Halfway Through Lent
April 09, 2013 Length: 39:15
Fr. Tom sees a significant reality at this midpoint of Great Lent after the Sunday of the Cross.
The very center of Great Lent, the forty days of Great Lent, the central week has to do with the veneration of the Cross. Now, we know that during Lent, the lenten season begins on the evening of Forgiveness Sunday, and then the first week of Great Lent is a very heavy liturgical week, where the Canon of St. Andrew is read at the Great Compline in the evening, and you have the two Liturgies of the Presanctified Gifts on Wednesday and Friday, then you have St. Theodore Saturday. Then the first Sunday of Great Lent is the Sunday of the Triumph of Orthodoxy, which celebrates the victory over iconoclasm and the restoration of the holy icons into the Church.
Then as we move through the second week of Great Lent, the second Sunday is dedicated to St. Gregory Palamas’s memory. This has to do with the conviction that, really, communion with God is possible in the Church by the grace of the Holy Spirit, the action of God through Christ and the Spirit, of penetrating our life and world with his divine energies and attributes and virtues and radiances. And the second Sunday of Lent, dedicated to St. Gregory Palamas, Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, in the introduction to The Lenten Triodion that he assisted in translating into English, he says that that second Sunday of Great Lent is a kind of an extension of the Sunday of Orthodoxy. It’s affirming the central conviction of the Christian faith, that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, we beheld his glory, and we have received from him grace upon grace; and that is what is witnessed to in the holy icons.
But this victory of the theology of St. Gregory Palamas and the hesychasts on Mount Athos in the 14th century, this is a kind of a continuation of that, the insistence that, really, by the grace of God, we can have communion with God through Christ in the Holy Spirit in the Church on earth here and now. And through praying and fasting and participation in the Church’s sacramental life, and in the effort of ceaseless prayer, we actually can experience God. The divine actions in our life can have real communion with God.
And then the lenten season continues to the third Sunday, which is the veneration of the precious and life-creating Cross. And the cross is brought out into the middle of the church, and all during that week the decorated cross is there, showing that the very center of the Christian faith is Christ and him crucified; that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us in order to bring us into communion with God through the fulfilling of the commandments. And the Lord Jesus Christ does that in his own life, which is culminated in this horrible passion and crucifixion and death, that he undergoes by his own will, for the sake of us and for our salvation, in order to fulfill all righteousness, to put us right with God, to cleanse us of our sins, to heal our diseases, and to bring us into the everlasting life of the divine kingdom. All of this takes place through the Cross. We say through the cross, joy has come into all the world, because in the cross of Christ he has trampled down death by his own death and has raised and is glorified. That is the very center of the Christian Gospel.
If we look at the structure of Lent in what scholars call chiastically, as a chiasm, we would see that the center of Great Lent is this veneration of the precious cross, right at the midpoint of Lent. You enter into Lent with the canon of repentance; you celebrate the victory of Orthodox faith in the incarnation of Christ, that he really became man, he is really the visible icon of God, and all of the saints and holy people, they are also fulfilling themselves by God’s grace as icons of God. We have St. Gregory Palamas affirm that this is the Christian truth, this is the Orthodox faith. And then we go into the week of the Cross.
In chiastic structure, the center is the high point, so the beginning leads you up into the center, which during Lent the center would be the veneration of the Cross, where the cross is decorated, it’s led in procession, it’s placed in the midst of the church, it is venerated, it is exalted, it is celebrated, it is contemplated, and then it is also there telling us, as the Gospel says on that Sunday, that we must deny ourselves and take up our cross if we will be his disciple. If we will be his disciple, we’ll not be ashamed of him, but we will deny ourselves, we’ll take up our crosses, and through those crosses… our cross is connected to the all-satisfying, all-healing, all-fulfilling cross of Christ. We then can become participants in the very redemptive act of Christ.
Now, that redemptive act during Passion Week, when we celebrate the actual betrayal of Jesus—well, first of all, the Mystical Supper with the disciples, then his betrayal, then his trial, then his being delivered up, his being beaten, mocked, scourged, spit upon, and then ultimately crucified on Great and Holy Friday, and then lying dead in the tomb on Great and Holy Saturday, fulfilling all the plan of God on earth; as we sing in church on Great and Holy Saturday before the Sunday of the Resurrection, “God now rests from all his work,” the work of saving and redeeming the world on the cross, when the Savior of the world, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son, Word, and Icon of God, is a corpse, is lying dead in the tomb, trampling down death by death, destroying death through the divinity of God himself, of his own divinity which he empties himself up in his identification with us, and through that act of love and condescension the Lord Jesus is victorious over death itself. And then you have the Sunday of Easter, the great Sunday of Resurrection, where Christ is risen from the dead.
