Great Lent, Holy Week, and Pascha Articles

Comments on the Main Themes

The first part of Great Week presents us with an array of themes based chiefly on the last days of Jesus' earthly life. The story of the Passion, as told and recorded by the Evangelists, is preceded by a series of incidents located in Jerusalem and a collection of parables, sayings and discourses centered on Jesus' divine sonship, the kingdom of God, the Parousia, and Jesus' castigation of the hypocrisy and dark motives of the religious leaders. The observances of the first three days of Great Week are rooted in these incidents and sayings. The three days constitute a single liturgical unit. They have the same cycle and system of daily prayer. The Scripture lessons, hymns, commemorations, and ceremonials that make up the festal elements in the respective services of the cycle highlight significant aspects of salvation history, by calling to mind the events that anticipated the Passion and by proclaiming the inevitability and significance of the Parousia.

It is interesting to note that the Orthros of each of these days is called the Service of the Bridegroom (Akolouthia tou Nimfiou). The name comes from the central figure in the well-known parable of the ten virgins (Mt 25.1-13). The title Bridegroom suggests the intimacy of love. It is not without significance that the kingdom of God is compared to a bridal feast and a bridal chamber. The Christ of the Passion is the divine Bridegroom of the Church. The imagery connotes the final union of the Lover and the beloved. The title Bridegroom also suggests the Parousia. In the patristic tradition, the aforementioned parable is related to the Second Coming; and is associated with the need for spiritual vigilance and preparedness, by which we are enabled to keep the divine commandments and receive the blessings of the age to come. In addition, knowing something about the structure of the Orthros will help us to further our understanding of the use of the imagery of the Bridegroom. It has been shown that, after the so-called Royal Office and the Hexapsalmos, the first part of the Orthros, as we know and practice it today, is an earlier version of the monastic service of Mesonyktikon (Midnight Service).68 The Mesonyktikon is centered chiefly on the theme of the Parousia and is linked to the notion of watchfulness. The troparion "Behold the Bridegroom comes in the middle of the night. . .", which is sung at the beginning of the Orthros of Great Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, relates the worshiping community to that essential expectation: watching and waiting for the Lord, who will come again to Mae the living and the dead.

While each day has its own distinct character and its own specific commemoration, they share together several common themes among which are the following.

Conflict, Judgement and Authority

The last days were especially sorrowful and gloomy. The relentless hostility and opposition to Jesus by the religious authorities had reached unparalled proportions. In the midst of this painful conflict Jesus revealed aspects of His divine authority by passing judgement on the evil plots and the false religiosity of His enemies.

The unremitting belligerency of Jesus' adversaries was completely unmasked in the days preceding the crucifixion. The leaders of all the religious parties and factions collaborated and conspired to entrap, humiliate and kill Him. As the snares of His enemies tightened, Jesus openly foretold His death and subsequent glorification. His words were a clear declaration that His death was voluntary and lay within the framework of the divine plan for the salvation of the world. The power being exercised over Him by His enemies was granted and controlled by God (Jn 12.20). The Church commemorates the Passion not as ugly episodes caused by vile and contemptible men, but as the voluntary sacrifice of the Son of God.

Evil in all its absurdity erupted violently on the Cross, in order to destroy and dispose of Jesus and to negate and abolish His message. However, it was evil itself that was rendered fundamentally powerless and ineffectual by the sovereignty of God's love and life. While evil assails the holy ones of God, it cannot destroy them.

The Gospel narrative recounting the events that led to the crucifixion also includes several parables and discourses in which Jesus strongly criticized the religious leaders for their disbelief, obstinacy, authoritarianism, and hypocrisy. The severe critique of the religious classes (Mt 21.28-23,36) is another clear sign of Jesus' authority and excellence. By pr eserving these sayings of Jesus, the Evangelists declare that Christ is "not only a unique teacher, but also the highest judge. He is one with authority who has the right to judge and condemn"70 bad and false religious faith and activity.

