Published:Saturday, April 26, 2008
By Linda M. Linonis
There are some 30-35 hours of services marking Orthodox Holy Week.
BOARDMAN — Tonight at St. John the Forerunner Greek Orthodox Church, the sanctuary will go dark and the Rev. Thomas Constantine will appear with a single lighted candle. From that candle, others held by those attending the late-night services will be lighted.
“It signifies the light of Christ illuminating the world,” Father Constantine said. “The effect is incredible,” he said, of the a single light slowly growing to many. “We’re glorifying Christ, who is risen from the dead.”
St. John’s will have the Resurrection Orthos service at 10:45 p.m. and Resurrection liturgy at midnight. Other Orthodox churches in the Mahoning Valley also will have similar services.
For the Orthodox Church, Pascha (Easter in the Western Church) is Sunday. Great Lent began March 10 and Holy Week started last weekend, Lazarus Saturday. Some 30-35 hours of services are prepared.
Why is the Orthodox Pascha now? “It’s the first Sunday after the spring equinox. And it follows Passover,” Father Constantine said of the date. The eight-day Jewish observance of Passover started at sundown last Saturday. Sometimes Eastern and Western observances coincide, Father Constantine said.
Last weekend, Lazarus Saturday was observed. “It marks a miraculous event,” Father Constantine said of Christ raising Lazarus from the dead. He had been in the tomb four days. The time frame is significant because stories relay that people, who had been thought to be dead, had been entombed for three days then “awakened” (possibly a coma or some other medical condition that gave the appearance of death).
“Christ purposely waited for the fourth day and called Lazarus out. It was a miracle,” Father Constantine said.
Palm Sunday comes next and Orthodox Holy Week. “It’s now we experience the Passion of Christ,” Father Constantine. Technically, there should be matins (morning services) but because of work and school considerations, many churches have evening services so more people are able to attend.
Bridegroom services took place Monday through Wednesday. “Christ is the bridegroom and we are the bride,” Father Constantine said of the symbolism. In Scripture, Christ refers to himself as the bridegroom and the church, often termed “she,” as the bride.
Monday featured the parable of the 10 virgins, five foolish and five wise. “If we’re not wise, we will miss out on Christ,” Father Constantine said. Tuesday involved the story of a sinful woman who anoints Christ’s feet with her tears and dries them with her hair. “It’s about repentance and humility,” he said.
Wednesday centers on the Holy Unction service. “The theme is healing and miracles. There is anointing with consecrated oil for healing of the soul and body,” Father Constantine said.
Holy Thursday was highlighted by the Divine Liturgy of the Last Supper. “The entire Passion of Christ, all four Gospels, are read,” Father Constantine said, noting this service is longer but beautiful. “We process with the cross around the inside of the church,” he said.
“This is an emotional service,” Father Constantine said, noting that Scripture conveys that Pontius Pilate was troubled by the crowd’s desire to crucify an innocent man. “You feel the letdown,” Father Constantine said, when Pilate relents to the crowd’s cries.
In the Greek, it’s Holy Great Friday, Father Constantine said. “We re-enact what happened,” he said, referring to the nailing of Christ on the cross.
Unlike the Western Church, which uses statues, the Orthodox Church relies on icons, a pictorial representation. “Icons are two-dimensional not three. We don’t have statues,” he said, noting that the icons focus on spirituality not humanity. And among icons, the Blessed Virgin Mary has high esteem. “She is our mother,” he said.
Friday was a lamentation service, something like a funeral service. “Lamentations are chanted but there is a glimpse of hope,” Father Constantine said, in that the priest wears a gold vestment to symbolize hope. There was a procession outside before the icon of Christ, covered with a decorated shroud, was placed in a flower-decorated carved wooden tomb.
Today’s services will project a completely different mood. “It’s a joyful liturgy and anticipation of the Resurrection,” Father Constantine said. “The emphasis is on Resurrection and not Christ’s suffering.”
The midnight service will take the congregation into “the beginning of a new day” and the celebration of Pascha.
After the service, the congregation has a meal. Egg Lemon Soup is featured at St. John’s along with lamb. “We’ve been fasting for 40 days with no meat, dairy or fish,” he said.
At 11 a.m. Sunday, there will be Agape vespers. The Gospels are read in many languages, signifying how Christ’s word spread around the world. Bright Week follows, with the emphasis on the Resurrection.
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