I went into Holy Week utterly broken. Defeated. Even, dead inside. I was actually dreading the entire week. I knew John wanted to attend as many services as possible, and I was doing my best to drag myself out of bed and lay down some articles to pick up some freelancing money, and the last thing I wanted to do was go be social at church.
It’s the most amazing week of the year in the Orthodox Church and I was dreading it? Wait, what? How does that happen?
Well, it comes from losing your job the Wednesday before Palm Sunday and everything you thought you had in the works crashing down around your ears. It comes from struggling to remember why you thought you were ever going to amount to anything, really. It comes from that persistent and nagging fear that you really are as horrible as you think you are, and that you are going to drag your beloved husband into poverty and disaster when you finally come crashing to a halt against the rocks.
(With that said, I’m still pushing out resumes, even though I feel utterly defeated at the idea of trying to sell myself right now.)
So, Holy Week. I’d been to several of the services over the past years, but hadn’t made the effort to get to more than one or two. This year, though, this year was a bit different.
We went to Palm Sunday, and had plans to attend the Bridegroom service that evening, but John didn’t feel well, so we skipped it. Monday, we attended a Bridegroom service. Tuesday, I’d made a commitment to my SCA barony’s heavy fighters, so John and I went to the park to hit people with sticks. (Well, let’s be fair. He hit people with sticks.)
Wednesday, we arrived just after the service of Holy Unction and that’s when the marathon started in earnest.
Holy Wednesday at Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church.
Fr. Vasileios had JUST finished Holy Unction, and was still anointing people as we walked in and I scurried up front to receive. And then, I lost my shit. Oh, not noisily, or messily, but I just couldn’t stop the tears that welled up. Father gave me a huge hug, and I sniffled into his robes, and then went to sit in a pew and just cry. I’m not even 100% sure what I was crying about. I just cried. Fr. Vasileios humbled himself to wash our feet, as Jesus washed the feet of the disciples, and that was…moving. I cried.
Fr. Vasileios (left) and Father Deacon George (right) wash a young parishioner’s feet.
Thursday, I wasn’t up to the Vesperal Liturgy at 10, so I was lazy and stayed home, writing. If I’m being fair to myself, I wasn’t writing for fun, but to submit to a freelancing gig and get paid for it.
That evening, though…ooooof. We headed to church for the Service of the Holy Passion with the Twelve Gospel Readings. It started about 7pm, and it was a crash course in how to survive an emotional roller coaster for the next three and a half hours.
Seriously, all I could think was “No, I don’t want this to happen!” and “Oh my God, what have we DONE?” It was…awful. Horrible. Terrible. I might have cried through a LOT of it. And by a LOT, I mean like most of it. I kept trying to figure out how to stop it all, even though I KNEW that it wasn’t possible, we can’t stop this, but that didn’t mean I didn’t *want* to stop it.
All through it, all I could do was hang on with by my teeth and toenails, praying that I too could survive being destroyed and rise again. No, I’m not God, not Jesus, not anything more than just me, but oh, that service, in the midst of the horror and the pain and the incomprehensible awfulness of what was going on, even knowing it was necessary, I wanted to think that if God could endure betrayal, condemnation and death on the Cross, maybe, just maybe, I could survive this too. Maybe, if God could rise again, maybe I can too.
At the end of the Holy Passion service.
Friday, which John took off work, started out with the Royal Hours. It was lovely, and quiet, exactly what I needed after the emotionally draining Holy Passion service. The Descent from the Cross at is always one of my favorite services, and this year was no different. I’m not sure what it is, but the solemnity and love as the icon of the crucified Christ is gently removed from the cross and wrapped in clean linen…it’s strangely healing. The service of the Lamentations at the Holy Tomb is hard, but needed. We need to mourn, to recognize what’s happened, to allow ourselves the time to grieve.
John (right) and another altar server prepare to remove the icon of Christ from the Cross, while another altar server waits with clean white linen.
Saturday started off with the Proti Anastasi, which celebrates the harrowing of Hades, the fact that Haded received the body of a man, and came face to face with God. It is joyful, and was exactly what I needed. Also, if you ever need a pick me up, your priest laughing and throwing bay leaves over the congregation is a great thing!
How to explain that night? It’s the culmination of all that we have hoped and waited for. The Resurrection is revealed, Christ is Risen and we are all renewed and made right. There was darkness, then light, then joy and wonder and love. Also, it’s the breaking of the Lenten fast, which means there’s a huge pot luck and we all get to indulge in the foods we’ve avoided for 40 days.
Ready to celebrate!
I feel like I’ve nattered on forever, so I’ll wrap up today’s novel with CHRISTOS ANESTI!