No disease of the spirit is more insidious, deceptive and destructive than false religiosity, which can be defined succinctly as religious legalism and exhibitionism. Jesus condemned it outrightly. He warned against those whose lives are measured by ceremonials rather than the holiness, mercy and love of God; and those whose evil motivations, intentions and improprieties are cloaked in the respectability of the externals of religious faith and life. False religiosity is a cruel hoax and a betrayal of authentic religious faith. The practitioners of such artificial faith shut the Kingdom of heaven against men, for they neither enter themselves, nor do they allow those who would enter to go in (Mt 23.13).71

Mourning and Repentance

The tone of Great Week is clearly one of somberness and sorrowfulness. Even the altar cloths and priestly vestments, according to an old tradition, are black. However, the liturgical assembly is not gathered to mourn a dead hero, but to remember and commemorate an event of cosmic significance: the Son of God experiencing in His humanity every form of suffering at the hands of feeble, misdirected and evil men. We mourn our sinfulness as we stand in contrite silence before the awesome, inscrutable mystery of Christ, the God-man (Theanthropos), who carries His kenosis to the extreme limits accepting the death of the 'Cross (Phil 2.5-8).

Great Week reveals to us the utter shame of the Fall, the depths of hell, Paradise lost, and the absence of God. And so we mourn! There is no other way to deal with our rebellion and with God's unfathomable humility and condescension except to experience the rending of the heart. It is out of this kind of mourning that true repentance is born, to be experienced as the honest commitment to the life-long process of grasping, accepting and choosing to follow the values for the Christian life.

The liturgy of the days of the Bridegroom represents the most urgent and emphatic call to such repentance (metanoia). The faithful are reminded that no sin is so great as to defy the bounds of divine mercy, for Christ gives everyone the power to slay sin and to share in His victory.

On the Cross, Jesus has a vision of all those for whom He is dying. He foresees each one of us individually, saving us through His death and by His love ... He did this to allow God to enter everywhere there is human suffering, even into the abyss of death, accompanying man to the depths of suffering so as to raise him up again and bring him back to life, by lifting him up to heaven and placing him at the right hand of the Father. The Son of God dies as man so that the Son of Man may rise up again as God. The Son of God had to experience the anguish of God's absence so that all men who die might recover the presence of God: this is salvation.

The Parousia

In the days and hours before His passion, Jesus spoke to His disciples about the Parousia, i.e., His second glorious coming. He invites us as well at the beginning of Great Week to approach the mystery and ponder its meaning and significance for our own life and the life of the world.

In the Church we recognize that eternal life has penetrated our finitude. However, we also know that the full realization and revelation of God's kingdom, already begun developing secretly within the world, will occur only at the end of the age, at the Parousia. The Parousia is God's climatic intervention in the history of the cosmos. It is the Last Day, when Christ will come again in all His glory to judge the living and the dead (Mt 16.27; 25.31). Then all things will be made new (Rev 21.5).

While we have only a partial knowledge of the things that pertain to the Last Day, some things are clear and certain.

The end times will appear suddenly and when we least expect them (1 Thes 5.2-3). The exact time of the Parousia is known only to God the Father (Mt 24.36; Acts 1.7). However, according to Jesus’ word, this dramatic and decisive event that will mark the sudden end of history, will be preceded by certain signs pointing to the imminent coming of the Bridegroom. It is clear from His words that the Second Coming will not be ushered in by some idyllic interlude, but with unprecedent cosmic calamities, tribulation and distress (Mt 24.1-51; Mk 13.1-37; Lk 21.7-36). The devastation and desolation of the last days has been prefigured mysteriously in the frightening and awesome events that accompanied the crucifixion (Mt 27.27-54).

Regardless of when the Last Day will come, it is always imminent, always spiritually close at hand in the life of every human being. The uncertainties in and the unpredictability of human life allows us to grasp, even vaguely, the imminance of the Parousia. For example, death, the ultimate indignity, abomination and enemy, stalks us from the moment we are born. To obtain the victory of Christ over corruption and death we must remain spiritually watchful; be steadfast in the faith; use our God-given talents wisely; and be constantly aware of the primacy of love in our relationships. The life we live in the flesh is filled with the potential and opportunity to gain heaven or to lose it.

The decisive battle with evil has been waged and won. However, the fullness of that victory will not be realized and manifested until the Parousia. Till then the awkward, senseless and futile efforts of the devil will go on seeking to rob people of their dignity and destiny. Therefore, we are obliged to keep the words of St. Peter the Apostle alive in our memory and operative in our lives. He wrote, "humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that in due time He may exalt you. Cast all your anxieties on Him, for He cares about you. Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith . . . The God of all grace who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, establish and strengthen you" (1 Pt 5.6-10).

