Before Holy Week
And so, brothers and sisters, we come to Holy Week. Having passed through the forty days of the Great Fast for better or worse, we arrive in Jerusalem with the Lord and His motley band of followers who themselves did not know quite what they were doing or why they were there. The usual journey to Jerusalem for Passover was mixed with the Master’s cryptic talk of betrayal and suffering, a cross and resurrection, that left them wondering if they really understood anything about Him at all. Sinful, confused, afraid, suspicious of one another, they were not that different from us who, with two millennia of liturgy and tradition behind us, nevertheless arrive here - at Holy Week, in Jerusalem - in hardly better shape.
The Gospels do not attempt to hide the fact that the disciples did not understand what was happening in Holy Week. Our Lord tells them explicitly when washing their feet, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.” (John 13.7) The “after this” refers to the resurrection and to Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit would teach them all things. It is this Spirit-inspired, Paschal vision of Christ which is the fount and source of anything and everything that can truly be called “Christian”. Our whole Faith and the entire Tradition are the Pentecostal “after this” flowing from the one Paschal Mystery, and we see everything whole only in its light.
But we must ask ourselves, exactly what form does this understanding take? We who live two millennia after the historical events remembered this week, who have the benefit of the Scriptures and the Tradition, the saints and the cycle of services, but who nevertheless come to Holy Week sinful and struggling and shaken, what exactly do we understand?
If the hymns and services of this week teach us anything, brothers and sisters, it is this: all knowledge and any understanding of Christ, and therefore of God - and therefore of all things! - is gained only through amazement and wonder before the Mystery of the Cross and the Tomb. Again and again this Holy Week the hymns will call us to look, to behold, and to see with the host of Heaven as the King of Glory gives Himself up utterly, emptying Himself in extreme humility and unfathomable love for the life of the world. And only by entering into this Mystery through a reciprocating humility and love leading us to Eucharist will we know anything at all of Christ, God, and the world. Only in Holy Week do we understand anything.
And so, brothers and sisters, we come to Holy Week. Having passed through the forty days of the Great Fast for better or worse, we arrive in Jerusalem. Have we fasted as we should? No. Have we prayed as we could? No. Have we seen our own transgressions and not judged our brother? Barely if at all. Regardless, though, of how we have arrived, sinners or saints, the door to the upper chamber has been opened to us, to enter, to see, to behold and to be amazed at the Mystery hidden before the ages, the Lord of Glory hung on the Cross and laid in the Tomb for us men and our salvation. Let us enter, then, with fear and trembling, with love and wonder, to this holiest of weeks, so that seeing we can perceive and hearing we can understand, finally, Christ our King and our God.
With love in Christ, Fr John
St John Orthodox Church
Holy Week Schedule