This series of blog posts will offer basic information and resources regarding the liturgical year. It is our hope that Sunday Church School teachers will find this series helpful as they live the liturgical year with their students. The series will follow the church year in sections, as divided in the book “The Year of Grace of the Lord: a Scriptural and Liturgical Commentary on the Calendar of the Orthodox Church” by a monk of the Eastern Church. May God bless His Church throughout this year!
Holy Week is often called such because of the great and holy events in the week (1), but “in the Orthodox Church the last week of Christ’s life is officially called ‘Passion Week.’”(2, p. 88) Passion Week is immediately preceded by Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday. We are including those days in this discussion of the week, since they are an integral part of the last week of our Lord’s life on earth before His death and resurrection.
Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday are the perfect beginning to this important week in the life of the Church. “The resurrection of Lazarus and the triumphant Entry of Christ into Jerusalem encapsulate the events and mystery of Holy Week: Christ is revealed as the source of all life and proclaimed and acknowledged King.”(1) Lazarus Saturday gives us a glimpse of Christ as “the Resurrection and the Life” as He raises Lazarus and demonstrates His power over death. (2, p. 84) Lazarus’ resurrection convinced many that Christ was the long-awaited Messiah-King, hence the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem on (Palm) Sunday. Palm Sunday is one of the 12 major feasts of the Church Year. Every Lazarus Saturday and Feast of the Triumphal Entry of Christ, may we ponder and be willing to say: “the master calls me. He wants me to stay with him, not to leave him throughout the days of his Passion. During these days he wants to reveal himself to me – who perhaps ‘already stink’ – newly and overwhelmingly. Master, I come.” (3, pp. 137-138)
Passion Week itself is the most sacred week of the year, beginning with the feast celebrating Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, all the way through the anticipation of the resurrection which we feel on Holy Saturday. Monday through Wednesday we celebrate “Bridegroom” services at Matins, remembering the coming judgement; and striving to prepare our hearts for the coming bridegroom. On Holy Thursday, we remember the Lord’s Supper and celebrate with a Divine Liturgy. “The very event of the Passover Meal itself was not merely the last-minute action by the Lord to ‘institute’ the central sacrament of the Christian Faith before his passion and death. On the contrary, the entire mission of Christ… is so that God’s beloved creature, made in his own divine image and likeness, could be in the most intimate communion with him for eternity, sitting at table with him, eating and drinking in his unending kingdom.” (2, p. 91)
On Holy Friday and Saturday, as we encounter the trial, crucifixion, death, and burial of our Lord, “we are confronted with the extreme humility of our suffering God. His death becomes our true birthday. And so these days are at once days of deep gloom and watchful expectation. The Author of life is at work transforming death into life…”(1) The reading of the twelve selections from the Gospels which tell about the passion of Christ takes place at the Matins service of Holy Friday, usually celebrated on Thursday night. Those readings, combined with the Hours of Holy Friday, offer us the opportunity to hear and relive the passion of our Lord, interspersed with prophetic scriptures, Psalms, and even the beatitudes. The Vespers of Good Friday commemorates our Lord’s burial; the Matins of Holy Saturday is full of “spoiler alerts” and finally proclaims the good news of Christ’s resurrection. Holy Saturday’s Divine Liturgy is both somber and celebratory, for, “The Church does not pretend…that it does not know what will happen with the crucified Jesus… All through the services the victory of Christ is contemplated and the resurrection is proclaimed. For it is… only in the light of the victorious resurrection that the deepest divine and eternal meaning of the events of Christ’s passion and death can be genuinely grasped, adequately appreciated, and properly glorified and praised.” (2, p. 98) It is at this service, historically, that baptisms occurred. To this day, it is an annual opportunity for Orthodox Christians to die and rise with Our Lord. But all the events at the end of Holy Week point to Pascha: “The peace of Holy Saturday is entirely oriented towards the great event of Sunday morning, towards the power and the joy of the Resurrection.” (3, p.161)
When Thou didst submit Thyself unto death,
O Thou deathless and immortal One,
then Thou didst destroy hell with Thy Godly power.
And when Thou didst raise the dead from beneath the earth,
all the powers of Heaven did cry aloud unto Thee:
O Christ, Thou giver of life, glory to Thee!
Purchase your own copy of “The Year of Grace of the Lord,” by a monk of the Eastern Church, here: https://www.svspress.com/year-of-grace-of-the-lord-the/ This book, quoted above, will be an excellent resource for you to read and learn from, throughout the Church year.
- Calivas, Rev. Alciviadis C., Th.D., (1985, 8/13). “Orthodox Worship”. Retrieved from https://www.goarch.org/-/orthodox-worship
- Fr. Thomas Hopko. The Orthodox Faith volume ii: Worship. Syosset, NY: OCA, 1972. Fifth printing, 1997.
- A monk of the Eastern Church. The Year of Grace of the Lord. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press; 2001.
Here are some related links, including ideas for teaching students about the Passion:
Find background information about Holy Week that you may find helpful prior to teaching about it here: http://www.antiochian.org/lent/holy-week
Find additional background information about Holy Week here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/orthodixie/2010/03/orthodox-holy-week-2.html
If you have electronic communication with your students’ parents, consider sharing this Holy Week resource with them: http://www.orthodoxmotherhood.com/children-during-holy-week-tips-for-parents/
Find activity ideas to help your students focus on/learn about each day of Holy Week, beginning with Lazarus Saturday, here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/04/03/holy-week-activities/
Teach your students about Palm Sunday, the Feast of the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. Before you do so, check out some of the ideas in this post: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/04/15/on-the-feast-of-the-triumphal-entry-into-jerusalem-palm-sunday/
Find links to crafts and activity ideas to help your students learn about Holy Week here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/04/22/holy-week-resources-for-sunday-church-school-teachers/
This blog post offers links to a variety of activities that you can share with your students as you approach Holy Week: http://www.orthodoxmotherhood.com/orthodox-holy-week-activities-children/
This blog post offers ideas of things to put in learning boxes for the days of Holy Week. These learning boxes would be a very hands-on way to teach or review the week with your students. http://www.sttheophanacademy.com/2010/03/pascha-boxes.html (updated here: http://www.sttheophanacademy.com/2011/04/revisiting-pascha-learning-boxes.html)
Before you approach the subject of the Cross and Christ’s crucifixion with your students, you may want to read the ideas and insights presented by these brothers and sisters in Christ (including a priest, a child psychologist, parents, Church School director, etc.): https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/04/03/on-the-cross-of-christ-and-leading-children-through-holy-week/
If you have a Holy Friday retreat or simply want to focus on activities for Holy Friday, check out these two ideas: http://orthodoxeducation.blogspot.com/2011/04/holy-friday-for-teens-and-children.html
Teachers of teens may want to consider sharing some of the stories in “The Road to Golgotha” with your class, for discussion starters. Read a review of the book here: http://www.orthodoxmotherhood.com/review-road-golgotha/