The Church is always oriented towards the future, towards the age to come. Thus, the eschaton or Last Day which will usher in God's kingdom in power and glory, forms our point of constant reference both as persons and as community. “The Church does not draw her identity from what she is but from what she will be ... We must think of the eschaton as the beginning of the Church's life, the arche (principle), that brings forth the Church, gives her identity, sustains and inspires her in her existence. The Church exists not because Christ died on the Cross but because He has risen from the dead, which means, because the kingdom has come. The Church reflects the future, the final stage of things, not an historical event of the past.” This eschatological vision is a fundamental characteristic of our faith. It fashions the consciousness of Orthodox Christians and inspires and guides the life and activity of the Church.

The Church is primarily a worshiping community constituted by the very presence of God's embracing love. Established by the redeeming action of God, sustained and vivified by the Holy Spirit, the Church at prayer is always being constituted and actualized as the Body of Christ. Permeated by the joyous and overpowering presence of the risen Christ (Mt 28.20), the Church is called both to share in His risen, deified life and to yearn for and expect the coming fullness of the manifestation of His glory and power (2 Pt 3.12). The future age - God's kingdom - is known and experienced by the faithful both as gift and as promise, i.e., as something given and at the same time as something anticipated.

Through worship in general and the sacraments in particular we experience a personal relationship with God, who infuses His life into us. We experience His uncreated energies touching, healing, restoring, purifying, illumining, sanctifying and glorifying both human life and the cosmos. We participate in the saving acts of Christ's life, in order to be continuously renewed. We experience continually the presence of the Holy Spirit dwelling and active within us, leading us to and bestowing upon us the resurrectional life.

Our preparation for the Kingdom has already begun with our baptism and chrismation. It is sustained and advanced through the Eucharist. The sacraments give us powers by which we draw near to Christ and to His kingdom. These powers are dynamic and are meant to be developed by us. Thus, our preparation for the kingdom is a movement that involves progress, both as a return as well as an advance into God. The progress begins with man's return from estrangement to his own authenticity. Fundamentally, this means a return to Christ, the archetype and model of man. At the very same time this return is also a progress forward into God. “Return is simultaneously also progress forward and progress forward is return. It is a return of human nature to itself, and a progress forward into itself, but at the same time it is a return to and a progress forward into God and Christ, for no development of human nature is possible except in God and Christ ... The new or future age develops by promoting the dissolution or transformation of the present age.”

The age to come will not grow out of some biological or historical evolutionary process, nor will it be simply the result of human achievement through a steady advancement of civilization. For sure, the new world is working itself out, but in the mystery of faith, hidden from the wise of this world (I Cor 1.19-21; 2.6-9). The kingdom, after all, is of God and not man. Nevertheless, "the messianic era initiated by the Incarnation can only be established with the collaboration of mankind. This collaboration is called synergy., We prepare for the Second Coming, the final triumph of justice and life over evil and death, by becoming united by faith to the crucified and risen Savior.”

Besides these shared themes, each of the three days of the Bridegroom has its own special commemoration that distinguishes it from the other two.

Great Monday

On Great Monday we commemorate Joseph the Patriarch, the beloved son of Jacob. A major figure of the Old Testament, Joseph's story is told in the final section of the Book of Genesis (chs. 37-50). Because of his exceptional qualities and remarkable life, our patristic and liturgical tradition portrays Joseph as tipos Christou, i.e., as a prototype, prefigurement or image of Christ. The story of Joseph illustrates the mystery of God's providence, promise and redemption. Innocent, chaste and righteous, his life bears witness to the power of God's love and promise. The lesson to be learned from Joseph's life, as it bears upon the ultimate redemption wrought by the death and resurrection of Christ, is summed up in the words he addressed to his brothers who had previously betrayed him, “’Fear not ... As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.’ Thus he reassured them and comforted them” (Gen 50.19-21). The commemoration of the noble, blessed and saintly Joseph reminds us that in the great events of the Old Testament, the Church recognizes the realities of the New Testament.

