The first is the most obvious: the services. There are a lot of services during Holy Week, and they take place all day long! Since there are so many services, it can be easy to lose track of time and get confused about what service is happening and when. It’s also customary to fast throughout Holy Week. For many, they adhere to the same general fasting plan they had during Great Lent; others make their Holy Week fast a little bit stricter. Talk with your priest so that you can come up with a fasting schedule that best meets your own spiritual needs.
Getting started with an overview of the Church Services of the Holy Week.
Lazarus Saturday is a day to remember the story of Lazarus, who was raised from the dead by Jesus. The Book of John tells us that he had been dead for four days before Jesus brought him back. The entire story can be found in John 11:38-43. Churches often celebrate Lazarus Saturday with a special service called Matins, which is what we call the morning church service. It is followed by the Divine Liturgy, which is our standard Sunday worship service. There could also be an Evening Vespers.
Palm Sunday commemorates the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem. It is also known as the Triumphal Entry because people in Jerusalem hailed him as their king. Palm Sunday takes place on a Sunday, so the Divine Liturgy is celebrated at its regular time for your church. However, the service does include a few extra elements that emulate Jesus' entry into Jerusalem. Churches also have an evening service called the Bridegroom Service.
Holy Monday is the third day of Holy Week. It is considered to be a preparatory day for Jesus’ death and resurrection, which takes place later on in the week. On this day, we commemorate Joseph the Patriarch, the son of Jacob (from the Old Testament). This is also the day that Jesus cursed the fig tree on his way into Jerusalem during His triumphant entry.
Holy Tuesday is the day before Holy Wednesday when Christ was crucified. The Matins service on Holy Tuesday is designed to prepare us for the events of Holy Wednesday. Special hymns are sung on Holy Tuesday and many churches enlist their choir for help singing these hymns. One of the special hymns is called "Hymn of Cassiane" and it has a beautiful, haunting melody. This service usually takes place in the evening.
On Holy Wednesday, there are often two church services--one in the morning and one in the evening. In the morning, people usually take part in the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, also known as "initiated communion." This service is only held during Holy Week, so it is an important opportunity for people to receive Holy Communion. During this service, priests will also bless oil that has been consecrated on previous Sundays throughout the year. The oil is believed to be very healing for those who are sick or suffering from certain ailments.
There are two services on Holy Thursday. The first is in the morning and is called the Mystical Supper, also known as the Last Supper. You can read about this meal in Mark 14, Luke 22, and John 15. The second service takes place in the evening and focuses on preparing for Good Friday - this is when He was sentenced to death.
On Good Friday, Orthodox Christians commemorate the moment Jesus died on the cross. During the afternoon service, Jesus is taken off the cross and laid in the tomb (Epitafio). During evening service, we mourn his death by reading Bible passages, singing hymns, and lighting candles. In the evening, priests and servers make a procession around the church while carrying an empty coffin or "Epitafio" which represents Jesus entering Hades. Flower girls throw rose petals on Jesus' body as it passes by them in this procession.
Holy Saturday is the day before Easter. It is a time to mourn Christ's death, and we spend hours in church singing hymns and praying. The most important service takes place in the evening and lasts for several hours. Finally, just before midnight, the church goes dark and quiet as we wait for Christ's resurrection. Then suddenly, candles appear and we sing Christos Anesti ("Christ Is Risen") in celebration of His resurrection.
The celebration of Pascha (Easter) is the most important holiday in the Eastern Orthodox Church. It commemorates Christ's Resurrection on the third day after his Crucifixion, and it is celebrated with several rituals and traditions. One of these is the Agaph service, which takes place during the early morning hours of Easter Sunday; this differs from church to church, however. Most Greek people spend the day with their families and celebrate in the late hours of the night.
Feature Image by @alexandra_fakiri and @paralia_katerinis (IG Handles)