Among the 52 weeks of the year, one week stands out from the others, and is called Great Week.
It is called great not because it has more days from the usual weeks or because its seven days are longer than the other 358 days of the year, but great and very important are the happenings that take place during that week.
Great Lent finishes on the Friday of its sixth week following a weekend full of light, happiness and hope, when we commemorate Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday. On Lazarus Saturday we celebrate the resurrection from the dead by the Lord Christ of His four-day dead friend, and therefore we have a prelude or an introduction of the Resurrection of Christ Himself, as well as the expectation of our own rising from the hell of our own sin. And Palm Sunday, we celebrate the victorious entry of Christ into the holy, although Prophet-killing, city of Jerusalem, where the innocent children, who have not experienced evil and craftiness, recognised in His person the Messiah and welcomed Him with sounds of joy and enthusiasm crying out “Hosanna in the highest, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord”!
Following this joyful weekend the sky starts to darken, and a wave of compunction spreads throughout the Church and the souls of the faithful. The Week of Pathi (Sufferings) begins… Great Week!… It is revealed as Great and Holy by the Immaculate Suffering of Him, Who is truly Great and Holy. The great and holy willing Sacrifice of the Son of God. His terrifying Cross, His life-giving Death, His descent into Hades and, last of all, His glorious Resurrection after three days, from the dead.
We shall try to follow step by step His journey up until the Passion and Rising, according to the Liturgical order of the Church, and the daily act of worship.
In the evening of Lazarus Saturday we chant the Matins of the following day of the Great Week, and in the evening of Palm Sunday we chant the Matins of Great Monday.
The Matins Service for Great Monday, Great Tuesday and Great Wednesday is called “Nymphios” (Bridegroom’s Service). This is because on these three holy days the icon of the Suffering Christ is placed in the middle of the Temple (church), where He is dressed in the false “royal” robe, the crown of thorns are placed on His head and the reed of mockery is placed in His bound hands. He is the Bridegroom of the Church, decorated in the decorations of Suffering on behalf of the Bride; which in particular is the soul of every faithful person and in general is the Church. For this reason we chant that beautiful hymn: “Behold, the Bridegroom arrives in the middle of the night; and fortunate is the servant whom He shall find alert and watchful”, and the Exaposteilarion full of passion: “I see your wedding chamber adorned, my Saviour, but have no garment so as to enter in it; brighten the garment of my soul, O Giver of lights and save me”!
On Great Monday the Church honours the memory of Saint Joseph the “Pankalos” (All-Good). The Patriarch Joseph was an image of our Lord Jesus Christ. He was the beloved son of Jacob; as the Lord is the beloved Son of the Heavenly Father. He was righteous and without evil. His brothers, out of jealousy, threw him in a pit and later sold him to the Egyptians; as the Lord found Himself in Egypt persecuted and hunted by His fellow Jews while He was still a babe, and later sold for 30 pieces of silver and taken dead to the pit (grave) of Joseph of Arimathea. The gentle Joseph forgave his brothers, he never let his love for them be absent from his heart, and in the end he even was charitable to them. He saved them from death by hunger. Christ, full of love, forgave His crucifiers saying, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing!” and saved humanity from death and destruction. Joseph was tried sorely by the devil through the wife of Petefry, but overcame the devil with power, remaining pure and virginal. The Lord also accepted the mad attack of the devil, just after His Baptism, during His 40 day fast in the desert, before His Passion at Gesthemane, and up on the Cross. Christ did not allow these temptations to affect Him, instead He prevailed over His tempter making him leave in shame.
On Great Monday our Church also shows us a strange happening from the life of the Lord. This is the incident with the figtree, which Christ found bearing no figs, and which He cursed so that it dried up immediately. This is read in the Matins Gospel lesson and is to be taken as a “sign” by every one who will not have any fruits of good works to present (especially the fruits of repentance). This is why a beautiful hymn emphasises, “Be fearful, brethren, of the punishment of the fruitless figtree, which dried up, and let us offer worthy fruits of repentance to Christ, Who grants us great mercy”.
The preparatory character of the day for the whole period of the Passion days is underlined by the sweet hymn from the Praises, “We, the faithful, have now come near to the saving Passion of Christ our God, let us glorify His Ineffable forbearance, that through His compassion He may, of His mercy, raise us up who were dead in our sins, for He is good and loves mankind”.
In the mornings of Great Monday, Great Tuesday and Great Wednesday we perform the ancient and full of compunction the Divine Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts. It is a synthesis of Vespers and a Service of preparation for Holy Communion. The combination of: the clouds of incense, the low lights, the Old Testament readings, the continuing “Let my prayer be set forth in Your sight as the incense…”, the excellent hymn “Now the heavenly powers invisibly worship with us, for behold the King of Glory enters; Behold the completed mystical sacrifice is escorted in…”, and the veil of mystery which covers the whole mystical service and is made noticeable so characteristically by the “Aer” covering the whole head of the priest during the silent Entry of the Holy Gifts, creates a special feeling of compunction and fills the soul with feelings of most-sweet “harmolype” (“joyful sadness”).
In the afternoon we have the Service of Great Compline with the characteristic hymn: “Lord of powers, be with us, for we have no other help in times of sorrow but You. Lord of powers, have mercy on us”…. We have said this hymn many times during Great Lent, and will say it again for the last time on Great Tuesday afternoon.
In the evening we have the Matins Service of Great Tuesday.
BY METROPOLITAN JOSEPH OF PROIKONESSOS
The texts for all the Holy Week were translated by Fr. John Scherstobit, for which I thank him. I would also like to express my thanks to Mr. Thomas Vrousgos who oversaw and worked hard on the whole project, as well as to the Brothers Christou of Pizza Haven who very generously supported this edition.
Adelaide, August 6 1997 The Holy Transfiguration of the Saviour.
+ Bishop Joseph of Arianzos
Introduction to the Holy and Great Week – Great and Holy Monday