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April 21, 2021

The Week Before Holy Week and our Journey Towards Jerusalem

In Greece the Sixth Week of Great Lent, which is the week before Holy Week, is known as "deaf week" (κουφή) or "silent week" (βουβή). It is the final leg of our journey towards Jerusalem with Christ and His disciples, where we will participate in the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ. It is a difficult path in difficult times, an uphill path which we walk while bearing a cross on our shoulders. Holy Week is a time of increased prayer, increased fasting, and a period of renewal and reconciliation and forgiveness.

The last week of Great Lent is called "deaf" or "silent" because it was during this last week before Holy Week that Christ journeyed with His disciples to Bethany to respond to the news that His friend Lazarus was dead, and it was during this week that Lazarus lay dead in the tomb. Furthermore, as the Lord foretold along the way to Jerusalem, He was walking voluntarily and silently towards the Passion, as Isaiah prophesied: “He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth” (Is. 53:7-8). This voluntary and silent approach was the basis for the healing of human nature. There are also no Salutations to the Theotokos this week, which is the only moment on a weekday during the rest of Great Lent that we have a joyful moment, thus increasing the silence of this week of anticipation.

For six days before the Saturday of Lazarus and Palm Sunday, the Church urges us to follow Christ on His journey to Jerusalem:

Monday - "Today Christ travels beyond the Jordan and announces that Lazarus is sick..."

Tuesday - "Yesterday and today Lazarus continues in his illness..."

Wednesday - "Today Lazarus dies and is entombed, and his friends and relatives lament..."

Thursday - "Lazarus has been dead now for two days, and his sisters Martha and Mary shed tears of grief..."

Friday - "Christ is coming to Bethany to raise Lazarus..."

The last week of Great Lent therefore is a time of spiritual contemplation as Christ journeys to Jerusalem by way of Bethany to deal His final blow against death, mankind's most ancient fear. Each day this week brings us closer and closer to this final encounter. He strikes His final blow first by raising Lazarus who has been dead for four days, and then by entering into the realm of death itself and rising after three days. The "hour" of Christ approaches, which He spoke so often about. The hope of our "common resurrection" is about to be manifested.

There is a misconception that this last week of Great Lent is called "deaf" and "silent" because during this week there are no services nor bells heard. One look at the service book for this period, the Triodion, will prove this folk belief false. In fact, this week is a very rich and meaningful liturgical week, where we not only summarize the entirety of Great Lent, but we also devoutly prepare for what lies ahead. All the services this week are the same as the previous weeks of Great Lent, except that there are no Salutations to the Theotokos.

The key themes of this week are the death of Lazarus, the hour of Christ, and the anticipated victory of the Lord over death. It is also the final call for us to repent of our sins in order to fully be present and be open to all the spiritual graces that Holy Week and Easter offer.