Most of us tend to think of Holy Week in the Orthodox Church as a pious reenactment of those awesome events surrounding the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Because these services evoke considerable emotion, owing to their colorful pageantry and elaborate ritual, they are among the most popular in the Church. Unfortunately, as is the case with so many other liturgical services in Orthodoxy, the deeper significance of this drama often escapes our understanding. We tend to participate in it vicariously. We see it more as a moving historical reenactment as opposed to a present reality that has power to transform our lives. Ours is the participation of the spectator who has nothing to lose by being present. It is like watching the fire fighter put out the fire, but standing back a safe distance.
Holy Week, however, demands more from us than a spectator’s vicarious interest. Rather, Holy Week is a call from Christ to die with Him sacramentally and mystically on the Cross. It is an invitation to be more demonstrative in the expression of our faith. We have to remove the Cross from Golgotha and plant it in our hearts.
Thus instead of watching this mystical fire–the Crucifixion–from a safe distance, we have to walk into it, experience it, and be purified through Its power and grace. As Christ dies for us on the Cross, so too, we must die for Him in an act of total and unconditional surrender. This means crucifying our selfish desires and living only for Him in all that we do. In so doing we will discover our real self and truly experience the joy of the Resurrection—not only Christ’s, but also our own.
In the beginning of Holy Week our Holy Orthodox Church sounded the alert in her traditional manner: “Behold! The Bridegroom comes in the still of the night, and blessed is the servant whom he shall find [vigilantly] watching….” These words are a call to mobilize all of our spiritual, emotional and physical resources. It is for every Orthodox Christian a clarion call from Christ to pick up our cross and die with Him. It is a death to the sinful nature that impedes us and obstructs us from being with Christ.
Holy Thursday evening–the first half of our Good Friday Services–we behold Christ on the Cross. Look at His listless Body. Look at His closed eyes. Listen as He speaks to each and everyone of us.
-What more can I do for you?
-I placed you in Paradise and you rebelled.
-I led you to the Promised Land and you turned against Me.
-I sent the Prophets to speak to you and you killed them.
-Finally I came Myself to speak to you in Person, to confront you personally with My love, and you crucified Me.
-I rose from the grave to show you that indeed I am Lord of life and death.
– I established the Church–My Mystical Body–through which I continue to be present to you today.
-I speak to you through the Bible.
-I make Myself present to you in the Sacraments.
-I come to abide in you as often as you receive Me in Holy Communion.
-I have given you the privilege of speaking with Me in prayer.
-I am present with you at each Sunday Liturgy and every day in your prayers.
-What more can I do for you?
-For you I came down from Heaven.
-For you I was mocked.
-For you I was spat upon.
-For you I am on the Cross.
-To you I shout every Good Friday through My pain.
-Does My Love mean anything to you?
-Is My suffering in vain? Will you just stand there at a safe and comfortable safety zone?
-Or will you fall to your knees and acknowledge Me as your Precious Savior?
-Will you give Me your heart so I can transform it into a loving, caring, sensitive, compassionate and sympathetic vehicle of mercy and discipleship?
Beloved Sisters and Brothers in Christ, our best Friend died tonight! It was not murder; it was a love offering. It was not martyrdom; it was a sacred sacrifice. They did not take His Life away from Him; He gladly laid It down but have a more meaningful and eternal life.
This year let us resolve to follow Christ through the hours of His Passion and Crucifixion. This time let us not be spectators and fence sitters, but real participants who see these events as yet another opportunity to dedicate our lives to the Lord.
When we look at Jesus on the Cross this Good Friday once again, may we come to the realization that God has gone as far as he can go in His love for us. As we venerate His Passion on bended knees and bow in awesome wonder, may we truly recognize that our Precious Redeemer died because He loved us very much. It is now up to us to see just how far we are willing to go to meet that love! May the experience of this Good Friday be a constant, never-ending source of spiritual strength for all of us.