After six weeks of Great Lent, followed by the celebration of Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday, the monastery entered upon Holy Week. This is perhaps the most solemn period of time in the monastery of the whole year. There are spiritually uplifting services throughout the day as we move forward to the Lord’s Passion.
The first three evenings and days besides the monks’ regular obediences, all share in participation in the services. Besides this, throughout the week the all those who are able-bodied share in a general cleaning of all the buildings, especially the church.
It has been the tradition that on Great and Holy Wednesday, the abbot of the monastery, now Bishop Luke, presides at the last Presanctified Liturgy, concelebrated with the monastery clergy. At the very end of the liturgy, also the Prayer of St. Ephraim is intoned for the last time of the year.
For Great and Holy Thursday, all of the community are required to confess and prepare to partake of the Holy Mysteries, to participate in this commemoration of the institution of the Holy Eucharist by our Lord and Saviour. At the end of the Divine Liturgy, the abbot, the Right Reverend Luke, washes the feet of twelve members of the monastery clergy, both priests and deacons, in emulation of what the Lord Himself did to teach us to serve one another. Two by two, the clergy are led down from the altar to the middle of the church, as the 50th Psalm is chanted.
The service of matins for Holy Friday, the reading of the Twelve Passion Gospels, is a very long and solemn service, again celebrated by the very reverend abbot, Vladyka Luke, together with the monastery clergy. The large bell tolls for each gospel reading, the number of tolls depending on the number of the reading. At the end of the last reading, there is a light trezvon to commemoration the finishing of the Lord’s ordeal on behalf of our salvation. The faithful, very much in awe of the solemnity of the service, line up to venerate the Cross, in the middle of the church and proceed to go home in silence, many carrying lanterns to take the flame home from their candles held during the service.
There are still many activities to be done to prepare for the Lord’s Pascha. During the Royal Hours on Great and Holy Friday, a team prepares the eggs with read food coloring. Around 1,000 eggs are colored to be used during Bright Week. At the end of Royal Hours, another team prepares the Tomb of the Lord with flowers, and one of the fathers drapes the icons with beautifully embroidered towels, which remain on the icons throughout the Paschal season. These towels were prepared by pious ladies years ago and are greatly treasured, being very typical of the folk church art, especially of Little Russia.
At 2PM on Great and Holy Friday afternoon, the service of Vespers for Holy and Great Friday is held, popularly known as the Bringing Out of the Epitaphion (Plaschanitsa). Besides the local community, a great number of neighbors and also pilgrims assemble for this service and venerate for the first time the Holy Shroud. A very light meal is allowed on this day afterwards, and then at 6PM, the service of Compline is held, along with the Rule for Communion. All members of the community along with the neighbors and pilgrims make their confession and prepare for receiving the Holy Mysteries.
At 2AM, Great and Holy Saturday morning, the very compunctionate service of Matins is serviced. The first part of the service, called the Praises or Lauds, is chanted by a quartet, the rest of the choir with the clergy sharing in the reading of the verses. The chants used are those used in the Holy Land at the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission, brought there from Russia. At the end of the Great Doxology the Shroud is taken in procession around the church with the solemn chanting of “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal One, with the funeral peal of the large bell. Upon returning to church, the rest of matins changes to a more joyful tone as the beginning of the Resurrection is felt in the verses and the readings. Also, all the lights are turned on upon the intoning of the Alleluia, before the Gospel, “Let God arise…”
The Vesper Liturgy of Great and Holy Saturday is started at 10AM. Often baptisms are conducted during the long Old Testament readings. All the church vestments and analogion coverings are changed from black to white during the chanting of “Arise, O God, judge Thou the earth…” One can feel the lifting of the sadness of Holy Week and the expectation of Paschal joy. At the end of the service, during which three chalices were used to commune all the faithful, according to ancient tradition, Vladyka handed out blessed bread and wine was provided to provide sustenance in commemoration of how in the Early Church, the faithful stayed in church all day in anticipation of the Paschal matins service.
Washing of the Feet - 04/25/19