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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Holy Week and Pascha on Mount Athos

Mount Athos has a somber and completely spiritual atmosphere during Holy Week. Visitors to the Holy Mountain during this time find themselves in a completely different world from what they are used to in the world. It is a monastic life which especially at this time focuses on the last days of Jesus according to the lived experience of 2,000 years of authentic Christianity. One cannot escape being reminded of this and making it a lived reality in their own lives.

The Athonite fathers on Holy Thursday begin by going out into the fields to gather flowers for the Cross and Tomb which will be displayed during the services over the next few days. Great Friday throughout Mount Athos is a day of silence and vigilant prayer within the churches. Holy Week contains some of the most beautiful hymns of the entire Orthodox ecclesiastical year, and the professional chants of the monks, coupled with the ancient iconography and architecture, make for a powerful experience unrivalled. Holy Saturday services with the Epitaphios do not begin until 1:00 AM and last till 4:00 AM. At 5:00 AM begins the procession with the shroud and tomb of Christ.

The vigil for the Resurrection begins about 10:00 PM on Holy Saturday night and ends at 6:00 AM. Then a table is set for a festive dinner with fish, eggs and salad. On Pascha there is great joy throughout the Holy Mountain, as if death truly has been conquered by the resurrection of Christ.

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