My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ God,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE.
HOW SHOULD THE ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN
APPROACH THE HOLY AND GREAT WEEK?
We prepare for the Lord’s Passion and death. We anticipate our Messiah’s entrance to the Holy City of Jerusalem riding upon an ass. He will be betrayed and sold for thirty pieces of silver. He will be whipped, slapped, spat upon, and ridiculed. His hands and feet will be pierced and He will be given vinegar mixed with gall to drink. His clothes will be distributed and "They divided My garments among them" (St. John 19:24). He will die and receive burial, but His soul will not be abandoned to corruption. We are aware that all the above were announced beforehand, and later fulfilled to the letter as prophesied.
Certainly, having fulfilled, indeed, all that God had announced years before to humanity through the Venerable Prophets.
Our Lenten journey is slowly nearing its noble and sacred destination. We are not traveling alone, but with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who is leading the way to the holy city of Jerusalem. What happened and what did we experience as we traversed the spiritual desert? Each one has his own story to tell. In the words of Saint John Chrysostom, "…if any be weary with fasting, let him now receive his penny. If any have toiled from the first hour, let him receive his due reward…ye that have kept the fast, and ye that have not, rejoice…".
We faithful approach the Holy and Great Week with a sense of total unworthiness and tears. We know that the Son of God is approaching His Passion. Each day has a unique and solemn message as we call to mind the things that happened to our Lord long ago. Through the mystical divine services of our Holy Church, we are mentally and spiritually transported back to the time that everything occurred. Thanks to the liturgical sacred services, we relive these terrifying and yet glorious events. For the Orthodox faithful, this is not just merely a superficial commemoration of what transpired in the past.
It is with profound humility that we acknowledge and declare our heartfelt gratitude to Our Lord and Savior’s Passion. During the divine services of Holy and Great Week days, we hear the various announcements through the word ‘Today.’ ‘Today Christ enters the Holy City’, ‘Today Christ comes to the house of the Pharisee,’ "Today Judas makes a contract with the chief priests,’ ‘Today the Master of Creation stands before Pilate,’ Today He who hung the earth upon the waters is hung upon the Cross.’ Everything revealed through the Holy Scripture and through the divine services, helps the pious Orthodox Christian to experience these dramatic and holy events in the life of Our Lord personally here and now. The greater the sadness is at the beginning of Holy Week, the more glorious is the exaltation, celebration, and triumph of His Resurrection.
We must be careful as Orthodox Christians not to treat the divine events commemorated during Holy and Great Week as simply practicing our religious tradition, nor as something we have inherited, nor as nothing other than an annual observence. We cannot treat it as something that will be over soon and then life will continue as before, nor that we have neither experienced nor learned anything and our spiritual life remains uneffected by the sacred events in the life of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, including His Sacrifice on the Cross to save us. God forbid that this observance has become meaningless to us and of no spiritual value.
Our Holy Orthodox Church, for over 2,000 years, has deliberately made it possible to all genuine believers to keep the whole life of the Son of God alive in our hearts, minds and souls. When we personally experience to some degree what He experienced, what He went through to redeem humanity and save us from evil and death, and to truly see His abundant and unconditional love for us, we should be in tears. Our love for Him should be real and profound. Remembering and experiencing personally these events should be for us life-transforming. Our personal commitment, our faith, our loyalty, our conformity to His Divine Teachings and commandments should be immediate and life-long.
We can no longer be Christians in name only. Nothing should be done mechanically, artificially, and hypocritically. We are not forced to stay Christian and we are not forced to follow Him. Our Lord says clearly, "If ANYONE DESIRES TO COME AFTER ME, let him DENY HIMSELF and TAKE UP HIS CROSS AND FOLLOW ME" (St. Matthew 16:24). Do you "desire" to go after Him? Are you pretending? Are you an imposter? Are you a true believer? What are you?
