The Word April, 1976 Page 10-11
GREAT AND HOLY PASSION WEEK
By Rev. Gabriel Barrow
Throughout the year and especially during Holy Passion Week, we, as good Orthodox Christians, must re-evaluate and fulfill our duties and responsibilities to ourselves and to our Church. With the joyous celebration of Our Lord’s Entry into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday) completed, the Church embarks upon the journey that will commemorate that week in history that placed mankind above time. With the beginning of the celebration of Holy Week, the Church begins the beginning of the end — that commemoration of the Passion of Our Lord and God and Savior, Jesus Christ, that obtained for mankind the gift of salvation and the right to share with Christ in His Father’s Heavenly Kingdom. Although the one week of Our Lord’s Passion occurred historically in time, the Church, in her deep solemnity of commemorating Christ’s suffering and death, also has an air of full joy, for the Church can never lose sight of the fact that Christ’s sufferings and death lead to His Resurrection and to the beginning of our new life and entry into the New Aeon that He proclaimed.
In anticipation of these mankind-saving events, the Church disregards all concept of time (For in Christ, we are above time) and it celebrates Matins in the evening and Vespers in the morning. This reversal of the services shows the faithful that this week is something memorates Christ’s suffering, that overcame evil; His death, that overcame sin; His descent into Hades, that overcame death; and His Resurrection, that restored us to Life in the pre-fallen state. Through the power of Jesus Christ, we have the possibility to overcome suffering and death, in as much as we have faith in His Saving Passion and His Saving Resurrection.
OUR PERSONAL EFFORTS
It is most important that we live very holy lives, especially during Holy Passion Week, for we are called to Be Holy as your Father is Holy. It is important that during Holy Week we all fast very strictly, that we attend all Church services, and also that we all partake worthily of the Body and Blood of Our Lord and God and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. (I Cor. 11:28) That one might partake of Holy Communion worthily, it is necessary that he should undergo a preparation and this consists, in the language of the Apostle Paul, in an examination of himself. That is, we must examine what has been our conduct, what care we have taken of our soul, and how we have fulfilled the duties which we promised at the time of our Baptism into the Church. We must not take Holy Communion haphazardly, or simply on impulse when the Priest says: With the fear of God, and with faith and love, draw near. It must be taken only after a good preparation. Fasting alone is not enough. We must increase our prayers, and above all, examine ourselves and be at a clear conscience between ourselves and God. If we find that we have greatly trespassed God’s commandments, we must be sincerely sorry, declare ourselves worthy of Divine wrath, and make our compunction evident by a confession to the Priest.
Yet, the greatest stress must be placed on an unconditional examination of one’s self. For when these unprepared people dare to come forward and partake of Holy Communion, by thus communing they draw upon themselves greater wrath and condemnation, as despisers of the Holiness of the Lord. For he that eateth unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself not discerning the Lord’s body. (I Cor. 11:29) Therefore, we must understand that we are all sinners.
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (I John 1:8) The Orthodox Church provides for forgiveness of our sins through the Sacrament of Confession. Confession is a Sacrament, in which the sins committed by believers are forgiven by God through the Priest, when the believers sincerely confess them, and firmly believe in the merits of Christ and His Holy Teachings. True repentance is comprised of five steps: First, the Confession of one’s own sins. Secondly, that the sinner should accuse himself before God. Thirdly, that he should think of God’s mercy, who rejects not the repenting sinner, but wishes that he should return and live. Fourthly, to believe unhesitatingly that Jesus Christ, Our Savior, died for us, and by His death brought the grace of His Heavenly Father on all them that hope and believe in Him. Fifthly, to make a sure resolution of correcting himself and changing his life. These five signs of a true confession should be made before a Priest for two reasons: First, that the person confessing might receive of the Priest spiritual guidance and admonition as to the manner of his conversion. Secondly, that the Priest might pronounce on the penitent sinner, in the Name of Christ, the absolution of sins, and assure him, from the Gospel, of his obtaining Divine mercy, and the hope of salvation.
