Great and Holy Week refers to the final six days before Easter. Easter is known in Byzantine and Orthodox Churches as “Pascha” and is the most important holy day of the Liturgical calendar, referred to as the Feast of Feasts.
The Liturgies and Services during Great and Holy Week remind us of the historical events that occurred over 2000 years ago. In these we are invited to journey spiritually with Christ, in his Passion to the cross, and ultimately rejoicing in His glorious Resurrection. Great and Holy Week is a journey of redemption: of forgiveness of sin through sacrificial love given freely to us by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and for all who place their hope and absolute trust in Him.
Attending all or a few of the many Holy Week Liturgies and services is a chance to reflect and consider all that Jesus did for us. Our quiet time and walk with God is a source of grace. It is an opportunity to allow God into our hearts, especially when we are open to His grace amidst all the busyness that so often steals our focus away from Him. We grow closer to God also with reception of the Sacraments and with the spiritual enrichment obtained from increased prayer and reading or hearing Scripture during this most sacred week.
Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts & Sacrament of the Sick during Great and Holy Week
The Byzantine Catholic church offers the faithful a time to receive Holy Communion midweek with the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts. (See Liturgy Schedule). Unique to Byzantine churches, this Liturgy provides the occasion for all faithful to receive an additional Sacrament; those present are invited to be anointed with blessed oil, Sacrament of the Sick. The Anointing is imparted on the palms of the hands of each person by the priest. This Anointing is not to be confused with a sacramental form of blessing of oil called mirovanije, given after Divine Liturgy following Holy Days.
The Anointing offered during Holy Week is one of the seven Sacraments of the church, and the value of which is in the healing of mind, body, and soul. This is in recognition that all of us have need for some form of healing. Anointing of the Sick is not limited to only those in grave illness or in the knowledge of impending death. It is an important Sacrament for all believers.
Receiving this Sacrament during Holy Week is a special privilege in relation to and with anticipation of Christ’s outpouring of love for us; and with the steadfast faith that Jesus wishes all of his followers to have. We call to mind the many instances in Scripture where Jesus healed those who sought his help with their total trust in Him. In faith we can obtain the graces and spiritual healing that Jesus, the great Physician of Souls is so ready to offer to those who seek and ask.
Holy Thursday – Institution of the Holy Eucharist
The significance of Holy Thursday for the Church is great. On this day we commemorate when Jesus instituted the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist and also the Sacrament of Holy Orders, the priesthood. And on this day, Jesus also models for us (with the washing of the feet of his apostles), the role of humble service we are to imitate and strive for in our daily lives.
Prior to his Passion and crucifixion, Jesus gathered with his apostles for the traditional Jewish Passover meal. The actions of Jesus and his words prefigured the events that were about to take place — Jesus Christ as the Paschal Lamb, sacrificed once and for all for the redemption of sin.
It is during this Passover meal with the apostles and with the words of consecration that we hear during every Divine Liturgy – Jesus is present to all in the mystical sacrifice that takes place eternally and unceasingly. This is God made manifest through the Divine action of the Holy Spirit, transforming in consecration the elements of bread and wine into the Real Presence of Christ’s Body and Blood. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and the shedding of his blood in his mercy for us is actualized in a timeless manner now and again as an unbloody mystical sacrifice at every Liturgy on the altar. Beyond the capability of our very limited human understanding to grasp, Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist is through faith, the means to our eternal salvation in being united with our Living God, and it is the foundation of all that we believe.
Click Here for Byzantine Good Friday traditions and services at our church.
For a additional descriptions of all Holy Week services and meanings, you can also find information here (off site link / Metropolitan Cantor Institute) : Description of Holy Week