoices and makes merry as did the Father and the household over the return of the Prodigal Son.

Let us with repentance begin our Lenten journey. Let us with perseverance make our journey back home to God who is waiting for us.

Robert Arakaki



Robert Arakaki. 2018. “Does John 6:44 Teach Predestination?OrthodoxBridge.
Robert Arakaki. 2013. “Calvin Dissing the Fathers.” OrthodoxBridge.
Robert Arakaki. 2012. “Plucking the TULIP.OrthodoxBridge.
Frederica Mathewes-Green. 1997. Facing East: A Pilgrim’s Journey into the Mysteries of Orthodoxy. HarperSanFrancisco.
Mother Mary and Kallistos Ware. 2002. The Lenten Triodion. St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press.
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). 2014. Book of Confessions.



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