The ancient Christian services of Orthodox Holy Week this year will be celebrated from Palm Sunday, April 9th, through Easter, April 16th. The services, conducted predominantly in English, with some Greek, and open to the public, will be held in our 8th century-style Byzantine church of Saint Katherine in Elk Grove, California. Although the dates for celebrating Easter are calculated differently for Western (Roman Catholic and Protestant) and Eastern Christian Churches, they fall on the same date this year. But more importantly, the message of Christ's resurrection brings the same joy to all. What follows below is a brief synopsis of the various services we will celebrate this Holy Week:
Holy Monday evening - We begin our journey of the Passion and Resurrection of Christ with a matins service that recalls the parable of the 10 maidens waiting for the arrival of the bridegroom. The Hymn of the Bridegroom this evening reminds us to prepare for Christ's coming, conveying the message that ethical preparation and wakefulness constitute the foundation of vivid faith.
Holy Tuesday evening - The beautiful Hymn of Cassiani is chanted at this service, relating a common theme in Holy Week that the Son of God experienced, in his humanity, every form of suffering at the hands of feeble, misdirected and evil men.
Holy Wednesday evening - The Sacrament of Healing through the anointing with Holy Oil is celebrated in the hope that it will bring healing of the spiritual and bodily infirmities of the faithful.
Holy Thursday - At the morning Liturgy, many Orthodox Christians approach for Holy Communion since it is on this day that Christ instituted the Sacrament of Holy Communion at the Last Supper with his disciples. At the evening service, the Twelve Gospels describing the Passion of Christ are read. After the fifth Gospel, the Crucified Christ on His Cross is carried in a solemn procession around the inside of the church and is placed in the chancel area for all to venerate.
Holy Friday - During the afternoon service we witness the descent of Christ from the Cross, with a sense of mourning for the terrible events which have taken place. After the Priest takes the body of Christ down from the Cross and wraps it in a linen shroud, he places a cloth icon of Christ's burial into the beautifully decorated Epitaphios canopy. During the evening service, the Lamentation hymns are sung by the entire congregation and a solemn procession around the outside of the church takes place with the Cross, the Epitaphios canopy and all the people. Following the service the flowers from the canopy are distributed to the faithful.
Holy Saturday - At the morning Divine Liturgy, the Gospel reading tells of the Myrrhbearing women coming to the tomb and finding an angel of the Lord sitting upon the stone. This service, through its hymns and readings anticipates and provides a foretaste of Christ's resurrection.
The Resurrection - At midnight on Sunday morning, in a totally darkened church, the Priest, holding a lighted candle, invites the congregation to "come receive the light..." After the Gospel proclaiming the Resurrection, the priest and the people sing the triumphant hymn of the Resurrection: "Christ is risen from the dead! He has trampled down death by death and has given life to those in the tombs."
Easter Sunday - A brief Vesper service known as the Agape service is chanted at noon, with hymns of the Resurrection and the reading of Gospel in different languages symbolizing the universality of the Resurrection.
Specific times for these and other services can be found at www.saintkatherine.org/calendar.