In the second half of Lent, just to take a look at it, as we’re going to go through it very soon, we have to notice how that is structured, because it’s very, very instructive to us and for us. As we said, the high point of the forty days is the week of the Cross. Then following that week of the Cross, you come to the fourth Sunday of Great Lent, which is dedicated to our father among the saints, John Climacus, John of the Ladder, whose book, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, again according to Metr. Kallistos Ware, is probably the most-read book in Eastern Orthodox tradition and history and in the Orthodox Church than any other book after the Bible. Monks read this during lenten time; lay people read it. It’s a classic teaching of the Christian ascetical spiritual life. So we celebrate John Climacus on this fourth Sunday of Lent.
But what we want to notice now and reflect upon just for a few minutes is that, when we come to that fourth Sunday of Great Lent, dedicated to St. John Climacus, we have the first announcement of the Passion. At the Sunday Gospel, we have the first announcement of the Passion. It comes from St. Mark’s gospel, the ninth chapter, and what it is is that, when Jesus is confessed by Peter as being the Christ, the Son of the living God, and then when Jesus announces that he has to be crucified and die, and Peter says, “This’ll never be,” and Jesus calls him “Satan” and he says, “Get behind me”... And then Jesus takes Peter, James, and John onto the mount of the Transfiguration, traditionally Tabor, and is transfigured before them, revealing to them all of his divine glory, so that when he would be crucified, as the prayer of the Church says, we would know that it is all for us and for our salvation; it is not for himself; it is totally voluntary, he gives himself up and empties himself to be with us in our low estate—and you can’t be lower than dead—in order to destroy death and to raise us up and to open to us the kingdom of God.
But after this transfiguration takes place on the mountaintop and then Jesus descends with the disciples and he tells them again that he has to suffer and be crucified and given up, he also says a very important sentence, very often misunderstood, where he says, when he is confessed as the Christ by Peter and the apostles, that “some of you standing here will not taste of death until you see the kingdom of God come in power.” And we Orthodox believe that Peter, James, and John on the Transfiguration mountain saw the kingdom of God come in power in the face of the glorified Jesus before his Passion, with Moses and Elijah, the Law and the Prophets, the living and the dead, speaking with him about the exodus, his passion that he would make in Jerusalem.
Then, of course, those same disciples, standing with him, they would see the kingdom of God come in power when he is actually raised from the dead and reveals himself to them. Then they know that the kingdom of God has come in power on earth in the crucified, raised, and glorified Christ.
In this fourth Sunday of Lent, dedicated to St. John Climacus, the gospel reading is about Christ and the three disciples coming down from the mount of Transfiguration. There’s a big crowd around, and the other apostles are there, and they’re having a big discussion because the crowd had brought to these disciples a child who was deaf and dumb in spirit and was dashing about and was foaming at the mouth and grinding his teeth and becoming rigid, and the disciples could not heal him. Now Peter, James, and John weren’t there, but the other ones were there, but they could not heal him.
So when they see Jesus coming with those three disciples from the Transfiguration mountain—of course, they don’t know where he’s been and what’s going on—but they say, “Teacher.” The man says, “I brought my son to you, for he has this terrible affliction, and the disciples could not cast out this evil, this demon, and heal the boy.” And then Jesus answers them and says, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.”
And then they bring the boy to Jesus, and the spirit convulses him, the boy falls on the ground, he rolls around, he thrashes, he’s foaming at the mouth, and then Jesus asks his father, “How long has he been this way?” The father says, “Since childhood, since he was a little child. And it often”—this horrible [affliction] might be epilepsy or some kind of thing like that—“throws him into fire, throws him into water, to destroy him.”
And then the father says to Jesus, “If you can do anything, have pity on us and help us.” And Jesus says to him, “ ‘If you can’? All things are possible to him who believes.” And immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe! Help my unbelief!” And when Jesus saw it and all the crowd coming, he rebuked the unclean spirit, he cast out the deaf and dumb spirit; the boy cries out and convulses again, so much that they think he’s dead, but then Jesus takes him by the hand, he lifts him up, and he shows that he has this power over all the evil and even over death itself.
