Holy (Pascha) Week
Pascha (pronounced ‘ba-skh-ah’) is a Coptic word that means pass over. Paschal Week is the celebration of pass over in the Church of the New Testament. The Israelites celebrated the pass over first as commanded by God through Moses, as they were getting ready to leave Egypt. They kept a lamb from the 10th to the 14th day of the month of Nissan of the Jewish Calendar. On the 14th the lamb was slaughtered and they used the blood to cover the two posts and the overhang of the doors of their homes so that when the Angel of death came around, and saw the blood he passed away and every first born in this house from people to cattle was saved from death, this was in the last plague in which the first born males of all the Egyptians from Pharoah to the lowest of the low was killed by the angel of death as punishment for the enslavement of the people of Israel, Hebrews (‘ebraneyeen’, sons of light). The Israelites were commanded to eat the lamb of the pascha cooked on a fire and not boiled on bitter herbs they grilled it to remember slavery, for them the physical, for the New Testament Church spiritual slavery to Satan and to Sin. Eat every part of it, its legs and its head, and its intestines to remember the need for all the parts and that they are holy in the Lord, and again spiritually to remember that we are all parts of Him (Christ). We are His bones and His flesh as the apostle wrote. His Church that He bought (redeemed) with His precious blood.
Without question, the Holy Pascha week is the holiest week of the entire year. The artistic beauty and spiritual depth of the rites of the Coptic Orthodox church are at its zenith during this week. Christ's crucifixion and resurrection are the foundation upon which is built the whole fabric of Christianity.
The events of Holy week are the most moving of the year. During this week we experience Christ’s journey to the Cross reminding us of the reality of sin and death. Christ conquered sin and death and his triumph is ours as well. By uniting ourselves with Christ we discover that death has no power over us.
The early Church had understood the great importance of Holy Week and took several steps to devote this week to the Lord. The level of asceticism (fasting, prayer, metanias, vigil) was at its maximum. They only ate bread and salt, abstaining from any cooked food or dessert. They considered it inappropriate to taste anything sweet while commemorating the suffering of the Lord and also tried to avoid the distractions of cooking. Women did not wear jewelry or make up, and devoted all of their time for worship and devotion. Most Christians also abstained from food from Good Friday until Easter service, spending the whole week in the church.
Lazarus Saturday is the day which begins Holy Week. It commemorates the raising of our Lord's friend Lazarus, who had been in the tomb four days. This act confirmed the universal resurrection from the dead that all of us will experience at our Lord's Second Coming. This miracle led many to faith, but it also led to the chief priest's and Pharisees' decision to kill Jesus (John 11:47-57).
Palm Sunday (The Entrance of our Lord into Jerusalem), Our Lord enters Jerusalem and is proclaimed king - but in an earthly sense, as many people of His time were seeking a political Messiah. Our Lord is King, of course, but of a different type - the eternal King prophesied by Zechariah the Prophet. We use palms on this day to show that we too accept Jesus as the true King and Messiah of the Jews, Who we are willing to follow - even to the cross.
Each day of Holy Week has its own particular theme. The theme of Monday is that of the sterile fig tree which yields no fruit and is condemned. Tuesday the accent is on the vigilance of the wise virgins who, unlike their foolish sisters, were ready when the Lord came to them. Wednesday the focus is on the fallen woman who repents. Great emphasis is made in the paschal services to compare the woman, a sinful harlot who is saved, to Judas, a chosen apostle who is lost. The one gives her wealth to Christ and kisses his feet; the other betrays Christ for money with a kiss.
Holy Thursday This is the Paschal Day, the day of 'passage' from slavery under the power of sin, to that of belonging to God under His sovereignty. It is the exodus of the people of Israel from Egypt, the land of captivity and the crossing of the Red Sea. This is also the Paschal Day of the Sacred Body and Blood of the New Covenant. The passage is no longer a symbol, as it was when the Hebrews marked their doors with blood to spare themselves from death.
Pascha is the word for "Passover" in all languages. But its meaning lies much deeper than this direct translation. St. Paul describes the life of Christianity as one that passes "from glory to glory." In a similar way, the story of the Passover increases in intensity, meaning, and holiness throughout the ages. There are essentially three Passovers: each the fulfillment of God's promise to save His people, allowing them to pass over from death to life. Each are a symbol of the final forgiveness of sins through the Holy Cross and the Lamb crucified upon its wood. These laws and commandments of the Old Testament were always "a shadow of the good things to come" (Hebrews 10:1).
