This year in the monastery Holy Week and Pascha were celebrated with the usual solemnity, beautiful chants and with great efforts in the preparation thereof, both practical and spiritual. Joined to this was the snowy, wintry weather, experienced as hardly ever felt before. Early on Holy Saturday morning, towards the end of the Matins service, or as it is popularly called, “The Burial Service,” one of our father had to actually plow the snow around the church in order for the procession to take place. A bit of snow fell on almost every day, including Pascha itself.
Although much of the cleaning for the feast was already done, further cleaning was still done during the first three days of Holy Week. Everyone tried to conclude whatever duties were needed to be done, so that from Holy Thursday on all of our concentration could be turned over to the Lord’s Passion.
Every day of the first three days, the brethren gathered in the early morning for morning prayers, at the end of which the usual veneration of the icons was done, the difference being that “Behold the Bridegroom cometh…” was chanted. Every day, the Pre-sanctified Liturgy, on Wednesday the last one of the year being served with the abbot, Fr. Luke, at the head. This service was conducted after the traditional general forgiveness service, when all of the residents of the monastery and seminary, along with pilgrims and neighbors asked forgiveness one of another.
On Holy Thursday, all of the inhabitants of our community partook of the sacraments of Confession and Holy Communion. At the conclusion of the Liturgy, our superior, Archimandrite Luke washed the feet of twelve of the monastery clergy, in commemoration of the Lord’s washing the feet of His disciples. This very moving service brought tears of compunction to the faithful as well as those whose feet were washed.
In the evening, the Matins service for Holy Friday was served, the Service of the Twelve Gospels of our Lord’s Passion. This very long service was enhanced by the beautiful chanting of our choir and the solemn ringing of the large bell.
While many attending the following morning the service of Royal Hours, others had to complete necessary obediences, such as the coloring of about 1,000 eggs with red coloring. Also, at this time and before, the Pascha breads, or “kulich” and the Artos breads were baked as well as the traditional “Pascha” cream prepared. In the evening, the traditional fish “holodets” was cooked. What would Holy Friday evening be without the aroma of fish and garlic going throughout our building?
Friday afternoon, Vespers, or the “Bringing Out of the Shroud” was served. Again, one of everyone’s favorite services with the chanting of “The Noble Joseph…” Fr. Luke gave a very moving sermon about repentance. The church was packed with the faithful, and it took a very long time for everyone to venerate the Plaschanitsa, or Shroud.
After the very light Lenten meal of Holy Friday, the Compline service was held as well as the preparatory rule for Communion and confessions.
Again, on Holy Saturday, the church was crowded with the faithful, it also being the feast of the Annunciation. Many remarked how well the hymns of this feast went along with those of Holy Saturday. It must be pointed out that as has been traditional for a number of years now, the miraculous Icon of the Mother of God, “Softener of Evil Hears,” from Russia, has accompanied us for Holy Week and Pascha. All were anointed with myrrh which flows from this icon as they also venerated the Tomb of the Lord. As is traditional, blessed bread and wine are also given to the faithful in commemoration of how early Christians stayed in church all day on Holy Saturday, keeping vigil for the Lord’s Resurrection.
After the one meal on this day, at which oil was permitted, it being a great feast day, many dedicated as much time as they could to cleaning the church and decorating it for Pascha. Many thanks to our pilgrim, Katia, who spent many hours in the obtaining of flowers and greenery to decorate the church as she also did for Christmas. At the same time, those assigned, prepared the refectory for the Paschal breakfast.
At 8PM, the reading of the Acts of the Apostles is commenced, being read in different languages. This continues up until 11PM, when the monastery clergy read their entrance prayers, and the Midnight Office is begun. As the church begins to fill up, the large bell tones, speeding up as midnight approaches.
At exactly midnight, our abbot, Fr. Luke beings the hymn, “They Resurrection, O Christ God, …” This is changed three times, each time in a louder voice, eventually with all the lights being turned on, as the clergy and servers start to proceed out of the altar and outside and around the church, followed by the congregation, as the bells ring softly. The Paschal Matins service is started on the steps of the church, and then everyone re-enters the church to the full peeling of the monastery bells.
Our monastery tradition is that the Paschal Canon is chanted by the clergy from the middle of the church, with the choir responding. Each of the priests in turn censes the whole church and altar, all joyfully shouting out to the people “Christ is Risen,” typically in Slavonic, English and Greek. The choir does in incredible job and even sings some hymns in Georgian.
In the monastery, the traditional Paschal greeting is done only at the end of the Divine Liturgy, with the exception being that the clergy greet one another in the altar. During the Liturgy, the Gospel is read in sections in different languages, in Greek, English, Spanish and Church Slavonic.
Over 200 people availed themselves of the Holy Mysteries. At the end of the Liturgy, all those present, came forward to kiss the Cross and greet the clergy holding holy icons. At the conclusion of this, Fr. Archimandrite Luke and the clergy processed solemnly with the peeling of the bells, to the refectory, whereupon Fr. Luke read the prayer to break the fast and sprinkled the Paschal breakfast foods with holy water, the kulich, Pascha, and cheeses.
At noon on Pascha day, lunch at noon, with the monks in their rassas and klobuks. The traditional holodets was served. More bell ringing and greetings. After lunch, Fr. Luke had his traditional reception in his quarters, hardly big enough to fit in the many people who came to greet him and continue the joy of the feast.
At 3PM, Paschal Vespers, also with much bell ringing, and later in the evening Matins. And so all through Bright Week, every morning and evening with Paschal hymns and joy and bells.