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Holy Week

In the Ortho­dox Church the last week of Christ’s life is offi­cial­ly called Pas­sion Week. In pop­u­lar ter­mi­nol­o­gy it is called Holy Week. Each day is des­ig­nat­ed in the ser­vice books as “great and holy.” There are spe­cial ser­vices every day of the week which are ful­filled in all church­es. Earth­ly life ceas­es for the faith­ful as they “go up with the Lord to Jerusalem” (Matins of Great and Holy Mon­day).

Each day of Holy Week has its own par­tic­u­lar theme. The theme of Mon­day is that of the ster­ile fig tree which yields no fruit and is con­demned. Tues­day the accent is on the vig­i­lance of the wise vir­gins who, unlike their fool­ish sis­ters, were ready when the Lord came to them. Wednes­day the focus is on the fall­en woman who repents. Great empha­sis is made in the litur­gi­cal ser­vices to com­pare the woman, a sin­ful har­lot who is saved, to Judas, a cho­sen apos­tle who is lost. The one gives her wealth to Christ and kiss­es his feet; the oth­er betrays Christ for mon­ey with a kiss.

On each of these three days the Gospel is read at the Hours, as well as at the Ves­pers when the Litur­gy of the Pre­sanc­ti­fied Gifts is served. The Old Tes­ta­men­tal read­ings are from Exo­dus, Job, and the Prophets. The Gospel is also read at the Matins ser­vices which are tra­di­tion­al­ly called the “Bride­groom” ser­vices because the gen­er­al theme of each of these days is the end of the world and the judg­ment of Christ. It is the com­mon prac­tice to serve the Bride­groom ser­vices at night.

Behold, the bride­groom comes in the mid­dle of the night and blessed is the ser­vant whom he shall find watch­ing, and unwor­thy the ser­vant whom he shall find heed­less. Take care then, O my soul, and be not weighed down by sleep that you will not be giv­en over unto death and be exclud­ed from the King­dom. But rise up and call out: Holy, Holy, Holy art T hou O God, by the Theotokos have mer­cy on us (Tropar­i­on of the First Three Days).

Dur­ing the first three days of Holy Week, the Church pre­scribes that the entire Four Gospels be read at the Hours up to the point in each where the pas­sion of Christ begins. Although this is not usu­al­ly pos­si­ble in parish church­es, an attempt is some­times made to read at least one com­plete Gospel, pri­vate­ly or in com­mon, before Holy Thurs­day.