We have entered the final week of the earthly life of our Savior, The Lord Jesus Christ. We will be ending our studies at noon this Wednesday in order to permit all of us to fully participate in the profoundly holy and beautiful services of Passion Week. Therefore, please make arrangements to have your child picked up from school on Wednesday, April 20th at 12:00 PM.
Passion Week began this past Sunday when we remembered Christ's triumphant entry into Jerusalem to accept His suffering and death in order to resurrect and save mankind from the control of Satan and sin. It was comforting to see most of the children receiving Holy Communion to spiritually mark this holy day. Sadly though, there were several students who did not fully participate in this Holy Day by not receiving the most-holy Body and Blood of our Savior.
Once Jesus entered Jerusalem, He spent the next several days teaching in the Temple during the days and leaving the city during the night to avoid premature capture by the Jewish authorities. The church services during these days commemorate these events. The next major moment comes on Wednesday when we remember the lamentable betrayal of Our Lord by one of His apostles, Judas Iscariot. On that day we begin the most intense participation in the Passion Week services by receiving Holy Unction. Confession for those who have not yet confessed begins at 4:00 PM. The service is not mandatory, but it is highly recommended as we have the fortune of being one of the very few places where it is performed.
On Thursday, we will witness the Mystical Supper and the capture of the Savior in the Garden of Gethsemane. The liturgy, therefore, on this day is especially significant as we witness during it the establishment of the sacrament of the Eucharist by the Savior when he gave Holy Communion for the first time to the apostles.This is the last meal that the Savior had during His life on earth. After liturgy, the bishop will reenact Christ's washing of the apostles' feet by washing the feet of twelve priests. This is a unique service, offered only in cathedrals. This liturgy is mandatory* and very important for all to attend. Then that evening we have the matins service with the reading of the 12 Passion Gospels which talk about Christ's betrayal, capture, suffering and death. The service is also mandatory*.
Friday is the strictest fast day of the year, the day that Jesus Christ died on the Cross. At 1:00 in the afternoon, the Vespers begin during which the Shroud is brought out. Eating or drinking anything is permitted only after we have venerated the Holy Shroud. Please be aware that the Shroud is brought out at the end of the service. It is absolutely required* that all ORTHODOX CHRISTIANS come to this service. The Savior suffered and died for us in the most terrible way. It is inexcusable for us not to take the time off and come to church to pray before His Holy Shroud. How many of you would not attend the funeral of your parents?
On Friday evening, we hold what can be called the funeral service for Our Lord. This service is optional but is beautiful. It ends with a procession with the Shroud around the outside of the Church commemorating Christ's descent into Hell to preach and free the Old Testament people who were faithful to God. At the end of the procession, we see the first hints of the Resurrection in the rubrics of the Service.
On Saturday, we have the liturgy at 10:00 am during which the church vestments are changed from black to white to remind us that the Resurrection occurred at the time unknown by all, leaving an empty tomb. This service is also optional.
Finally, the Resurrection of the Lord, Pascha! Matins and Divine Liturgy begin at midnight, Saturday to Sunday. Anyone who misses this service cannot call himself an Orthodox Christian. Everyone, if they hold the Orthodox Faith in their hearts, must be compelled by their love of God to receive Holy Communion during this service. Then, after the Liturgy, we can begin our earthly celebration by eating and socializing with each other to glorify the day.
In closing, I greet all of you with these solemn events and greatly look forward to sharing them with you.
With love in Christ,
V. Rev. Serge Kotar
*’Mandatory’ and ‘required’ are harsh to the ear and we wish there were softer words to convey the importance of these services. We wish that there was a kinder way of expressing the profound inner desire for the services that each of us must have. From our inner heart we have an obligation to be present during these the greatest events in our salvation. For the heart of an Orthodox Christian these services are necessary and crucial. For the soul these services are ‘mandatory’ and ‘required’.