Friday, April 11, 2014

"Tell My Brethren..." (An Exhortation to Priests for Holy Week)


By His Eminence Metropolitan Seraphim of Kastoria

We have once again arrived before the gates of the revered Passion of Christ.

We have prepared throughout the duration of Holy and Great Lent to bear the fruit of spiritual virtues, that we may worthily venerate the Immaculate Passion and see the light of His Resurrection.

The sacred hymnographer of our Church, Saint John of Damascus, is characteristic and revealing: For one to see the unapproachable light, they must previously purify themselves and become all light. He writes: "Let us purify our senses and behold the unapproachable light of the Resurrection."1

Through this encyclical I wish to address to your venerable persons, since you bear on yourselves the Priesthood of Christ which is beyond honor, and as a brother towards his brethren, to remind you of a word of the Risen Christ, in which is enclosed a deep meaning even for this difficult period in which we are entering.

The Risen Lord, "on the first of the sabbaths", as the sacred texts of our Church emphasize to us, when He encounters the Myrrhbearer and subsequent Equal to the Apostles Mary Magdalene, urges her to transmit to His frightened Disciples the message of His Resurrection with the following words: "Journey to my brethren and tell them: I ascend to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God."2

These words hide authenticity, tenderness and affection.

He does not simply call them "brethren" but "MY brethren". And the Disciples are not the only brethren of Christ, but we all are simultaneously who make up His mystical Body, which is our Holy Church.

First. This title reveals the intimacy of Christ with His Disciples and by extension with all of us. He loves us, He cares for us, He sends us His grace, especially during the difficult times of temptation and difficulty, even in moments of denial.

Just as He restored the Apostle Peter to the class of His faithful Disciples and corrects his three-fold denial with the three-fold question: "Peter, do you love Me?", so also does He confirm for everyone of us by His great love our restoration to the seat of his friends and brethren.

Saint John Chrysostom puts the following words in the mouth of Christ that show the magnitude of His love and goodwill to each of our persons: "All things that are Mine are yours: heaven is yours, the air is yours as subsistence and everything in the air, the earth and all therein, the sea and all therein, the world is yours, the church is yours, the altar is yours, the angels are yours, the apostles are yours, the martyrs are yours, the present is yours, the future is yours, the resurrection is yours, immortality is yours, the kingdom of heaven is yours."3

Second. This special mention of Christ ("journey to My brethren") shows spiritual adoption. In other words, we are relatives of Christ, but also of each other.

We are sons of God and brethren of Christ. "You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus" writes the Christ-bearing Apostle Paul in his epistle to the Galatians.4 We are brethren of Christ with the "first-born among many brethren" being the Lord Jesus.5

And as long as we are children of God, we are heirs of God. We are even co-heirs with Christ.6 This is why Christians of all ages call each other "brethren", being children of the same Father, of God, and brethren of the Only-begotten Son of God.

We are also brethren between us. We have the same spirit of faith, the same baptism and the same way of life.

We use the same spiritual means for the healing of our passions. We fight in the same spiritual arena, which is our Church, and we have the same aim: to reach the finish which is the Kingdom of Heaven.

We have another common goal: to see the face of Christ. And if we, as shepherds of the Church, who bear all these gifts and blessings of God, do not see, like all the the saints who live today, the face of God, how can we teach this experience to our congregation?

For this reason I will never stop reminding you, as your brother and spiritual father, of our common destination: the vision of the face of Christ.

With these thoughts, in view of Holy and Great Week, I remind you again, as every year, some of our duties:

1. To support, help and strengthen with all our strength the people who suffer. Not only is there an economic malaise that exists in our country, but especially despair and hopelessness have overwhelmed many of our brethren. And every father has an obligation to support and uphold every spiritual child of his.

I have written in another encyclical how if every hour belonged to the Church, this present hour is the "eschaton". Support the brethren of Christ. Strengthen them and help them gain hope and meaning in their lives. Guide them sacrificially and lovingly to the person of Christ. Your reward will be great in heaven.

2. In the evening of Palm Sunday prepare the Icon of the Bridegroom and exit at the appropriate time, according to the Typikon. The lights should be shut when the Sacred Icon exits, and throughout Holy Week the lighting of the sacred churches should be limited to create contrition.

