Holy Week Begins!

As another Holy Week begins in the Orthodox Church, my eleventh as an Orthodox Christian, I am grateful and again stand in awe of the majesty and almost overwhelming character of this culmination of the Church year. There is a lifetime of learning and growing that the Church provides unlike I have ever seen or experienced anywhere. Two Thousand years of Tradition, of prayers, of men and women who have dedicated their lives completely to Jesus Christ will do that. But I believe the true genius of the Orthodox Church rests in the absolute immersion in Holy Scripture that one can receive if one is present and open to the current of the Church year – especially during Holy Week. All through Lent we have heard the story of Genesis, the story that God gave to Moses to show the people of God who they are – they are created by God to be in relationship with Him. We also heard from the Prophet Isaiah, foretelling of the coming of Christ, and we heard plentiful readings from the Proverbs of Solomon – practical guides for how to turn towards the way of life and not of death. We have been prepared through all this in order to embark on Our Lord’s journey to Jerusalem, His betrayal, His trial, His crucifixion, burial, and ultimately, His Resurrection. During Holy Week, we will sing many beautiful hymns from throughout the centuries of the Church. We will take part in ancient rites of remembering, in very physical ways (lighting candles, standing vigil by the tomb, waving palms, as we just did on Palm Sunday) The rich traditions are there to help keep us “awake” to the reality of Our Lord’s saving work. But throughout the many opportunities for worship throughout this week, there will be scripture, Old and New Testament, Psalms and Prophets, Gospel accounts and Epistle readings. It will flow like a deep and strong river. That’s the genius, it is an approach and immersion into Scripture that is like entering a stream of water – it is not grasping at the words of scripture, dissecting and proof texting it to death for the sake of finding its “relevance” to our lives, or worse, to prove our “side” is right. Its is listening to it – together – its is not a even a Bible Study (which there is certainly a time and place for) – it is praying the Scripture – entering in – not needing to figure it all out right now, but trusting that simply by being with the people of Whom it is written, by sitting at the feet of Isaiah as he proclaims the coming Messiah, by listening to the songs of David, by standing alongside the disciples as the Lord tells them of His coming Passion – that we can enter into that great and rich community, and be joined into it. It is a mysterious thing, how scripture can be internalized this way, but it is powerful, and, as I am beginning to realize, a great comfort, a profound peace, like which I never experienced until being immersed in the life of the Church. May all who are celebrating Holy Week experience the most blessed joy of Our Savior! I would encourage anyone who is even curious about Orthodox Christian Holy Week to stop in and visit – in most parishes there are services every day, leading up the great celebration of Holy Pascha on late Saturday night/Sunday morning.