Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Holy Week starts

I received the following for another list and thought to share Father
Joseph's words with you.


Holy Week starts on Palm Sunday and ends on Easter Sunday. This is the last
week of the traditional fifty-day Lent. Through lent, sermons, prayers, and
services, the church prepares the faithful for Holy Week. This is the time
we celebrate five important events in the mission of our Lord Jesus Christ.
During Holy Week, certain changes occur in the prayers and in the Holy
Qurbana. The differences include the beginning prayer "kauma" (daivame nee
parishudhan aakunnu) which changes to a different "kauma" for each day,
according to the events that occurred. Other significant differences
include: No prayers to Mary (Hail Mary, Full of Grace/Krupa Niranja
Mariame), there is no peace giving in the Holy Qurbana, and there is no
kissing of the hands (Kai Muthu) of the Bishop or priest conducting the
services. (The faithful believers kiss the hand of the priest or bishop is
to receive blessings. This is a tradition of the Syrian Orthodox Church and
most of the Eastern Orthodox Churches. Priests and bishops are considered
the messenger (Malachi 2: 7) of God and during the Eucharistic Service they
touch the body and blood of Christ. It is considered a blessing to kiss the
hands, which handled the holy mysteries.)

1) Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday is the day Jesus Christ entered in to the city of Jerusalem as
the Messiah, the King of Israel. The people received news that Jesus was
coming to Jerusalem for the feast of the great Passover and they went to see
Him. Perhaps, they heard good things about Jesus, because He was associated
with everyone, regardless of their wealth and status. He performed many
miracles including the raising of Lazarus from the tomb after four days of
his death. When the people saw him riding on a donkey into the city, they
were filled with joy (believing that He would rescue them from the current
rein of the king). The Holy Spirit embraced them and they Proclaimed,
„Hosanna‰ (praise to the Lord), with branches from olive trees and palm
leaves. They received Him as the King of Israel, the Messiah, and the one
the people had eagerly been waiting for to redeem them from the rulers. They
had anticipated Him to establish a New Kingdom in Jerusalem. Even with the
objections of the high priests and the elders of Israel, the people welcomed
Jesus with open arms. This was the fulfillment of the Prophesy made by the
Prophet Zechariah (Zechariah 9:9). Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-10, Luke
19:28-40, and John 12:12-17.

We commemorate this day in the church with special services. The people of
the church participate in a procession, while holding palm leaves. The
ceremony includes blessing the palm leaves and requesting the faithful to
hold the palm leaves until the conclusion of the Holy Qurbana. These events
symbolize our readiness and eagerness to receive our Lord Jesus Christ in
the Second Coming. Our hearts and spirit should be as enthusiastic and
prepared to receive Jesus, just as the people of Jerusalem during the first
Palm Sunday.

2) The Last Supper

During Holy Week we celebrate the establishment of the Holy Eucharist (The
Holy Qurbana). This day is commonly known as the Last Supper, because Jesus
had his Last Supper with his disciples on Wednesday during the Holy Week.
The Orthodox Church gives the most importance to this day, as it is a new
beginning of a new covenant. Jesus Christ celebrated the great Passover with
the old tradition of the killing of the lamb, which was started from the
last day of the captivity of Israel in Egypt, by the commandment of God
through Moses (Exodus 12:1-12). Jesus and the disciples celebrated the
traditional Passover and started the New Covenant with bread and wine, which
transformed to the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. The old covenant
ended with the blood of lamb and the new covenant began with the blood of
Christ.

The day before the great feast of Passover, Jesus asked his disciples to
prepare the Passover feast and they did just as He requested. Jesus
celebrated the feast with his disciples the traditional way, except they
used the leavened bread instead of the unleavened bread because He
celebrated a day earlier than the real Passover. (According to the Passover
tradition, any bread made before the actual day of Passover must be the
leavened bread. This is the Orthodox Faith). During this supper, Jesus took
the bread, blessed (consecrated) and said, „this is my Body eat of it‰,
likewise He took the Cup (wine) blessed (consecrated) and gave it to them,
and said „ drink of it, this is my blood, which is shed for many for the
remission of sins and eternal life‰. He asked them to do this in remembrance
of Him until His Second Coming. Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-25, Luke
22:19-21, 1 Corinthians 11: 23-26.

Jesus Christ instituted the first Eucharist in the upper room of the house
of St. Mark. For the Holy Qurbana, in our church we are using specially
leavened wheat bread made with a special seal with thirteen crosses on it.
Twelve of the crosses are small and one large cross, resembling Jesus Christ
and His twelve apostles. Priests or deacons freshly make the bread on the
same day of the service. We believe the consecrated bread and wine (the holy
mysteries) are the body and blood of Christ not the resemblance as believed
in many other churches. The faithful should not receive the Holy Mysteries
without proper preparation, dedication, self-examination, and confession. (1
Corinthians 11:27). Also on this day, Jesus went to the garden of Gethsemane
(Mount of Olives) to praying to God the Father, to strengthen Him to face
the troublesome events that would take place moments later (Matthew
26:30-46, Mark 14:32-42, Luke 22: 39-46). He also asked the apostles to be
awake and to pray to not enter into temptation (Matthew 26:41, Mark 14:38,
Luke 22: 40, 46). This event reminds us of the importance of prayer in our
lives. It is very important that we pray to God. Prayer is a link, which
connects us to God. The other importance is Jesus washing the feet of the
apostles to teach humbleness to the world. In the Orthodox Church if a
bishop is present he performs the service of washing the feet on the evening
of Thursday. The Bishop washes the feet of twelve priests, deacons, or men,
to show the importance of being humble and loving one another. A Christian
must remember that those that are humble will be exalted in the Kingdom of
God.

