A Brief Guide to the Holy Week Services at St. Aidan’s Orthodox Church
The highlight of the Church year and the earliest festal celebration of the Church is Pascha (Easter). The celebration was originally tied to the Jewish feast of Passover (Pesach) where Christ’s Passion and Resurrection occurred. As the Church grew to encompass the Gentile (non-Jewish) nations, Pascha began to be celebrated on the first Sunday (the day of Resurrection) following the first full moon in the spring (following the Passover). The Pascal celebration was well established by 165, as is described in Eusebius’s Ecclesiastical History. Although there was some early controversy regarding which should be the proper day to celebrate Pascha in the early Church, the dating of when to celebrate it was affirmed at the 1st Ecumenical council in Nicaea in 325 AD.
There is an interesting story regarding the establishment of the date of Pascha that comes from just around the time of this council. Armenia was the 1st country to officially become Christian in 301. St. Gregory the Illuminator was the first Patriarch of the Armenian Church. There was some disagreement regarding what day Pascha (Easter) should be celebrated between the Armenian and the Georgian Christians and others. St. Gregory was in Jerusalem when Constantine’s mother Helen discovered the stone that Christ was buried on and started building the Church of the Sepulchre (sometime between 326 and 331). St. Gregory placed an unlit lamp on the stone in the Tomb of Christ and beseeched God in his prayers that on the proper day of the feast, God would illuminate the lamp with immaterial light/fire. This light (Holy Fire) has of course continued to appear from this time right up to today.
Every year up to and including 2017, at Pascha in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the lamp of the Patriarch of Jerusalem waiting at Christ’s tomb spontaneously ignites with a fire which does not burn or contain heat at first. This flame is then passed back throughout the crowd of more than 8000 attending each year at the Holy Fire Paschal service. You can click on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qLKeutIO7Nc to see a video or https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WtZbPlMey-Y to hear an explanation. Google “Holy Fire” to see other video’s and read more on this yearly phenomenon. This is the origin of our midnight Paschal candle lighting ceremony in our Orthodox Churches. Last year and probably this coming year, fire that has been lite at this Paschal celebration in Jerusalem is kept burning and transported all around the world to thousands of Orthodox Churches, perhaps this year we will receive this fire!
The present difference in dates that often falls between Eastern “Pascha” and Western “Easter” goes back to 1582 when Pope Gregory XIII adopted the “Gregorian” Calendar which changed the calculation for Easter for Rome and the western churches, while the Orthodox Church kept to the original calculations.
Holy Week and Paschal Services for St. Aidan’s – 2019
Sunday April 21; Monday April 22; Tuesday April 23, 5:30 pm – Bridegroom Matins (approx. 2 hrs)
“Behold, the Bridegroom comes at midnight, and blessed is the servant whom He shall find watching…Your Bridal Chamber I see adorned, O my Saviour, but I have no wedding garment that I may enter. “O Giver of Light, enlighten the vesture of my soul and save me.”
The theme of this beautiful service is the betrayal of Judas contrasted with the repentance of the Harlot. It follows the theme of the first three days of Holy Week where our Lord enters Jerusalem and voluntarily goes to His betrayal and to His death on the cross to redeem all of mankind from death.
Wed. Ap. 24: 9:00 am – Pre-sanctified Liturgy (1.5 hrs.) All during Great Lent on Wed. evenings we are blessed to serve the beautiful service of pre-sanctified Liturgy. This Wed. morning service is the last chance to come to one of these special services before next Great lent. On Sunday at the Proskomedia service an extra lamb is prepared and sanctified at the Sunday Liturgy service. There is therefore no Anaphora section in the Liturgy thus the name “Pre-sanctified.” A very reverent and precious service.
Wed. Ap. 24: 5:30 pm – Holy Unction Service (approx.2 hrs.) A special healing service for the healing of body and soul where we have 7 Gospel readings, 7 epistle readings, and 7 prayers (ideally served by 7 priests but usually by 1 or 2) followed by the anointing of oil. As this is a sacrament of the Orthodox Church, anointing at the service of Holy Unction is reserved for baptised, Chrismated members of the Church.
Thurs. Ap. 25: 10:30 am: – St. Basil Vesperal Divine Liturgy (approx. 2 hrs.) The Lord’s supper is given to us as a saving sacrament to strengthen and transform us from this day until His second coming; as we celebrate with thankfulness the start of our Lord going to His voluntary passion to redeem all of mankind.
Thur. Ap. 25: 5:30 pm – Matins with the 12 Passion Gospel Readings (appx 2.5 hrs.)