Then privately the disciples ask him—and this is read on the Sunday gospel of that fourth week of Lent—“Why could we not heal the boy? Why could we not cast out this evil?” And Jesus says to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but by prayer and by fasting.” Prayer and fasting. “And fasting” is part of the text that we know. And then you have these words:
They went on from there and passed through Galilee, and Jesus would not have anyone know it, for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man will be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” But they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to ask him.
So this is, again, an announcement of the Passion. He does it before the Transfiguration; he does it after the Transfiguration. Now they’re going up, passing through Galilee, and Jesus again tells the disciples, and in some sense in the Church’s liturgy, during Great Lent, this is the first announcement of that Passion, [which] comes on that fourth Sunday of Lent.
That particular announcement, it marks in the Lenten structure, in the second half of the forty days of Lent, a new element. A new element, because in the first weeks of Lent, up until the Sunday of the Cross, what is really constantly repeated in the Church services is our own sins, our own transgressions, our own failures, our own faults. We hear again and again the hymns about the prodigal son who has to repent, he has to return home. It’s the season of repentance. The whole first week of Lent we read that canon of St. Andrew about how sinful we are. And that theme kind of carries up into the very middle of the lenten season, and then it is crowned in the middle of the season by the announcement of Christ’s that he has come to forgive those sins, to heal all of us, to raise us up from our spiritual death and to give us everlasting life and to show what we can expect in the coming kingdom of God. That’s what we see in the middle of the lenten season.
So that’s what we contemplate during that week of the Cross, the third Sunday, taking us into the fourth week and ending with the fourth Sunday where we hear this particular gospel.
Now what we see are two very important features during what would be the fifth week of Lent, the week after the veneration of St. John Climacus and this gospel that we just considered. Then during that week we are being prepared by the Church in the services in a certain sense to end that part of Lent that’s focusing on our sins and our need of repentance. Of course, the forgiveness of sins and the need for repentance, it’s in all church services, and it certainly continues in the forty days of Lent just until the conclusion of Great Lent on the eve of Lazarus Saturday; you certainly do have those themes of forgiveness and so on. That doesn’t disappear completely, but there is a new element added.
And I always found it to be very beautiful and very inspiring, of how the Church liturgy does that during that week after the fourth Sunday, which would be the fifth week, because two very important services take place during that week, which are only done at that particular week. One of them is the matins of Thursday, the matins of Thursday of the fifth week, which is very often served on Wednesday evening. In that matins, which is extremely long—in fact, at the monastery here where I serve, I believe it’s actually, by hours, it’s the longest service practically of the entire Church year—because at that matins, what happens is that the entire canon, penitential canon of St. Andrew of Crete, is read again, and as I said in its entirety. In the first week of Lent, it’s divided into four parts.
On that Thursday, sometimes celebrated Wednesday night, at that matins, the entire canon is read, at one service. And at that very service also, the life of Mary of Egypt is read, and then that Sunday that’s coming up will be the Sunday of Mary of Egypt. She will be remembered on the last Sunday of Great Lent, before Palm Sunday. So it ends with this focus on this woman, Mary of Egypt, who was a grave, grave sinner. She was not even a harlot, as she said; she was just a nymphomaniac, sex-addicted young lady who after twelve got into all kinds of sexual stuff. As she says, she wasn’t even a harlot because she didn’t take any money for having sex with men, and she was insatiable sexually, for 17 years, from the time she was twelve to the time she was 29.
But then she has this magnificent conversion. She goes on a boat to Jerusalem from Egypt. She pays for her way by having sex with the sailors. She gets there. She hears that in [the] Church of [the] Resurrection, the Sepulcher, they are venerating the cross of Christ and the tomb of Christ. She tries to get in there. The Theotokos won’t let her in. It says [that] if she’s locked out, then she goes in. She is allowed in, she repents. And then she goes to confession and to communion, and then she goes out into the desert and she remains there, in the desert, for the rest of her life.
And for the 17 years in the desert, she underwent prayer and fasting and ascetical killing of her passions. It’s exactly the same amount of years that she was acting out in this horrendously evil and carnal way. So for 17 years it took her to have the Lord’s grace purge this out of all her system, and then she shines with the uncreated light; she’s radiant. And then there’s the story of the priest, the hieromonk Zosima, who goes out into the desert for Great Lent, and he runs into her; he meets her, and then he tells this story about her.