The First Passover: Overcoming Temptation and Sin
The Passover first began with the commandment of the Lord given to Moses, that the blood of the lamb be placed on the door poses of the houses of the Israelites in Egypt. That night, they were to eat bitter herbs, have their loins girded, their sandals on their feet, their staff in their hand (Exodus 12). It continued that through the shedding of blood of the lamb, there came forgiveness. "And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission." (Hebrews 9:22).
On the night of their exodus from Egypt, the Lord commanded the Israelites to roast the lamb, and eat unleavened bread with bitter herbs (Exodus 12:8). The meat that the Jews would feast upon was not raw or unbaked, but cooked in fire. The lamb had to suffer through fire; it had to suffer. This meat had a sweet smell, but a bitter taste. Such is the great reminder of sin--however pleasing it may seem to our senses, however alluring it may be to us, we must never forget the bitter sadness of its consequences. This bitterness lies within the cross: "He has filled me with bitterness, he has made me drink wormwood" (Lamentations 3:15).
The Christian life is full of bitter herbs that bring forth a sweet, saintly aroma. One type of herb comes from loving of our enemies. Another comes from serving the Lord in difficult circumstances-either a family difficulty or a conflict in our schedules. There is a garden of bitter herbs awaiting you in prayer and vigil in times of weakness, sorrow, or confusion. When you fast, you taste of these bitter herbs you have experienced the Cross. By choosing to take this narrow and difficult path, by submitting to travel along the Via Dolorosa, "we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing" (2 Corinthians 2:15).
Christ, Himself became the true and ultimate Passover Lamb, the fulfillment of this prophesy. "For indeed, Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us" (1 Corinthians 5:7). After the disciples had eaten the Passover Meal, the Old Testament had been fulfilled. Our Lord and Savior perfected the Passover meal by offering His Body and Blood in the form of bread and wine. This was the "marriage supper of the Lamb" discussed in Revelation 19:9. This however, was only the first Passover.
The Second Passover: Faith and Baptism
The Second Passover was the crossing of the Red Sea by Moses and the Israelites. Just as Moses had parted its waters and crushed Pharaoh's soldiers, Christ had destroyed the soldiers of Satan at the bottom of the sea. Moses used his staff; Christ used the cross. They both spread their arms as an eagle, one divided waters between two nations; the Other separated the gap between two worlds.
In our lives, this Passover is the grave importance of baptism. Just as the waters of the Jordan saved the Israelites from the evil army of Pharaoh, so does the baptismal waters save us from Satan's forces. Once the Jews had crossed the river, they began a new life and were in search of a new home. So too do we begin this Christian Journey through baptism, seeking for eternal rest in Heavenly Jerusalem.
To live this new life in Christ, we cannot seek after the sacramental waters of baptism without faith. An ancient Jewish legend has it that the parting of the Red Sea did not actually take place when Moses had spread his arms, but when the first person took the first step on the water. This legend demonstrates that this miracle was based on the faith that God would fight and work a miracle for His people. We are no longer slaves to doubt, captives of anxiety; we are princes of confidence, kings of faith. As Saint Paul so boldly declared, "we walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Corinthians 5:7).
The Third Passover: The Institution of the Eucharist
Jesus delegated Peter and John for the preparation of the bread, the wine, the herbs and all that was needed for the celebrations. However, Peter and John didn't know the place of the Passover. He answered their question by giving them a sign to recognize the house's owner -- a man carrying a jar of water. Our Savior intentionally did not mention the place at an earlier time, lest Judas would tell the Jews who would keep Him under arrest until the end of the feast. When Peter and John told Jesus that everything was ready, He took His disciples to eat the paschal meal. The disciples argued about who would be the first and last among them. Jesus rebuked them for their evil thinking, saying that the greatest among them should behave as the smallest. Jesus then started washing their feet.
Jesus instituted the Godly Supper, giving us the bread that comes from heaven, the giver of life -- His Holy Body and His Precious Blood. He fulfilled the prophecy, showing them its content. Jesus replaced the first covenant, eating the paschal meal, with a new covenant. "after supper, He took bread and the cup and gave it to them saying 'take, this is my body. this is my blood which is the new covenant. do this in memory of me.'"(John 20).
He told them about Judas's betrayal, saying "one of you shall deliver me" (John 13:21). Judas who took the bread when he did not deserve it gave Satan power over him. Judas left immediately after being revealed and went to the Jews to agree with them on thirty pieces of silver (Ex. 21:33).
