BY FR. JOHN PARKER
Editor's Note: This is the third in a series of columns leading up to Easter.
There is no experience like Holy Week in an Orthodox Church (this year April 15-22). The ancient hymns are deep and rich. The atmosphere of the church changes with the day's commemorations: joy in the air, in the decor, in the incense, in the singing for Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday.
Warning and sobriety early in the week during the services of Bridegroom Matins. Amazement at the betrayal on Wednesday. Divine nourishment with the Last Supper on Thursday. Fasting, exhaustion and sadness with Christ's crucifixion and entombment on Holy Friday. Eager expectation for a not-yet-risen Christ on the morning of Holy Saturday, along with the marvel of baptism following the most ancient practice. Sheer splendor, joy, brightness, wonder and feasting with the first proclamation, "Christ is Risen!" as the clock turns from Saturday to Sunday.
Because we human beings are not simply brains attached to a slavish body, the sights, the sounds, the tastes, the emotions, the exhaustion, the joy, the fasting and the feasting are all integral parts of the full march with Christ from Lazarus' stench-filled grave, through the streets of Jerusalem, into the upper room, up onto Golgotha, and finally to Jesus' empty tomb. God created us to experience him in this plentiful way. To treat Holy Week and Pascha (Easter) any other way would be, at many levels, to deny our humanity and our relationship to God, as well as to miss the full power of the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Many of us were raised to "go to church" especially on Sundays and other important days such as Palm Sunday, Easter and Christmas. This is good Christian discipline. But scores of us fall out of that practice because worship is seen as "a thing to do" like any other appointment. As we permit the busyness of life to increase, gradually "going to church" gets squeezed out, especially since these special days are simply "remembered" as some events a long time ago. In fact, this is contrary to our nature, since we were designed to worship God. Worship for human beings is not simply a task such as shopping or going to the post office. Rather, it is a way of life, in this age and the next. This way is fully experienced during Holy Week, especially in the Orthodox Church, for those who commit themselves to the entire cycle of services.
When we change our existence from "human doing" back to "human being," we see and experience time differently. When we celebrate Palm Sunday, for example, we don't sing about "back then." We literally sing: "Today the Savior comes to Jerusalem, fulfilling the Scriptures ." The first three nights of Holy Week we sing, "Behold the Bridegroom comes at midnight ." Later in the week we chant, "Today, the curtain of the temple is torn in two ..."
For us, the feast is now. Today. This midnight. The experience of Holy Week is an entering into ancient time in the present. It is not a dusty memory but rather a living moment. It may be even better put like this: We exit time and in our worship enter into the timeless existence of God. This is true on every Sunday and at every service, as it is also true during this sacred week.
To be sure, Holy Week means commitment. Schedules have to be changed. Soccer games are missed. TV programs are skipped. Time is rearranged, literally and theologically. In fact, we say "time is turned upside down," and we wind up serving the morning services in the evening and the evening services in the morning!
To quantify it, the faithful are in church for four separate services on Palm Sunday weekend (six total hours), Monday-Wednesday night 1 1/2 hours each, Thursday for two services, totaling 3 1/2 hours, Friday twice totaling 3 1/2 hours, 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday morning, and 10:30 p.m.-1:30 a.m. Saturday night/Sunday morning. There is no time for anything else! But should there be? This is the holiest time of the year for Christians, and has been since Jesus actually hung on the cross.
This is not madness or overkill; rather this is what we were created for! There is no golf or boating in the life to come; in the Kingdom, there is worship of the One True God. If immersion is the best way to learn a language, it is surely the best way to worship God in spirit and in truth, and once again especially at this holy time.
A popular bumper-sticker slogan reads, "God gives you the week, give Him the hour." From an Orthodox perspective, this is a minimalist view and clearly compartmental thinking. We are not very good with bumper stickers, since so little can be fit on them, but we might say it this way, "Jesus gave His life up for you, give yours up for Him."
Fr. John Parker is priest-in-charge of Holy Ascension Orthodox Church in I'On. E-mail him at email@example.com or by phone at 881-5010.
This article was printed via the web on 4/10/2006 8:50:25 AM . This articleappeared in The Post and Courier and updated online at Charleston.net on Sunday, April 09, 2006.