At that very matins service where the Great Canon of St. Andrew is read for the last time, the Life of St. Mary of Egypt by Zosima is read, written by, I believe, Sophronius of Jerusalem. And that’s all done at one service, and it’s a completely, totally penitential service with the Canon and remembering Mary the great sinner, remembering our sins. And then you could actually say it brings to a close, in a very direct way, although it’s never closed out completely, it brings to the end the specific issue of our repentance. And then it turns our attention onto Christ and what he does.
And therefore, in the beautifully, divinely inspired structure of Great Lent, what happens is that after that Thursday matins on the fifth week, then what happens is that on Saturday at the matins, the Saturday of that week—again, the matins very often being served on Friday evening—you have a matins service dedicated to the incarnation of the Son of God from the holy Theotokos. And what happens at that service is the entire Akathistos Hymn to Mary, the Theotokos, Mother of God, is sung at that service.
In the Greek and Byzantine traditions, Antiochian and Greek, that Akathistos is read in parts on the Friday evenings during Great Lent, and then it’s finished off at that particular matins of Saturday. Very often in the Greek and Antiochian tradition, it’s even just done at compline, like it is done on the Fridays of Great Lent. If you look at the Triodion, however, that’s an innovative practice which is not in the Triodion. The Akathistos of the Theotokos is not divided into parts in the Triodion to be read incrementally on Friday evenings during Great Lent; it’s only read once. It’s read in its entirety, and it’s read right after this final great penitential celebration takes place with the complete reading of the Canon of St. Andrew of Crete and the Life of Mary of Egypt that is done at matins on Thursday.
And on that Saturday matins, the entire Akathistos is sung. And everything that possibly can be thought of is said, in honor and glorification of the holy Theotokos, the Mother of God. All of the biblical prototypes of the Incarnation in Mary are raised to our attention: the bush that burned but was not consumed, Jacob’s ladder going to heaven, the ark of the covenant, the living mercy-seat the Theotokos is—like the mercy-seat that was in the tabernacle in the temple of Jerusalem but is now visible—and the Word of God speaks through her and God becomes man through her, and the whole creation rejoices in her. Everything that can possibly be thought of and said is said in that magnificent Akathistos Hymn that is chanted and sung in its entirety at the matins of that fifth week of Lent, as I said, usually done on Friday night.
It’s a marvelously beautiful service. It’s a total contemplation of God becoming man, being born of the Virgin, and that’s a turning point in Lent! You see, we’ve finished the penitential part, although, as I’ve said already twice, it still continues to the end, but now the focus is not on our penitence, on our repentance; the focus is now on what Christ, the Son of God, has come into the world to do, and the first act of entering into the world is to be born as a real human being from the Virgin Mary, Theotokos, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
We know that on the Annunciation, the angel comes to her; that’s how the Akathistos begins—and that’s a re-creation act. We have to remember that the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary by Gabriel, it’s a Creation story. It’s not a sexual-intercourse-of-having-a-baby story. It’s not as if Mary was having some kind of spiritual intercourse with God or something like that, like you find in pagan religions. No, no, no! It’s not that at all. It’s that God Almighty speaks over her barren womb, over her virginal earth. And then, in those words, come into her ears, and then the Holy Spirit descends upon her like he descended on the void of nothingness in the beginning, and then from her virginal flesh God fashions with his two hands—his Word and his Spirit—the flesh of Christ, the flesh of Emmanuel, the physical body of the Son of God becoming man in Mary’s womb. So Mary kind of stands like the virginal earth at the time of Creation, barren and empty, and then God’s Word comes and God’s Spirit comes, and light comes and breaks into the darkness, and you have the re-creation of the world in the Incarnation of Christ in the womb of Mary.
And that’s what’s celebrated on this beautiful last Saturday before the last Sunday of Great Lent. And then that vigil on Saturday night, and then the Sunday service, is dedicated once again to Mary of Egypt. We read her whole Life, then we celebrate the incarnation of the Son of God by the Theotokos, Mary, and then we go back on Sunday to contemplating the victory of God over sin in this woman, this very, very tragically sexually messed up woman, from Egypt, named Mary of Egypt. And it’s so beautiful.