Also, on Great Monday the Church commemorates the event of the cursing of the fig tree (Mt 21.18-20). In the Gospel narrative this event is said to have occurred on the morrow of Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem (Mt 21.18 and Mk 11. 12). For this reason it found its way into the liturgy of Great Monday. The episode is also quite relevant to Great Week. Together with the event of the cleansing of the Temple this episode is another manifestation of Jesus' divine power and authority and a revelation as well of God's judgment upon the faithlessness of the Jewish religious classes. The fig tree is symbolic of Israel become barren by her failure to recognize and receive Christ and His teachings. The cursing of the fig tree is a parable in action, a symbolic gesture. Its meaning should not be lost on any one in any generation. Christ's judgment on the faithless, unbelieving, unrepentant and unloving will be certain and decisive on the Last Day. This episode makes it clear that nominal Christianity is not only inadequate, it is also despicable and unworthy of God's kingdom. Genuine Christian faith is dynamic and fruitful. It permeates one's whole being and causes a change. Living, true and unadulterated faith makes the Christian conscious of the fact that he is already a citizen of heaven. Therefore, his way of thinking, feeling, acting and being must reflect this reality. Those who belong to Christ ought to live and walk in the Spirit; and the Spirit will bear fruit in them: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal 5.22-25).

Great Tuesday

On Great Tuesday the Church calls to remembrance two parables, which are related to the Second Coming. The one is the parable of the Ten Virgins (Mt 25.1-3); the other the parable of the Talents (Mt 25.14-30). These parables point to the inevitability of the Parousia and deal with such subjects as spiritual vigilance, stewardship, accountability and judgement.

From these parables we learn at least two basic things. First, Judgement Day will be like the situation in which the bridesmaids (or virgins) of the parable found themselves: some ready for it, some not ready. The time one decides for God is now and not at some undefined point in the future. If "time and tide waits for no man," certainly the Parousia is no exception. The tragedy of the closed door 'is that individuals close it, not God. The exclusion from the marriage feast, the kingdom is of our own making. Second, we are reminded that watchfulness and readiness do not mean a wearisome, spiritless performance of formal and empty obligations. Most certainly it does not mean inactivity and slothfulness. Watchfulness signifies inner stability, soberness, tranquility and joy. It means spiritual alertness, attentiveness and vigilance. Watchfulness is the deep personal resolve to find and do the will of God, embrace every commandment and every virtue, and guard the intellect and heart from evil thoughts and actions. Watchfulness is the intense love of God. St. Hesychios the Priest described it with these words:

Through His incarnation God gave us the model for a holy life and recalled us from our ancient fall. In addition to many other things, He taught us, feeble as we are, that we should fight against the demons with humility, fasting, prayer and watchfulness. For when, after His baptism, he went into the desert and the devil came up to Him as though He were merely a man, He began His spiritual warfare by fasting and won the battle by this means though, being God, and God of gods, he had no need of any such means at all.

I shall now tell you in plain, straightforward language what I consider to be the types of watchfulness which gradually cleanse the intellect from impassioned thoughts. One type of watchfulness consists in closely scrutinizing every mental image or provocation; for only by means of a mental image can Satan fabricate an evil thought and insinuate this into the intellect in order to lead it astray. A second type of watchfulness consists in freeing the heart form all thoughts, keeping it profoundly silent and still, and in praying. A third type consists in continually and humbly calling upon the Lord Jesus Christ for help. A fourth type is always to have the thought of death in one's mind. These types of watchfulness, my child, act like doorkeepers and bar entry to evil thoughts. A further type which, along with the others, is also effective is to fix one's gaze on heaven and to pay no attention to anything material.

Great Wednesday

On Great Wednesday the Church invites the faithful to focus their attention on two figures: the sinful woman who anointed the head of Jesus shortly before the passion (Mt 26.6-13), and Judas, the disciple who betrayed the Lord. The former acknowledged Jesus as Lord, while the latter severed himself from the Master. The one was set free, while the other became a slave. The one inherited the kingdom, while the other fell into perdition. These two people bring before us concerns and issues related to freedom, sin, hell and repentance. The full meaning of these things can be understood only within the context and from the perspective of the existential truth of our human existence.

