Word Magazine April 1958 Page 6/23
THE PASSION WEEK AND HOLY SATURDAY
By Fr. Ilyas Kurban
Pastor, St. George’s Church, Boston
The Passion Week has a special position in the liturgical life of the Church. The whole week is a complete unity during which we follow the procession of our Lords passions. His crucifixion, His burial, then His resurrection.
The week begins on Lazarus Saturday, and take notice that from now on, there is no connection between the services of this week and the services during the Great Lent.
Lazarus Saturday, as well as Palm Sunday, are great feasts. On Lazarus Saturday, the Church celebrates the remembrance of the resurrection of Lazarus from the dead. This feast has a special meaning because our Lord reveals His absolute authority over death and life, though He is going to die.
Palm Sunday has a remarkable feature and a unique one in the life of Jesus. Here Christ claims for the first time worldly honor and glory; here our Lord wants to stress the fact that He is the Master of the whole universe and its both aspects, the spirit and the matter.
Now, if we examine the contents of the services on Monday, we see that it is preparing us to the great event which is going to take place. Here is the Lord with His disciples. He is preparing them to understand the great mystery of His suffering, His death, and His resurrection. He stresses also, the eschatology, the end of the world, the new era and the new land which is to come.
On Holy Tuesday and Wednesday, we meet the story of the false Apostle who is going to betray his master. He is a lover of money. Here, Judas is representing a great part of humanity because the Lord was not betrayed once and for all, but He is betrayed every day. In contrast with Judas, there is a woman, a sinner, but she has shifted from one extremity to the other, from the state of sin and impurity to a state of grace and purity.
On the following day, three main happenings took place; first, Christ washed His disciples feet, because He alone was able to perform the act of purification, purification of the soul and of the body. The second one was the celebration of the Passover from death into life, from condemnation into salvation. Here, Jesus is offering His own blood and His own body to the disciples and then, to the whole of humanity. The third happening, which took place, was the prayer in the garden, then the betrayal, the trial, and the crucifixion.
On this day, which is great and holy, the church is celebrating the remembrance of the Lord’s passion, suffering, His crucifixion on the cross, and His burial in a grave.
The church is not commemorating some great events that merely happened in the past, but it is celebrating a mystical fact that has the power of eternity. Therefore, the rites of the Orthodox Church are reflections in time to these mystical facts, reflections in symbols, in form, and in mysteries. The church is vivifying before us the suffering of the Lord, then His glorious resurrection as happenings that continue in their reality and effectiveness forever, and so, it is obvious that the suffering of the Lord and His resurrection are living facts, even in our epoch, and will be forever.
Before this fact, the church is trying not to move our feelings and sentiments, but to push us into the depth of the mystery, and so, it explains to us the meaning of the suffering of the Lord, His death, and His burial. It is introducing to us, Christ in His Glory is crucified.
Therefore, we do not find in the readings of the Holy Week, especially in the service of this evening, mourning and wailing as much as we find contemplation, admiration, praising, and glorifications.
“Mourn not for me, Mother, as thou beholdest me in the grave, for I, thy Son, whom thou didst conceive in thy womb without seed, shall rise and shall be glorified. And being God, I will ceaselessly exale and enable those who in faith and longing magnify thee.”
“Thou hast revealed, O Master, numerous rights as signs of thy burial, but thou hast revealed thy hidden things as God and Man to those who are in Hades, also, who shouted saying, ‘There is none holy save Thee, O Lord.’ “.
The contemplation in the mystery leads us into admiration of its depths:
“Today, he who holdeth creations on the hollow of his hand is contained in a tomb, and he who covereth the heavens with virtue is covered by a stone. Life slumbereth, Hades is alarmed, and Adam is delivered from his hands. Wherefore, glory be to the dispensation, through which thou hast fulfilled all, Thy most holy resurrection from the dead granting us rest on everlasting Sabbath.’’ ‘‘What is this sight which we behold? What is this present rest? For the King of the ages, having fulfilled the mystery of dispensation by the passion hath rested, keeping the Sabbath in the tomb, granting us a new Sabbath, wherefore, let us hail him. Arise, O God, and judge of the earth, for thou dost reign forever more O Thou who possesseth the countless and great mercy.”
The admiration leads us into praising and glorification: “The ranks of the angels were dazzled at beholding Him who sitteth in the bosom of the Father placed in a grave like one dead. How could the immortal one at whom the myriads of angels gaze, glorifying, be with the dead in Hades, being the Lord, Creator?”.
“An ineffable wonder! He who saved the righteous youths from the fire of the furnace hath been placed in the grave, a breathless corpse, for our salvation and deliverance, who sing, ‘Blessed art Thou, O delivering God.’”.
How the church does not admire and it sees the omni-present One limited in a small grave:
“Be thou amazed, O heaven, and let the foundations of the earth quake, for behold, He who dwelleth in the highest hath been accounted among the dead, and hath been guest in a humble tomb, wherefore, O ye youths, bless Him, praise Him, ye priests and ye nations exalt Him more and more unto all the ages.
How the church does not admire and it sees the absolute truth is condemned as a criminal:
“Today is beheld the working of a dread and strange mystery; for he who is inapprehensible is laid hold of, and he who released Adam is chained, He who trieth the heart and reigns is tried falsely, and he who looketh into the depths is locked in prison, He before whom the heavenly powers stand trembling standeth before Pilate. The Creator is smitten by the hand of his creatures. The judge of the living and the dead is condemned to death on a tree, and the Destroyer of Hades is enfolded in a grave. Wherefore, O Thou who didst of thy compassion hear all these things, saving all from the curse O long-suffering Lord, glory to Thee.”
How the church does not admire and it sees the immortal God is dead in body. The Holy One crucified on a cursed cross.
No, the church does not stop at the limits of admiration, but it goes further to discover the mystery of divine love personified in Jesus crucified. Jesus, the Lord, became man and He was obedient until death. Then the divine movement is not only a descendant movement, but it is also an ascendant one.
This movement was necessary to abolish the authority of death, once and for all.
Here, the church is praising God in his grave because she knows that His death is the spring of life and from this grave He will raise in His power trampling death by death and bestowing life and victory to all humanity:
“The great Moses foreshadowed this day mystically by his saying and God blessed the seventh day; for this is the day of quiet and rest, on which the only Son of God rested from all His work, keeping Sabbath in the body by means of the mystery of the dispensation taking effect in death, returning through Resurrection to what He had been, and granting us eternal life for He alone is good and the Lover of mankind.”
“The life of all was willing to be in a grave, in accordance with the law of the dead, making it appear as the fountain of the resurrection of our salvation, who sing, ‘Blessed art Thou, O delivering God.’”.