Here I want to tell you how, when I worked in the seminary—and I believe some churches also do this; it’s not done here at the monastery, but many churches do—when they have this vigil matins, long matins with the full reading of the Canon of St. Andrew of Crete and the Life of Mary of Egypt, they often put into the middle of the church an icon of Mary of Egypt. And then when they celebrate the Akathistos of the Theotokos on Friday evening… So on Wednesday evening you have the matins of Thursday, on Friday evening you have the matins of Saturday. And they’re long services: the first one, the last penitential canon, and then the celebration of the Incarnation.
We would have in the middle of the church at the seminary, as many churches do, a beautiful, big icon of the Theotokos and Child surrounded by flowers, and we would sing this Akathistos, with the incensing of the icon, in its entirety in front of a beautiful icon of the Incarnation: the Theotokos holding in her arms the Son of God who was born of her. Very often, it’s the Hodēgētria icon, the Shower-of-the-Way; sometimes it’s the Tenderness icon, but it’s the Mother of God and the Child Jesus. And then, when we come to church on Sunday after that Saturday, with the Saturday Liturgy being dedicated to the Mother of God, in the seminary we used to put the very same icon frame with the flowers around it, and then there would be the icon of Mary of Egypt. We used to call it “the weekend of the two Marys”: the Theotokos Mother of God, and then again Mary of Egypt on Sunday, to be venerated in her victory! We hear her story on Wednesday night while we chant the penitential Canon of Andrew. Then we celebrate the Incarnation and the Theotokos, and then we celebrate the effect of that Incarnation on Mary of Egypt.
It’s so wonderful! First you’re looking at this icon surrounded by flowers, with the Mother of God in it, who’s virtually sinless. I mean, many people even think she was without any, even the smallest sin, although most Church Fathers think she may have had thoughts coming from humanity, but she certainly never broke her communion with God, the Theotokos; she never committed any sin unto death. She was constantly graced by God and prepared to be Christ’s mother. We celebrate her in this grand Akathistos hymn. And then in the very same frame—we have the repentant and saved and deified and radiant Mary of Egypt, who herself becomes full of grace, just like Mary the Theotokos. But, boy, oh boy, if there was ever an opposite to Mary the Mother of God, it was Mary of Egypt!
And, by the way, not Mary Magdalene, because in the Eastern Orthodox tradition and liturgy, Mary Magdalene is a very messed up, very sick person. She had seven demons in her that had to be cast out, but she was not sexually sinful. Mary Magdalene was not a prostitute as was taught in, I believe, the Western traditions. She was not. She was not the fallen woman. She was ill, she was messed up, she had seven demons in her, but she didn’t have the carnal, sexual sins like Mary of Egypt certainly had.
So it’s wonderful to contemplate these two Marys: Mary the Theotokos and Mary of Egypt, and that’s what we do in the very last weekend of Great Lent. That’s what marks that last Sunday of Great Lent. Then after that Sunday, we follow the Lord up to Jerusalem. There’s hardly any hymns any more about penitence or sins or repentance. It’s a following of Christ up to Jerusalem, and that’s why on the last Sunday of Great Lent, the Sunday where Mary of Egypt is venerated, that is what the gospel reading is. It is from the tenth chapter of Mark; the week before was the ninth, and now it’s from the tenth chapter of Mark, where you have the reading about the disciples following Jesus up on the road to Jerusalem. [Jesus is] walking ahead, and they’re following him. And it says some of them are amazed, and some of them are afraid and they don’t know what’s happening, and they don’t want to go to Jerusalem, because they know they’re trying to kill Jesus there. So Jesus goes there, and we celebrate this.
And he takes the Twelve with him, and they begin to ask him… He tells them, “Behold, we’re going up to Jerusalem. The Son of Man will be delivered unto the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him to the Gentiles, and they will mock him and spit upon him and scourge him and kill him. And [in] three days he will rise.” That’s what we hear in church on the last Sunday of Great Lent, dedicated to Mary of Egypt.
Then it says that James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came, and they said to him, “Master, Teacher, will you do what we ask you?” In Matthew’s gospel it’s actually their mother who comes and asks. And he says, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said, “Grant us to sit at your right hand and on your left hand in glory.” But then Jesus says to them, “You do not know what you’re asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And what he meant is: Can you suffer and die with me? Can you go through the Passion with me? And they said to him, “We can. We are able.” And then Jesus says to them, “The cup that I drink, you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized”—namely, my death—“you also will be baptized. But to sit at the right hand or the left hand is not mine to give. It’s for those for whom it has been prepared.”