Freedom belongs to the nature and character of a human being because he has been created in the image of God. Man and his true life is defined by his uncreated Archtype, who, according to the Greek Fathers, is Christ. Man's ultimate grandeur, in the words of one theologian, "is not found in his being the highest biological existence, a rational or political animal, but in his being a deified animal, in the fact that he constitutes a created existence which has received the command to become a god.” In the final analysis, man becomes authentically free in God; in his ability to discover, accept, pursue, enjoy and deepen the filial relationship which God confers upon him. Freedom is not something extraneous and accidental, but intrinsic to genuine human life. It is not a contrivance of human ingenuity and cleverness, but a divine gift. Man is free, because his being has been sealed with the image of God. He has been endowed with and possesses divine qualities. He reflects in himself God, who, someone has said, 66 reveals Himself as personal existence, as distinctiveness and freedom." The ultimate truth of man is found in his vocation to become a conscious personal existence; a god by grace. The elemental exercise of freedom lies in one's conscious decision and desire to fulfill his vocation to become a person or to deny it; to become a being of communion or an entity unto death; to become a saint or a devil.

Since man is able to resist God and turn away from Him, he can diminish and disfigure God's image in him to the extreme limits. He is able to misuse, abuse, distort, pervert and debase the natural powers and qualities with which he has been endowed. He is capable of sin. Sin turns him into a fraud and an impostor. It limits his life to the level of biological existence, robbing it of divine splendor and capacity. Lacking faith and moral judgement, man is capable of turning freedom into license, rebellion, intimidation and enslavement.

Sin is more than breaking rules and transgressing commandments. It is the willful rejection of a personal relationship with the living God. It is separation and alienation; a way of death, "an existence which does not come to fruition," to use the words of St. Maximos the Confessor. Sin is the denial of God and the forfeiting of heaven. It is the seduction, abduction and captivity of the soul through provocations of the devil, through pride and mindless pleasures. Sin is the light become darkness, the harbinger of hell, the eternal fire and outer darkness. "Hell," according to one theologian, "is man's free choice; it is when he imprisons himself in an agonizing lack of life, and deliberately refuses communion with the loving goodness of God, the true life."

To sin is to miss the mark, to fail to realize one's vocation and destiny. Sin brings -disorder and fragmentation. It diminishes life and causes the most pure and most noble parts of our nature to end up as passions, i.e., faculties and impulses that have become distorted, spoiled, violated and finally alien to the true self.

Sin is not just a disposition. It is a deliberate choice and an act. Likewise, repentance is not merely a change in attitude, but a choice to follow God. This choice involves a radical, existential change which is beyond our own capacity to accomplish. It is a gift bestowed by Christ, who takes us unto Himself through His Church, in order to forgive, heal and restore us to wholeness. The gift He gives us is a new and clean heart.

Having experienced this kind of reintegration, as well as the power of spiritual freedom that issues from it, we come to realize that a truly virtuous life is more than the occasional display of conventional morality. The outward impression of virtue is nothing more than conceit. True virtue is the struggle for truth and the deliberate choice of our own free will to become an imitator of Christ. Then, in the words of St. Maximos, "God who yearns for the salvation of all men and hungers after their deification, withers their self-conceit like the unfruitful fig tree. He does this so that they may prefer to be righteous in reality rather than appearance, discarding the cloak of hypocritical moral display and genuinely pursuing a virtuous life in the way that the divine Logos wishes them to. They will then live with reverence, revealing the state of their soul to God rather than displaying the external appearance of a moral life to their fellow-men.”

The process of healing and restoring our damaged, broken, wounded and fallen nature is on-going. God is merciful and longsuffering towards His creation. He accepts repentant sinners tenderly and rejoices in their conversion. This process of conversion includes the purification and illumination of our mind and heart, so that our passions may be continually educated rather than eradicated, transfigured and not suppressed, used positively and not negatively.

The act of repentance is not some kind of cheerless, morbid exercise. It is a joy-bringing event and enterprise, which frees the conscience from the burdens and anxieties of sin and makes the soul rejoice in the truth and love of God. Repentance begins with the recognition and renunciation of one's evil ways. From this interior sorrow it proceeds to the verbal acknowledgement of the concrete sins before God and the witness of the Church. By “becoming conscious both of his own sinfulness and of the forgiveness extended to him by God,” the repentant sinner turns freely towards God in an attitude of love and trust. Then he focuses his truest and deepest self, his heart, continually on Christ, in order to become like Him. Experiencing the embracing love of God as freedom and transfiguration (2 Cor 3.17-18), he au,thenticates his own personal existence and shows heartfelt concern, compassion and love for others.

I have transgressed more than the harlot, O loving Lord, yet never have I offered You my flowing tears. But in silence I fall down before You and with love I kiss Your most pure feet, beseeching You as Master to grant me remission of sins; and I cry to You, O Savior: Deliver me from the filth of my works.

