Preparations are well underway for the Feast of Feasts, Christ’s Holy Resurrection.
Help is needed with the following Tasks:
At the Liturgy on Lazarus Saturday, we heard the extraordinary Gospel story of the raising of Lazarus the Four Days Dead. It is fixed in our minds with expressive icons and hymnology.
The joy of the miracle, through which many believed, is carried over to the Palm Sunday services. The church is decorated with a triumphal arch, and the congregation all hold green branches, as did the jubilant people in Jerusalem.
During Great Week the Matins of the day is held on the previous evening. The three Bridegroom Services at 7.00pm on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday have the overall theme of being prepared to meet the Bridegroom, Christ, as were the wise virgins. The Troparion (hymn) “Behold the Bridegroom cometh in the midst of the night…” is repeated three times during each service, but the theme differs each evening, culminating in the beautiful hymn written by Kassiani (b circa 820), a lament of the repentant Harlot.
Matins on Wednesday evening is the full Anointing service (sometimes called Holy Unction), for spiritual and physical health. It is for the healing of soul and body and is used for the sick throughout the year, though most usually in a shorter form. In the Greek tradition, this service has become part of Great Week. It is appropriate that the faithful should realise that they are not exempt from the guilt of the passion and death of Our Lord. However, the long prayers for the oil and the final anointing demonstrate God’s infinite love and overturn the natural order for those who are repentant.
The Vesperal Liturgy of the Last Supper on Great Thursday morning combines the teaching in Vespers with the Eucharist. The hymn “Of Thy Mystical Supper, O Lord, may I partake, for I will not tell of Thy Mysteries to Thine enemies, neither will I give Thee a kiss as did Judas, but like the Thief I will confess Thee. Remember me, O Lord, when thou cometh into Thy Kingdom” is sung instead of the usual Cherubic Hymn.
Twelve different Gospels are read at the Thursday evening Matins, which is really the matins for Great Friday. After the preliminary psalms, litanies and verses of matins, the rhythm of the Gospel reading is established within the framework of the rest of a festal matins. The texts are amazing, and the dramatic procession of the figure of Christ on the Cross through the church, before which we all prostrate, brings home the solemnity of what we are experiencing. Everyone in the congregation holds a candle alight while each Gospel is read, which brightens the church.
On Friday morning, the Royal Hours will begin at 8.30am. This is an opportunity to quietly meditate on the events through Old Testament readings, Epistles and Gospels.
There will follow the bustle of making the Epitaphios canopy ready and beautifully decorated to receive Christ’s body in the visible form of an embroidered icon. This activity brings people together to do something specific for our crucified Lord.
During the Gospel reading at the Evening Vespers, the figure of Christ is taken down from the Cross, wrapped in a cloth and laid on the altar. This represents the tomb of Christ. While the Troparion “When he took you dead from the Tree, the Aramathaian prepared you with finest linen and myrrh” is sung, the congregation kneels as the Epitaphios is laid in the canopy. Again, we prostrate before and kiss the lifeless Body of Christ, represented in the icon.
It is at the service of the Lamentations (7.00pm) that the beautiful lament of the Mother of God is sung while the congregation stand around the Epitaphios holding lighted candles. When they finally come to the end, Matins is finally completed with the Great Doxology, and the burial procession with the Epitaphios makes its way out of the church. At the end of the service, the priest gives the faithful a flower to remain to dry in their icon corner until next year. There will be a collection at the Lamentations Service for the Archdiocese.