TO BE WORTHY
Having prepared ourselves through a true and sincere confession, we can truly be worthy to partake of the Holy Body and Blood of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The Holy Eucharist, established by Our Lord at the Last Supper, is a Sacrament in which the believer receives, under the form of bread, the Body itself of Christ, and under the form of wine, the Blood itself of Christ, to the remission of sins, and to eternal life. This sacrament of the Orthodox Church has been commanded and instituted by Christ, Himself. Our Savior’s object in ordaining this Sacrament was, according to the Evangelists and the Apostle Paul, that we should remember incessantly, during this performance of the Divine Liturgy, all His benefits and love shown to us, and how He delivered us, and obtained for us, by His death, the grace of God and eternal happiness. This do ye, as often as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till He come. From this remembrance, accompanied by pure faith, spring up all the salutary advantages, such as the remission of sins, and the right of inheriting eternal life. For whoever receives Christ, he at the same time receives with Him the whole source of grace. Therefore, as good Orthodox Christians, we should frequently partake worthily of the Holy Body and Blood of Our Lord and God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Especially during this Great and Holy Passion Week, and should examine ourselves and repent of our sins so that we can truly receive Our Risen Lord into our hearts and bodies. For Christ Himself teaches us: Truly, Truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his Blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the Last Day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. This is that bread which came down from Heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna and are dead; he that eateth of this bread shall live forever. (John 6:53-58)
SERVICE MAY BE LONGER, BUT ….
It is during the Liturgical Services of Holy Week that all these mankind-saving events performed by Christ are stressed so fully and so deeply. Certainly the Church Services of Holy Week are many and long. But never let us forget, that Christ, unlike our simple restlessness and weakness during these long services, suffered during His whole life in the flesh, even unto death, after his THREE HOURS of long and painful agony nailed in the flesh upon the Cross itself. Therefore, Great and Holy Passion Week should be kept with a strict fast and a full liturgical cycle. To the Faithful, who have diligently and faithfully kept the 40 Days of Fasting, these last few days of Holy Week are but a welcomed climax to their pilgrimage. But for the lax and lazy members of the Church, this last week of strict fasting and long services is nothing but an agony and suffering to them. But in Her Wisdom and concern for his soul, the Church cannot surrender to this lax and lazy member of the Church by easing the restrictions of the Fast or by shortening or cutting the long Holy Week Services. For, if for no other reason but for the concern of his soul the Church should rather increase the restrictions on this lax and lazy member of the Church, especially during the week of the Great and Holy Passion of Our Lord. For Christ did not obtain Resurrection without first experiencing agony, suffering, and even death. If this is true for Christ, who was without sin, then how can we sinners expect anything less? How can we save our souls unless we also suffer for Christ’s sake? For If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. (Matthew 16:24) The Church is not asking you to be physically nailed to a wooden cross as was demanded of Jesus Christ. Instead, it only asks you to remember and to participate in His Holy Passion and Resurrection by being good and faithful Orthodox Christians. Just as Christ did not rise from the dead without the agony and suffering of the Cross, we cannot, therefore, obtain salvation and truly experience and participate in His Resurrection without also first experiencing agony and suffering for Christ in this life. Only then will we be assured of a place with Christ in His Father’s Heavenly Kingdom. Without the suffering of the Cross, and the agony of the Grave, there can be no Glorious Resurrection.
There can be no true Feast without first preparing for it by a true Fast! Therefore, let us not cheat ourselves of fully experiencing the Holy and Glorious Feast of Easter, by not attending Holy Week Services and by not observing a strict and solemn week of fasting. If we faithfully attend all of the Holy Week Services and if we obediently observe the Fast of the Holy Passion of Our Lord, then when we come to that long awaited moment, when the Priest exclaims:
CHRIST IS RISEN! Your heart, your mind, your soul, and your body, will truly not be able to hold back the joyous and triumphant reply and your total being will faithfully and truly proclaim: INDEED, HE IS RISEN!.
Father Gabriel Barrow is pastor of St. Elias Church in Toledo, Ohio and Chairman of the Department of Liturgics of our Archdiocese.