Holy Week in the Orthodox Church could really be called the Ultimate Bible Study. The amount of scripture read during the services of the week is copious. This, along with the way that scripture constantly “breathes” through all the prayers of the church is designed to teach us how to enter in, how to let the scripture permeate our very lives. Life in the Church is a constant Bible Study, but not the kind that approaches the scripture as a way to proof text, prove a point, or offer personal critique. It is rather the act of being in the presence of God, of humbly approaching the words of scripture, often with the purpose of quieting the heart, really of praying the scriptures more than just studying or reading them.
This morning’s Royal Hours of Holy Friday service really accentuated that. During each “Hour” which were read one after the other, First, Third, Sixth, and Ninth (usually corresponding to the times of the day – but no need to go into that now), there were read three psalms, one Old Testament Prophet, one Epistle from St. Paul, and one Gospel reading (usually more lengthy than the rest – the account of the trial through the crucifixion in each Gospel). What is amazing is to just listen and hear how it all weaves together – the prophecies fulfilled and the hoped for Messiah in the Old Testament, the events that fulfilled the promise in the Gospels, and the experience of the Risen Christ and the meaning of the events for the New Covenant in the Epistles. Amazing. Especially consider that Paul had been a “Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the Church; as for righteousness under the law, blameless” (Philippians 3:4-6). He is the perfect example of one whose life is completely transformed by the crucified and risen Christ – and so we read his testimony alongside the testimony of the Old Testament Prophets and the Evangelists.
If you have time – consider reading through these scripture passages in the order they were read at this morning’s service. Perhaps even taking the time to read at the appointed hours. It might prove to be a very helpful Bible Study!
Readings of the First Hour (Typically around 7am)
Psalm 5, 2, and 22 (21 in the Septuagint), Zechariah 11;10-13, Matthew 27:1-56, Galatians 6:14-18
Readings of the Third Hour (Typically around 9am)
Psalm 35, 109, 51 (34, 108, 50 in the Septuagint), Isaiah 50:4-11, Mark 15:16-41, Romans 5:6-10
Readings of the Sixth Hour (Typically around 12 noon)
Psalm 54, 140, 91 (53, 139, 90 in the Septuagint), Amos 8:9-10, Isaiah 52:13-54:1, Luke 23:32-49, Hebrews 2:11-18
Readings of the Ninth Hour (Typically around 3pm)
Psalm 69, 70, 86 (68, 69, 85 in the Septuagint), Jeremiah 11:18-23; 12:1-5, 9-11, 14-15, John 18:28-19:37, Hebrews 10:19-31.
Next up – Vespers of Holy Friday (Saturday) – Taking down of the Cross Service – 4pm