3. All the Sacred Services of Holy Week should be performed, in accordance with the Typikon of our Church. Sanctions will be imposed on those Priests who do not perform the said Sacred Services. Also, please, the Sacred Texts and the announcements should be read clearly. Particular attention should be towards the correct and clear delivery of the Gospel Readings.

4. No matter what, the three Presanctified Divine Liturgies must take place (Holy Monday, Holy Tuesday, Holy Wednesday). If it is not possible for the three Presanctifieds to take place (for various serious reasons, like the absence of chanters, etc.), then certainly there should be one, preferably on Holy Wednesday.

I further remind you that the covers of the Holy Altar and the Sacred Vestments are to be mournful until the Great Hours of Good Friday (morning). For all other Sacred Services the adornment and vestments are to be bright.

5. Holy Unction should be performed on Holy Wednesday evening in all the sacred churches, since previously (on Palm Sunday, at the end of the Divine Liturgy) the celebration of Holy Unction is announced. After Holy Unction the Service of the Washing of the Feet should be performed (at 7:00 pm).

6. No matter what, a Divine Liturgy should be performed on Holy Thursday (Divine Liturgy of Basil the Great).

Holy Thursday night mournful bells should strike in the sacred church and you should arrange the order for the exit of the Crucified. At the exit of the Crucified the lights of the sacred church should all be shut and the faithful should hold lit candles.

Arrange also for the flowers of the Epitaphios.

7. On Good Friday observe the order of the Typikon, both in the morning and at night during the Lamentations and exit of the Epitaphios.

During the Sacred Services this day mournful bells should strike in the sacred church, and (occasionally) throughout the entire day. On the Epitaphios there should certainly be the Sacred Gospel. I draw the attention of all: before God, do not place a tray for collecting money on the Sacred Kouvouklion of the Epitaphios.

8. On Holy Saturday it is the last and most detailed preparation of Holy Week. Perform the Divine Liturgy of Basil the Great, as can be seen in the Typikon of our Church.

PLEASE, also:

a) Let the Sacred Church, the Sacred Sanctuary and the trim of the Sacred Altar be clean.

b) Make the decoration of the Resurrection with diligence and brilliance.

c) Let there be a cleaning of the candle table, the candles and the Sacred Utensils. Our churches should receive with complete cleanliness and decorum the light of the Resurrection.

d) Ensure the timely supply of red paint and eggs, which you will distribute to our faithful on the night of the Resurrection or also at the Vespers of Love.

e) Urge the faithful not to leave after the proclamation of the Resurrection, but to stay and follow the Resurrectional Divine Liturgy, for which we made our spiritual struggle. Encourage them even from Palm Sunday, even earlier, in a polite manner, as befits Priests of the Most High, that they may commune of the Immaculate Mysteries on the night of the Resurrection.

f) Do not forget to read the Resurrection Encyclical on Holy Saturday night before the "Come receive the light...", as well as at the Vespers of Love.

g) Encourage the faithful to attend the Vespers of Love, which is performed on Sunday morning at 11:00 am at the Sacred Cathedral of Kastoria. Those of you who can attend the above Vespers, bring with you bright vestments. Your presence will give me great joy.

Finally, drawing your attention once again to the issue of cleanliness and preparation of our churches, I urge you to personally supervise the detailed cleaning up of the sacred church, which will be done by pious ladies immediately and not during Holy Week, and from you there should be cleanliness and care of the Sacred Sanctuary, and in particular the Holy Altar and the Holy Prothesis.

On Holy Saturday morning after the Divine Liturgy, the last cleaning should take place. Any superfluous objects, please remove to storage.

Observing the decorum and cleanliness of the sacred church, the keeping of the Typikon and details required for particular days, will contribute to the celebration and brilliance of the Great Feast, the most brilliant of our faith.

Further, we help the faithful to experience the greatness and spiritual wealth of our Holy Church and taste the spiritual joy offered by the Sacred Services, when they are combined with the order and decorum of the sacred church.

I embrace you in the name of our Suffering and Risen Lord and I wish you a

GOOD RESURRECTION


Notes:

1. Canon of the Resurrection

2. Jn. 20:17

3. Αρχιμ. Δοσιθέου (Ηγουμένου Ιεράς Μονής Τατάρνης), Το νόημα της αμαρτίας κατά την διδασκαλίαν της Ορθοδόξου Εκκλησίας, εκδ. Επτάλοφος, Αθήνα 2014, σελ. 44.

4. Gal. 3:26

5. Rom. 8:29

6. Rom. 8:17

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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