On the same day Jesus foretold Peter about his denying Him three times. He then went to the Garden of Gethsemane where He prayed with such anguish that His sweat turned into blood. An Angel appeared to comfort Him saying: "Yours is the strength, the glory, the blessing and the majesty o Emanuel, our God and King", which is the only psalm the church keeps repeating the whole Holy Week. Judas arrived with an armed crowd on behalf of the High priests to arrest our Good Savior.
When Jesus washed the feet of His disciples, He was purifying their hearts from vanity, teaching them that the greatest should be the least. "Now there was also a dispute among them, as to which of them should be considered the greatest. And He said to them, 'The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called 'benefactors.' But not so [among] you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves.'" (Luke 22:24-26). Jesus insisted that Peter let Him wash his feet, lest he should have no share with Jesus (John 13:8). One thing only was now required, that is the washing of the feet, because they were already clean " But the chief priests plotted to put Lazarus to death also." (John 12:10).
Holy Thursday The Last Supper,
Two events shape the Liturgy of the Great and Holy Thursday: The Last Supper and the betrayal of Jesus by Judas. The Last Supper is the ultimate revelation of God's redeeming love for man. The betrayal by Judas reveals that sin, death and self-destruction are also due to love, but love directed at that which does not deserve love. The mystery of this unique day, and its liturgy where light and darkness, joy and sorrow are so strangely mixed, challenges us with the choice on which the eternal destiny of each one of us depends. "Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour was come... having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end... "(John 13:1) To understand the meaning of the Last Supper, we must see it as the very end of the great movement of Divine Love which began with the creation of the world and is now to be consummated in the death and resurrection of Christ.
LITURGY OF THE EUCHARIST At this point, the disciples have completed all the preparations needed. The Church has completed the washing of the feet, a symbol of the purification of the people and their readiness to partake in the rich gifts of the Holy Spirit for expiation of sins. It is time now to go to the altar to offer the sacrifice of the New Testament and become part of the true vine in which is the true life.
Good Friday from the light of Holy Thursday we enter into the darkness of Friday, the day of Christ's Passion, Death and Burial. In the early Church this day was called "Pascha of the Cross," for it is indeed the beginning of that Passover or Passage whose whole meaning will be gradually revealed to us, first, in the wonderful quiet of the Great and Blessed Sabbath, and then, in the joy of the Resurrection day.
If only we could realize that on Great and Holy Friday, darkness is not merely symbolical and commemorative. So often we watch the beautiful and solemn sadness of these services in a spirit of self-righteousness and self-justification. Two thousand years ago bad men killed Christ, but today we - the good Christian people -- erect sumptuous Tombs in our Churches - is this not the sign of our goodness? Yet, Good Friday deals not with the past alone. It is the day of Sin, the day of Evil, the day on which the Church invites us to realize their awful reality and power in "this world." For sin and evil have not disappeared, but, on the contrary, still constitute the basic law of the world and of our life.
And we who call ourselves Christians, do we not so often make ours that logic of evil which led the Jewish Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate, the Roman soldiers and the whole crowd to hate, torture and kill Christ? On what side, with whom would we have been, had we lived in Jerusalem under Pilate? This is the question addressed to us in every word of the Holy Friday services. It is the revelation of the true nature of the world which preferred then and still prefers darkness to light, evil to good, death to life. Having condemned Christ to death, "this world" has condemned itself to death and inasmuch as we accept its spirit, its sin, its betrayal of God - we are also condemned. Such is the first and dreadfully realistic meaning of Good Friday: a condemnation to death.
By far, the one day of the entire church year in which the church prays together is Good Friday. More prayers are prayed, more readings read, more hymns chanted than any other time. All because of the perfect sacrifice; all focused on God and on the Cross.
Saturday of Light
The Church proclaims that Christ has "trampled death by death." It means that even before the Resurrection, an event takes place, in which the sorrow is not simply replaced by joy, but is itself transformed into joy. Great Saturday is precisely this day of transformation, the day when victory grows from inside the defeat, when before the Resurrection, we are given to contemplate the death of death itself... And all morning service, in this liturgical commemoration which becomes for us a saving and transforming presence.this is expressed, and even more, all this really takes place every year in this marvellous
Expectation of Life We return to the Church. We know already the mystery of Christ's life-giving death. Hades is destroyed. Hades trembles. And now the last theme appears – the theme of Resurrection.
Sabbath, the seventh day, achieves and completes the history of salvation, its last act being the overcoming of death. But after the Sabbath comes the first day of a new creation, of a new life born from the grave.