For many Christians, Easter is the most important day of the year. In Orthodox services, it is referred to as the “feast of feasts and festival of festivals.” We explore the meaning of the feast in many hymns, one of which becomes like a refrain for our services over the forty days following Easter: “Christ is risen from the dead, by death trampling down upon death, and to those in the tombs He has granted life.” Indeed, such is the importance of the feast that its celebration remains with us for forty days. And yet, the Resurrection is inextricably connected to the Crucifixion and cannot be understood apart from it. Even more, the Resurrection is connected to the entire history of God’s work of salvation.
And so, the Orthodox Christians preparation for Easter includes reminders of many of the events in this history of salvation. Through the 40-day period known as Great Lent, we read through the books of Genesis, Isaiah, and Proverbs. Then, in the week before Easter, known as Holy Week, the preparation intensifies: Old Testament images are connected with the person of Jesus Christ, events in the Gospels are used as reminders of the meaning of Christian life, and the story of the passion is recounted
Thus, the story of Joseph illustrates the mystery of God’s providence, promise, and redemption. The cursing of the fig tree reminds us that genuine Christian faith is seen by the fruits borne of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. The parable of the Ten Virgins calls us to spiritual alertness, attentiveness and vigilance. The repentance of the sinful woman who anointed the head of Jesus shortly before the passion, is contrasted to the fall of Judas, whose fall is completed because, after the sin of betrayal, he did not believe in the possibility of forgiveness. We remember also the washing of the disciples’ feet which illustrates the humility and self-emptying of God. The Last Supper brings us to the institution of the Eucharist, in which we are united with the resurrected Christ, who offers Himself to us for the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting. The prayer in the garden sets before us the image of Christ who, being fully God, lived a truly human existence and identified with the trials and hardships of human life. Finally, the crucifixion and burial of Christ bring us to the time of anticipation, as we prepare to bask in the joy of the Resurrection as we greet one another with the ancient “Christ is risen!” answered by “Truly, He is risen!”
The summary above does not come close to covering the content of Holy Week in the Orthodox Church and it certainly does not do justice to the poetry of the hymns which waters the seeds of faith in our hearts. If you would like to be more prepared for the Resurrection, we would love for you to join us. We will have daily services at 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. from Palm Sunday through Holy Friday, with additional 3 p.m. services on Wednesday and Friday. On Holy Saturday, our services will be at 9 a.m., with the Resurrection service at 11:15 p.m.
• The Rev. Peter Andronache serves the parish of St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church of Cedar Rapids. More information: www.stjohncr.org