April 25, 2016

The Spiritual Ladder of Holy Week

By Fr. George Economou

Eighteen weeks, or more than one third of the annual cycle, is the ecclesiastical liturgical cycle that revolves around the celebration of the Resurrection.

This is from the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee until the Sunday of All Saints. It is a liturgical journey rich in religious and spiritual experiences.

It is a sweet joyful-sorrow. Grief according to God which leads through the Cross to the Resurrection.

And, as in all the liturgical traditions of our Holy Church, so also with this festal cycle, the wisdom of our Holy Fathers who set it in order is revealed.

Not to follow the formalism provisions but to get to the depth of the essence, which is none other than the eternal plan of the divine economy.

In this direction, this text summarizes the events of Holy and Great Week as a noetic and spiritual ladder, which leads the faithful to venerate the revered Passion and glorious Resurrection of the Savior.

The Saturday of Lazarus can be considered the prologue - the first step - and the resurrection of Lazarus the friend of Christ shortly before the Passion of the Lord prefigures His own glorious Resurrection.

Jesus, who wept as He went to the tomb, where His friend was buried, says to the one who was four days dead and commands with the familiar words: "Lazarus, come forth!"

At that moment and with those words of His, who Himself is the Resurrection and the Life, Lazarus immediately resurrected. He who breathed the breath of life into Adam has life in Himself.

This is how His own Resurrection from the dead is theologically interpreted after His descent into Hades, and it ensures our own expectation of the resurrection of the dead and the life of the age to come.

With the expectation of the Resurrection, therefore, we enter Holy and Great Week, that we may journey together and be crucified together, as well as be resurrected together, and finally be united with our Lord.

On Palm Sunday we celebrate the bright and glorious festival of the entrance of the Lord into the Holy City of Jerusalem.

He comes exactly as it was prophesied by Zechariah in the Old Testament: "Behold, your king is coming to you; he is just and endowed with salvation, humble, and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a donkey."

Meekly He sits on the donkey, just and endowed with salvation, to suffer the perfect injustice and extreme humiliation, by His Passion, and especially the Cross, to grant salvation to fallen humanity.

He fulfills the plan of Divine Providence and reopens the door of Paradise as a compassionate Father, who never ceases to love His children.

On Holy and Great Monday the Church remembers blessed Joseph the All-Comely. He was the son of Jacob, whom his brothers wanted to kill and repeat the horrible fratricide of Cain because of their envy.

He suffered horrible bullying by his own brothers. God, however, protected him from death, and so was sold to traders and led as a captive to Egypt, where Potiphar purchased him, and after he refused to sin with his master's wife, he was unjustly slandered and imprisoned.

Still even there, the grace of God acted on his behalf, and not only was he liberated, but he became the closest confidant and collaborator of Pharaoh.

In the sufferings of the all-comely Joseph and in his love, by which he forgave his brothers, the Church saw the Passion of the Lord and His perfect love prefigured, which is why it has been set to honor his memory on Holy and Great Monday.

On the same day we also remember the event of the withered fig tree, which reveals the holy will of God that we are to struggle, and multiply our talents entrusted to us and increase our inheritance of grace, that we may bear spiritual fruit.

Otherwise, as our Lord said at the Sermon on the Mount, "Every tree that does not bear good fruit, is cut down and thrown into the fire." This is what happened with the withered fig tree.

On Holy and Great Tuesday we remember the Parable of the Ten Virgins. With this parable we are called to cultivate watchfulness, alertness, as we do not know the day or hour when we will be called to the heavenly marriage of the Bridegroom Christ, and risk not having oil in our lamps.

Let our hands not be empty, because we have no mercy and love, because we are perhaps unmerciful and hard-hearted before the needs of our neighbors.

On Holy and Great Wednesday we remember the harlot woman, who anointed the Lord with myrrh prior to His salvific Passion. One act and one person who will probably even scandalize us!

How dare such a woman approach Jesus! Yet our Lord loves all His children. He does not exclude any of His children from salvation and teaches us not to judge, so that we will not be judged.

And, indeed, this harlot woman was saved by repentance, just as the thief who was crucified with the Lord, and like Zacchaeus along with countless other examples in the history of the Church.

So also are we invited if we are sunk in our sins and in despair over our actions, and we are encouraged by the all-loving mercy of God to offer Him our broken and contrite hearts, to be healed and to have a clean heart created within us.

On Holy and Great Thursday the Church celebrates the washing of the disciples feet in the sacred Basin, the Secret Supper, the supernatural prayer and the betrayal.

It is a practical teaching of extreme humility, the tradition of the Mystery of the Divine Eucharist, the amazing High Priestly Prayer of Gethsemene, as well as the false betrayal of Judas by a kiss.

Jesus desired to eat with His disciples, and even prepares the details of the supper, and He welcomes them as a servant, washing their feet on His knees, and serving them at the table.

There He delivers the mystery of mysteries and seals the New Testament with His Blood.

He also gives Judas an opportunity at repentance by foretelling who it would be that would betray Him, but the lawless Judas was unwilling to change his mind.

On Holy and Great Friday we commemorate the salvific and horrible Passion, especially the Cross and Death of the Lord, as well as the salvific confession of the grateful thief on the cross.

He was crucified for us and He suffered and was buried and became obedient even unto death, death by a cross.

On Holy and Great Saturday all flesh is silent, as we celebrate the entombment of the Body of God and the Savior's descent into Hades. But already the tomb cannot contain the Lord of Glory. And we have a foretaste of the joy of the Resurrection. At the Vespers of the Resurrection, which is chanted on the morning of Holy and Great Saturday, we proclaim once again while spreading out bay leaves: "Arise O Lord and judge the earth, for to You belong all the nations."

Through this journey and ladder and our conscious participation in the wonderful life of worship in the Church this year is completed, just as in every year, Holy and Great Week and the spiritual struggle of the faithful.

Since, then, we will hopefully arrive at Pascha Sunday, may we be made worthy of Divine Grace to venerate once again this year, the glorious and life-bearing Resurrection.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.