And then it continues how the disciples are indignant, and then he says to them the final word in the final gospel of the great lenten season: “You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them, but it shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your slave”—servant; it actually is “diakonos”; it’s not “doulos”; it’s “servant”—“and whoever would be first among you must be the slave of all, for the Son of Man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for the multitude, to give his life as a ransom for many.”
And then the sixth week of Lent, we follow him up. We contemplate the parable of Lazarus and the rich man that is found in St. Luke’s gospel, where Jesus tells the parable that if we don’t keep the commandments and follow Moses, even if someone rises from the dead, we will not believe. We have to first be faithful to God and keep his commandments. What that parable means is: when the man, the sinful rich man says, “Send Lazarus back alive to my brothers so they won’t sin the way I did,” and Jesus says, “No, no. If they don’t keep the commandments and follow Moses, they’re not going to believe, even if someone rises from the dead.” And it’s interesting that that man in that story, that parable in Luke, is called Lazarus, because in St. John’s gospel, the Great Lent ends on the Friday of the eve of Lazarus Saturday, when Jesus actually does raise up a four-day-dead corpse of a man named Lazarus, whom he loved, the brother of Martha and Mary, and he is risen from the dead—he’s, rather, resuscitated; he’s returned to life.
He comes out of that tomb. Does it convert the scribes and the Pharisees and those who hate Jesus? Not at all. When they see that Lazarus has been raised from the dead, they decided all the more to kill Jesus. And then in John’s gospel, the very entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday is because of [the] raising of Lazarus. There’s a connection there; it’s not in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, but it is in John. But all the four gospels have the entrance of Christ in Jerusalem where they hail him as the son of David, the Savior, and the Messiah.
So the forty days ends on the Friday. Then you have the Saturday of Lazarus. You have Palm Sunday, the entrance into Jerusalem, and then we enter into Holy Week. So these last two weeks of Great Lent, they’re really very special. They complete the penitential part of Lent—although it’s never completely over, of course—and then they turn our attention over to Jesus and to his Passion, to his going up to Jerusalem, to his betrayal, to his arrest, to the whole passion story, and they prepare us for that.
And they prepare us for that how? First by, on the Wednesday of the fifth week (Thursday matins), the Life of Mary of Egypt and the entire Canon of Andrew of Crete. Then on that Friday night and Saturday, the explosion of the Incarnation and the Akathistos Hymn of the Virgin Mary about the Incarnation. And then we celebrate on that Sabbath a Liturgy in honor of the Mother of God. And then that last Sunday we venerate Mary of Egypt, that incredibly sinful young woman, who now has the same radiance and glory as the mother of God herself, by the grace of Christ and the Holy Spirit’s presence in her as the very icon of repentance for all of us.
And then we follow Jesus up to Jerusalem. We meditate his parable about Lazarus and the rich man, how he’s going to raise up Lazarus from the dead. And then the great forty days is over and we celebrate the raising of Lazarus, Friday night and Saturday morning; and then Saturday night and Sunday morning the entrance into Jerusalem, the Palm Sunday; and then we enter into the Great and Holy Week of the Lord’s Passion. It is so beautiful. It is so marvelously structured, how it begins, it reached the high point in the week of the Cross, and then, having celebrated that, we move toward Jerusalem, and we do so in this liturgical manner.
How sad it is that a lot of this is not really raised up and done in our churches, although it’s happening more and more, and in the monasteries, of course, it’s always been there. But it’s so important in our churches to have that last penitential act on the fifth week of Lent and to have that Akathistos Hymn in its entirety to move us into Holy Week by contemplating the Incarnation and glorifying the Mother of God, Theotokos, and then going through that final week, the sixth week, moving with Jesus toward Jerusalem, toward Bethany, toward the tomb of Lazarus, where he will raise him from the dead, enter Jerusalem in glory, and then enter his Passion and be arrested and vilified and ridiculed and blasphemed and nailed to a cross and killed.
And then, of course, the next Saturday will be the Great and Holy Saturday when death is destroyed by the death of Christ, and then we’ll finally be there—the Holy Pascha, the Sunday of the Resurrection. How beautiful it all is! Let’s thank God for it, and let’s celebrate it deeply, properly, soberly, simply, because in this is our salvation. And we just have to open ourselves up to it by repenting, by keeping the commandments, and then by entering into the Passion of Christ with the Lord himself. For who will be his disciple must deny himself or herself and take up their cross and follow him. And this is how this is celebrated in the forty days of Lent, Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday, and then the entrance into the Great and Holy Week.
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