“Today He who hung the earth upon the waters is hung on the tree. The King of the angels is decked with a crown of thorns. He who wraps the heavens in clouds is wrapped in the purple of mockery…We worship Your Passion O Christ. We worship Your Passion O Christ. Show us also Your glorious Resurrection.”
Today we accompany Christ our Lord as He voluntarily goes from the Garden of Gethsemane to be crucified and laid in his tomb by Joseph of Arimathea and the righteous Nicodemus. We contemplate our Lord’s journey in the 12 Gospel readings and in the deep and moving verses in the Canon and interspersed between the Gospel readings the Beatitudes and the Praises throughout this touching service. We are called to experience the power of this eternal and ever-present reality of Christ’s work for our sake, not as a distant historical event, but personally in the eternal here and now of our lives.
Fri. Ap. 26: 10:30 am Royal Hours (approx. 2 hrs.) “Today the curtain of the temple is torn in two, to convict the transgressors, and even the sun hides his rays, Seeing the Master crucified.”
The special 1st, 3rd, 6th, and 9th hours interspersed with Old Testament, Epistle, and Gospel reading and verses all on the theme of the Passion of our Lord. This is considered a very strict fast day and for this day only of all the days of the year there is no celebration of the Divine Liturgy allowed.
Fri. Ap. 26, 4:00pm Vespers with the Shroud Veneration (approx. 1.5 hrs.) “When You the Redeemer of all were placed in a tomb, All Hades’ powers quaked with fear. Its bars were broken its gates were smashed. Its mighty reign was ended, for the dead came forth alive from their tombs, casting off the bonds of their captivity. Adam was filled with Joy!”
Today we set up and venerate the shroud of Christ. It is appropriate to bring flowers, particularly red and white to decorate the tomb with. We sing “Nobel Joseph” then we wait together taking a little refreshment from our fasting before staring Matins.
Fri. Ap.26, 6:00 Matins with Praises & Procession with the Shroud (approx 2.5 hrs.)
“Do not lament me, O mother, seeing in the tomb, the Son conceived in the womb without seed, for I shall arise, and be glorified with eternal glory as God. I shall exalt all who magnify you in faith and in love.”
We gather again before the shroud and sing Psalm 119 with verses in between describing the events of Holy week. Then we take the Shroud of Christ and in procession circle once around the Church, finishing up with veneration of the shroud and the hymn “We worship Your Passion O Christ! We worship Your Passion O Christ! And Your Holy Resurrection. As many as can manage, take a shift before the Tomb of Christ and read the Psalms throughout the night until the next morning’s Liturgy of St. Basil.
Sat. Ap.27, 10:30 am Vesp. Divine Liturgy of St. Basil & 15 O.T. read. (apx 2.5 hrs.)
“Today, Hades cries out groaning; ‘I should not have accepted the Man born of Mary. He came and destroyed my power. He shattered the gates of brass. As God, He raised the souls that I had held captive.’ Glory to Your Cross and Resurrection, O Lord.”
Today is the bridge day, the day between the death of Christ on the cross and His glorious resurrection. Christ is not resting; death has no claim over Him. He enters into hell with His soul and blows it wide open freeing those captured there! The new life and restoration of man to God is accomplished! The colours in the Church are changed back to white from Lenten purple as we celebrate Christ’s victory over death! The vigil before the Tomb then continues with as many as can take a shift reading the book of Acts. This is the traditional day for baptisms, and we will be blessed to welcome Gerald and Lorna.
Sat. Ap. 27, 10:30 pm – Sun. 1:30 am Pascha!!! (approx. 3 hrs. service – Nocturns, Matins, Divine Liturgy) The light of Christ from the Altar to all holding candles and the triple victorious procession around the church with our new church bells tolling out the victory CHRIST IS RISEN!!! Rings out and then downstairs to bless baskets and joyously break the fast together! We should make it home by around 2-3 am!
Sunday April 28, 1:00 pm – Agape Vespers (approx ¾ hr. service) then picnic and potluck feast 1:00 – 4:00 to celebrate and fellowship and feast on roast lamb and many other fast breaking treats!! Easter egg hunt for the children and much joy and fellowship for all. This may be the best service of the year to invite friends and family to as it is very short (by Orthodox standards) and full of the Paschal joy with “Christ is Risen” ringing out throughout the service and the day! Roast lamb, turkey, Ham, Beef, … and a festive party to follow is also well worth sharing!
Christ is Risen! Glorify Him!
Everyone welcome, please phone if you have any questions.
Love in Christ……………Fr. Andrew Applegate 250-420-1582