While the sinful woman brought oil of myrrh, the disciple came to an agreement with the transgressors. She rejoiced to pour out what was very precious, he made haste to sell the One who is above all price. She acknowledged Christ as Lord, he severed himself from the Master. She was set free, but Judas became the slave of the enemy. Grievous was his lack of love. Great was her repentance. Grant such repentance also unto me, O Savior who has suffered for our sake, and save us.

(Orthros of Great Wednesday)

General Observations

Vestments - The tone of Great Week is particularly solemn, somber and mournful. This mood is reflected in the way the Church is lit, as well as in the vestments worn by the clergy and the cover that adorns the holy Table. The Church is lit dimly. At the solemn processions the congregation usually holds candles. According to ancient practice and custom the clergy wear black vestments and the holy Table is covered with a black cloth. However, in many places today the color black has been replaced by deep purple. The Icon displayed for veneration during the first three days is the icon of the Nimfios - Bridegroom.

The Apolysis for each divine service is the same for all of the three days. It has a special prologue, which reads as follows: "Erhomenos O' Kirios epi ro' ekousion Pathos dia tin mon sotirian Christos o alithinos theon mou…-May the Lord who comes to His voluntary passion for our salvation, Christ our true God . . ."

The Katzion - In the beginning of the Orthros service" at the appointed time the priest uses the hand censer known as the Katzion to cense the Church. The regular censer is used at all other times.

The Service - Each day of Great Week includes all of the services of the daily cycle of worship. The order and material for these services is found in the Triodion, and the Patriarchal Text. It is found as well in the Lenten Triodion. In current parish usage, however, the daily services are usually limited to the Vespers with the Pre-Sanctified Liturgy and the Orthros. The basic structure of these services is patterned after the order of the Lenten weekday services. Except for the obvious variations in the troparia (hymns) and Scripture lessons, the order of the divine services is the same for all of the three days. The Orthros of these days is usually referred to as the Service of the Bridegroom - Akolouthia tou Nimpiou.

The Pre-Sanctifted Divine Liturgy

This Liturgy is celebrated on the first three days of Great Week. In some parishes, however, the Liturgy is celebrated only on Great Wednesday for practical reasons.

The Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts has a distinct character and order. It is comprised of three major parts or components: a) the service of Great Vespers peculiar to this Liturgy; b) the solemn transfer of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts to-the holy Table; and c) the preparation for and the distribution of holy Communion. The Liturgy does not contain the Anaphora, the Gifts of the bread and wine having been consecrated at the Divine Liturgy on the previous Sunday or Saturday.

The Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified developed over a long period of time. Though its history and structure is complex, its origins can be traced to two customs of the early Church. The first is related to the practice of self-communion, i.e., the private communion at home of the consecrated holy Bread, received previously at the Sunday Liturgy. The second is related to the rules regulating the practice of fasting.

It was customary in the early Church for many Christians, clerics, laity and ascetics alike, to receive holy Communion daily in their homes. The consecrated Gifts were distributed for this purpose at the Sunday Eucharist to those who desired them. Though this practice was discontinued, it provided the impetus for the creation of a new form of Communion, i.e., the distribution and Communion of the reserved sacrament in the context of a communal worship service.

With regard to the rules and customs pertaining to fasting, two practices are of special significance in the development of the Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified. In the early Church Wednesdays and Fridays were observed with a total fast, which meant complete abstinence from food and drink until the late afternoon. The practice was especially true for Great Lent. The total fast signified both the spiritual concentration and expectation of an approaching joy as well as the last and ultimate preparation for a decisive spiritual event and feast. For this reason a total fast was observed also in preparation for holy Communion.

The second practice is related to the celebration of the Eucharist. From early times it was considered inappropriate to celebrate the Eucharist on fast days. The reason for this is based on the understanding of the Eucharist as the feast of the Church. In as much as the celebration of the Eucharist constitutes a feast, it is incompatible with fasting. While fasting signifies the way toward the fullness, the Eucharist is the manifestation of that fullness.

The combination of these factors resulted in the development of the Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified, which can be defined succinctly as: the distribution and communion of the reserved sacrament at the end of a fast day in the context of a communal worship service, consisting mainly of Vespers and elements of the Divine Liturgy.

The Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts enjoyed wider and more frequent use in earlier times. Besides the Great Lent and the first three days of Great Week, it was celebrated also on Wednesdays and Fridays throughout the year, on Great Friday and on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross.

The Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts, in addition to manifesting vividly the spirit of joyous-sorrow charmolipi) which characterizes the Lenten Season and Great Week, serves to highlight an important aspect of our eucharistic theology. The eucharistic elements of the bread and wine once consecrated continue to be the life giving Body and Blood of Christ, given to the faithful as communion for the forgiveness of sins and life eternal.

The Mystery of Holy Unction (Efhelaion)

The Mystery of Holy Unction is established upon the words and actions of our Lord Jesus Christ. It embodies, extends and continues His healing ministry. It is the sign of His transforming presence in a bruised and hurting world, and the emblem of His promise to deliver us from sin and corruption. It is the manifestation of the kingdom and the sign of what God has in store for the world when it reaches its state of ultimate completion.

Sickness and death are inescapable indignities resulting from the Fall. These indignities are not forms of divine retribution, but the result of the world's deep alienation from God. He allows death to terminate graceless life, not as punishment, but so that it may be restored to its fullness in the resurrection.
Christ took our infirmities and bore our diseases (Mt 8.17). He overcame the world and has given humanity access to imperishable life. The sacrament of Holy Unction places the sick person into this eschatological reality, where suffering, corruption and death are overcome.

Holy Unction is a sacrament of faith (Jas 5.14-15). It is meant for any sick person and is always celebrated in the hope that it will bring healing. While this certainly is the desired effect, it is not the indispensable condition of the sacrament. The essential purpose of the sacrament is to allow the person to share in the victory of Christ and to raise him into the realm of God's Kingdom. It communicates spiritual power so that the trials of sickness may be borne with courage, hope and fortitude. The sacrament is not a substitute for medical treatment. In time of illness, we are guided by the words of Scripture: "When you are sick do not be negligent but pray to the Lord and He will heal you ... And give the physician his place, for the Lord created him" (Sirach 38.9-10).

The Sacrament may be celebrated at any time for the sick. It is celebrated with special solemnity on Great Wednesday for the entire community for the healing of the spiritual and bodily infirmities of the faithful. Through the prayer of its priest, the congregation asks God for forgiveness, help and deliverance from the cycle of sin and suffering. The borders between the -sickness of the body and the sickness of the soul are not always strictly defined. Because we cannot draw a sharp distinction between bodily and spiritual illness, the Church confers Holy Unction upon all the faithful whether they are physically ill or not.

The solemn celebration of Holy Unction on Great Wednesday serves to remind the faithful of Christ's power to forgive and liberate the conscience from the blight of personal and collective sin. Thus, it helps emphasize the glorious expectation of P -a scha: the resurrection, redemption and sanctification of all life. In ad-dition, it helps the faithful to realize how fragile human life really is and how dependent we are on God, if life is to have any true meaning and purpose. The sacrament also helps us to know that the integration of the human personality and the restoration of interior justice and holiness are basic presuppositions for healing. The corporate celebration should remind us also that caring for the sick and the afflicted, and comforting them in their distress and plight is both a personal as well as a communal responsibility. Finally, the sacrament helps us to recall that the defeat of suffering, sickness and death - the indignities of the ancestral sin - can be understood only in the light of Christ's own death and resurrection.

It is not altogether clear how and when the Sacrament of Holy Unction came to be celebrated on Great Wednesday. it may be related to the fact that in Christian antiquity penitents were received and reconciled during the course of Great Week. The sacrament of Holy Unction may have been part of the reception process for lapsed Christians, who were reconciled to the Church through the sacrament of Penance.

It has become the practice among the Greek Orthodox in the United States to conduct the sacrament on Great Wednesday evening in the place of the usual service of the Triodion. Pastoral considerations have dictated this custom.

The service of Holy Unction is found in the Euchologion. It is contained also in the Holy Week Book edited by Fr. George Papadeas. In its basic structure the service contains the following parts: a modified Orthros; a prayer for the consecration of the oil; a set of seven Scripture lessons, each with an Epistle and Gospel pericope and a priestly prayer; and finally, an additional prayer for the anointing of the person(s) for whom the sacrament is celebrated.