The true believer, the true follower of Christ can be seen by the life he lives, by his values, by his priorities, by his commitment, by his sincerity, by his acthions, by his honesty, by his willingness to even die for his faith, as did the countless Martyrs, Confessors, Saints, Holy Fathers and Mothers, of ordinary Christian men, women and children throught the Christian History. Christians who endured persecution, torture, imprisonment, exile, and all kinds of atrocities from pagans, infidels, communists, fascists, heretics, and unbelievers and enemies of Christianity, all went to their deaths praising and glorifying our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ. Are we willing to emulate their example today?
The Church is NOT THEATER! We are not playing the part of a Christian! We are not actors! The local parish priest is not performing when conducting the divine services of our Faith. The Orthodox Christians attending the Mysteries and other holy services are NOT simply the audience observing the so called performance. People who at the end of the Divine Liturgy grade the priest’s ‘performance’ i.e., his voice, movements, quality of his sermons, etc., and some who disrespect God by walking into the Divine Liturgy any time they wish and when it is convenient to them, do not believe that He Who invited them into His Heavenly Banquet IS PRESENT! To prove to you how shallow and hollow the understanding and the faith of some is, I will tell you a true story. One day an older woman, wealthy, and what some would consider somewhat sophisticated, came to me following the Divine Liturgy
and said to me, ‘Father you are too serious when giving your sermon and so is the content. We attend services to feel good and my suggestion to you is that you add a little humor and even tell a joke, so that we may laugh.’ Believe it or not, I didn’t take offense. However, I was perplexed by what she said, because this poor woman was an educated person, sophisticated, wealthy, intelligent and an older woman who grew up in the Faith. Still, nothing had penetrated her heart and mind. She had no idea why she was at the Divine Liturgy.
Our faith IS A LIVING FAITH AND OUR GOD IS THE LIVING GOD! We must not abuse the blessinig, honor, or privilege of being in His PRESENCE. The following is a prayer given by the priest at the Divine Litury inaudibly: "Look down, O Lord Jesus Christ Our God, from Thy Holy dwelling place, and from the from the Throne of Glory of Thy Kingdom, and COME TO SANCTIFY US. Thou Who sittest on High with the Father, and ART HERE INVISIBLY PRESENT WITH US. And do Thou deign by Thy Mighty hand to give to us of Thy Immaculate Body and of Thy Precious Blood, and through us to all the people." Undoubtely, God is Truly present during the Divine Liturgy and believing that very fact, the question put to everyone, is what should be the prevailing attitude of the Christian when attending? Shoud he or she be on time? Should he or she be dressed modestly, respectfully, and should he or she be prepared spiritually through repentance and confession? Should he or she walk in His presence with the sense of wonder and fear, humility, and a feeling of unworthiness? How would you or anyone, let us say, come before the Queen or king of England or any other royalty in the world? How then should we come before the King of Kings? The Lord and Savior of the World? The Son of God?
There is much to ponder and much to contemplate. We must not take the Lord, the Church, nor Our salvation for granted. We must NOT offend God with our lack of respect and lame excuses. There can be no secrets from Him when He knows us "from our mothers womb." We cannot act stupidly and irresponsibly. We need God, but He does not have any need of us. He is the Creator and we are mortal creatures. We are not on the same level as He, and to even think it, is nonsensical and ludicrous. Some attempt to predict God’s actions and even, insane and sinful as that is, go as far as to analyze Him. How can any human being hope to know God when he or she does not even know himself, who he is? It is sheer foolishness and ignorance.
This would be a perfect opportunity to pray for the salvation of the world, which may be on a collision course with the Almigty. It is evident that evil in the world is more visible and emboldened. When mankind separates itself and ceases to believe in Him, defies His Commandments and rebels against all of His Teachings, mocking His Only-begotten Son and His Sacrifice on the Cross, there are consequences. Mankind is definitely provoking, challenging, and inviting His Divine wrath. Apostasy from God is a certain death. Let us all pray for God’s mercy and forgiveness during these holy days.
Enter Holy and Great Week with sincere faith, with the fear of God, and with love in your heart. Pray for His mercy and forgiveness. God be with you all!
"Glory Be To GOD
– Saint John Chrysostomos
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With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia (Ministry),
The sinner and unworthy servant of God
+ Father George