3) Good Friday

Good Friday is another important day during Holy Week. The Orthodox Church
gives much importance to the day. In our church we have the longest services
for Good Friday commemorating Jesus‚ suffering and struggle endured on this
day. We call this day "dukha velliyazcha" (sad friday) in Malayalam. Why is
it a Good Friday in English and a sad Friday in Malayalam?

Jesus came to the world to provide salvation and remission of sins to
mankind with His blood. He came down as the Lamb of God, and bore the sins
of the world by sacrificing himself in Calvary (John 1:27, 36) for the sins
of the world. He fulfilled the prophecies and gave His life on the cross on
that Friday to bring back Adam and his children to Paradise. We receive the
salvation through the sacrifice of Christ, which is why it is regarded as a
Good Friday. We are sad because our sins are the cause of the death of our
Lord. The reason it is referred to as a sad Friday is because we observe the
loss of a son, brother, and friend through the sadness and tears shed by the
mother of Jesus Christ, the disciples, and others who were close to Him.

The participation in Good Friday service reminds us of the pain, sufferings,
and abuse endured by Jesus, the death on the cross, and the burial in the
tomb by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. The bible readings, hymns, church
doctrines, and the two processions (the first one remembering the journey of
Christ carrying the heavy cross to Calvary, and second is to remind us of
Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus carrying the body of Christ to be buried
in the tomb) gives us the opportunity to see how much our Lord Jesus Christ
suffered for us and allows the sinners to ask for forgiveness. The kneeling
during Holy Week is for us to be humble and kiss our Lord's feet for all He
has done for us. At the end of the service, the faithful drink a bitter
substance (kaippu neeru) in memory of the sour wine that was given to Jesus
Christ on the cross (Mathew 27:48, Mark 15:36, Luke 23:36, John 19:29). The
four gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John give much importance for
the events that took place on Good Friday. The salvation we receive through
the crucifixion of Christ on Good Friday makes it one of the most important
days of an Orthodox Christian‚s life.

4) Holy Saturday (memorial day for all the faithful departed ones)

The Saturday of Holy Week is called "dukha shaniazcha" in Malayalam. The
Saturday after Good Friday our church remembers all the faithful departed
people and especially remembers them in the holy Qurbana, and the church has
special prayers for the departed ones with burned incense. Our Churches in
Kerala, India have the tradition of going to the cemetery after the Holy
Qurbana to pray for all the buried ones with the family members who are
present in the church. We give the names of our departed ones to the priest
to remember them especially in Holy Qurbana on their actual memorial day
(date of their death) and two common memorial days which are acknowledged by
our church. One is on the Sunday before the fifty-day lent and the other one
is "dukha shaniazcha".

We believe that from the cross Jesus went down to Hell to bring back all
souls of his people (Beginning with Adam all the way to the thief on the
cross of his right side at crucifixion) to Paradise. Adam broke His
commandment and brought sin and spiritual death to the world. Jesus Christ
came down as a man and took all the punishment for the sins that began with
Adam. Adam ate the fruit in the Garden of Eden, just as the sour wine given
to Christ to drink as punishment. Adam disobeyed God causing Christ to
endure beatings and sufferings. Adam was naked in Eden and they hung Christ
naked (often a loincloth is seen on paintings and pictures of the
crucifixion) on the cross. The blood shed by Jesus washed away the sins of
Adam and the world. Christ was able to bring back His inheritance to Eden's
Paradise. It was not a coincident that the cross of our Lord was placed on
top of the tomb of Adam. The blood of Christ fell on the same ground where
Adam was buried. This was the redemption God promised to Adam before he was
cast out of Paradise.

5) Easter Sunday

"I am the resurrection and the life" (John 11:25). Easter is the most
important and happy occasion for a Christian's life. Due to His resurrection
on Sunday it is considered a holy day for the Christians, not the seventh
day (Saturday) which was the Sabbath according the Law of Moses. The
resurrection of Christ from His death was the fulfillment of the prophecies
and the completion of His mission on earth. Jesus Christ rose from the dead
and destroyed spiritual death, which had previously dominated the earth
since the sin of Adam in the Garden of Eden. Christ wins over death and
provides eternal life to all of His believers. After Christ‚s resurrection,
He appeared ten times to His followers. He was in the world for forty days
then accented to heaven. The message of Easter is Peace, the heavenly
tranquility that is granted to the world by Jesus.

Christianity is very different from the other religions of the world. In no
other religion is there any mention of the founders, messengers, or gods
resurrecting from their death. Christ's resurrection denotes the significant
difference and constitutes its remarkableness and preservation over the
centuries. Christianity is not a religion but it is a way of life. We as
faithful Christian believers must observe Christ‚s teachings and
commandments. We must set an example for others to follow. We must not
merely proclaim our title as Christians, but it is crucial to live in a
manner that expresses the true meaning and value of Christianity. If one can
see our life and proclaim us as Christians from our daily life, then in fact
we are the quintessence of Christianity.

We celebrate Easter with special services in the church such as special
songs, a red cloth, which is placed on the cross (the red color symbolizes
the cloth worn by Jesus after the resurrection (Isaiah 63: 1-2). Also during
Easter, a procession commemorates Jesus‚ journey to Galilee, immediately
after His resurrection (Mark 16: 7).

When we celebrate Holy Week, we prepare ourselves, and attempt to live in
holiness through prayers, meditation, confession, and receiving the Holy
Qurbana. We must be willing to do whatever it takes to participate and
endure the sufferings and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. As an
Orthodox Christian believer, we must receive Jesus in our hearts and
graciously appreciate the blessings and the salvation He has bestowed on us.

I wish everyone a blessed Holy Week. May God bless you

Rev. Fr. Joseph C. Joseph

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