The rubrics contained in this section are for the service of the Orthros. As it was noted above, the rubrics for the Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified are contained elsewhere. For the service of the Hours the reader may refer to the Triodion or the Patriarchal Text. The order of these latter services is straightforward.

Except for the variations in the hymns and the Scripture Lessons, the order of the Orthros is the same for all of the three first days of Great Week. For this reason it is sufficient to mention only the rubrics of the Orthros of the first day, Great Monday.

With the Orthros of Great Monday we begin the reversed position of the order of the services. Thus, the Orthros of Great Monday is celebrated in the evening of Palm Sunday.

The Orthros of Great Monday

Opening Doxology and Imperial Office.

The Priest - stands, as usual, before the Holy Table and says: 'Evlogitos O Theos imon ... Blessed is our God . . ."; "Thoxa soi oTheos . . . - Glory to You, o God . . ."; and the "Basilef Ouranie - Heavenly King.”

People - recite the Trisagion prayers.

Chanter - intones the Royal Psalms (19, 20). At this time the priest censes the entire Church with the katzion. Before commencing the censing the priest wears the phelonion.

People - repeat the Trisagion at the end of the psalms and then recite the Royal troparia.

Priest - intones the abbreviated fervent litany.


Reader - says, "In the Name of the Lord, Father bless."\

Priest - says, "Thoxa ti agia ... Glory to the . (and proceeds to read the prescribed prayers in a low voice before the Holy Table).

Reader - recites the Hexapsalmos (Six-Psalms)."

Priest - intones the Great Synapte.

People - sing the Alleluia with the four verses (Is 26.9,10,11,15), and the troparion "Idou O Nimfios - Behold the Bridegroom" (thrice).

Procession - As the troparion is being sung, the priest carries the icon of the Nimpfios -Bridegroom in procession in the usual manner. This procession is conducted only once, at the Orthros of Great Monday. The icon remains in the usual place for the first three days of the week.

The Kathismata

When the hymn "Behold the Bridegroom" has been sung three times, the Priest intones the Small Litany. The people respond in the usual manner.

The reading of a section or Kathisma of the Psalter follows. However, for reasons of brevity it had long become the practice to suppress the recitation of the Psalter in parish usuage. A set of hymns follows the recitation of each Kathisma. These hymns are called kathismata troparia -sessional hymns. The sessional hymns have remained in use and are sung in their usual place. Thus, after the Priest has intoned the Small Litany the chanters and people sing the sessional hymns.

The Gospel

Following the kathismata or sessional hymns the Priest reads the prescribed pericope of the Gospel." The Lesson is preceded by the usual liturgical formula. The Gospel is read from the Holy Gate.

Psalm 50

When the reading of the Gospel has been completed the Reader recites Psalm 50 (51).

The Canon

After this, the chanters and the people sing the appointed Odes of the Canon. The Reader recites the Kontakion and Oikos of the Triodion, as well as the Synaxarion of the Menaion and the Triodion. The Priest intones the Small Litany at the prescribed interval.

When the Katavasia of the Eighth Ode has been chanted, the Priest says, "Tin Theotokon Let us magnify" and censes the sanctuary and the people in the usual manner.

The chanters and people sing the hymns of the Ninth Ode.

The Priest intones the Small Litany at the conclusion of the Ninth Ode.

The Exaposteilarion and Ainoi

Then the chanters and people sing the Exaposteilarion "Ton nimfona sou vlepo - I see Thy bridle-chamber" three times."'

This is followed by the singing of the Psalms of Praise (148, 149, 150) together with the designated hymns, concluding with the Doxastikon.

The Doxology

The reader and the people recite the so-called Small Doxology.

The Petitions

At the conclusion of the Doxology the Priest intones the petitions. He gives the Peace and reads the Prayer of Inclination.

The Aposticha Hymns

The chanters and the people sing the appointed Aposticha.

The Apolysis

The Priest recites the "Agathon ro" exomologiesthai Kirio…- “It is a good thing to give thanks…”

The people recite the trisagion prayers; Lord, have mercy (12); and say "Father bless."

The Priest says the following:

  1. "O Ov Evlogitos - Blessed is He Who Is
  2. Epouranie Basilef - Heavenly King . . ."
  3. The prayer of St. Ephraim accompanied by the usual deep prostrations.
  4. The Apolysis: "Erxomenos O Kirios
Related Assets