The sixth and final week of Great Lent is called "Palm Week".
For six days before Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday the worship of our Church urges us to follow Christ after He announces the death of His friend Lazarus and begins His journey to Bethany and Jerusalem.
The center of our attention is on Lazarus - his illness, his death, the grief of relatives, and the reaction of Christ to all this. The final week, therefore, passes in spiritual meditation on the upcoming meeting of Christ with death - first in the person of his friend Lazarus, and then the death of Christ Himself.
The "hour of Christ" approaches of which He so often spoke and towards this was directed His entire earthly ministry. The resurrection of Lazarus took place in order to confirm the "common resurrection of all".
It is exciting to celebrate every day for an entire week this meeting between life and death, which slowly approaches, to become part of it, to feel with our entire being what is implied by John with the words: "When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled...Jesus wept" (Jn. 11:33-35). According to our liturgical terminology, Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday are the "commencement of the Cross".
Nevertheless, our pious people call this week "Silent", "Deaf" or "Mute" with the unique excuse that during this week no services take place and no bell is struck, and thus we do not say services nor hear bells this week. But the truth is just the opposite. One look at the liturgical books of the Church will convince us that this week is neither "Silent", "Deaf" or "Mute", rather, as we saw above, it is full of messages and theological meaning around the mystery of death. Formerly these ideas were cultivated by the priests themselves as perhaps a justification in an effort to have a little rest before the hard toil of Holy and Great Week.
The rubrics of our Church prescribe the following Services this week that are normally performed during Great Lent:
- Matins at midnight
- Hours and Vespers in the morning
- Great Compline in the evening
- Presanctified Divine Liturgy on Wednesday and Friday
- Small Compline with the Canon of Saint Lazarus on Friday evening
The only Service absent is the Service of the Salutations to the Panagia, which has a unique joyful tone during the mournful period we are going through. Perhaps the fact that the joyful Service of the Salutations is not done this week is because it led to a misunderstanding of the meaning of this week.
The final week of Great Lent (since on Sunday, Holy Week begins with its own fast) is the final uncovering of the meaning of Great Lent, which is repentance, fasting from sin, joyful-sorrow, and the rejuvenation of the worship element of the Church. Let us take care not to lose out what our Church has to offer this week also in our life of worship.
Timely and impactful as always are the words of Fr. Moses the Athonite concerning these Holy and Great Days: "Like Christ always be alone on Great Friday, waiting for the final nail, the vinegar, the lance. Listen calmly to the casting of lots for the distribution of your belongings, together with the blasphemies, the challenges and the indifference. Sunday will not come unless Friday comes first, then you will forget the suffering on the path of the Great Friday of our life. Do not be surprised, do not be afraid of the unexpected nightfall. The showers of the sky are drying up. The clear skies will come Saturday night. Then you will forget the suffering on the path of the Great Friday of our life."
Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.