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The first week starting with Pascha is known as Bright Week. In our Byzantine Catholic churches, the entire week of Easter or Pascha is given extraordinary significance. Pascha, being the Feast of Feasts is the greatest historical event on the liturgical calendar and we carry the salutations and hymns of the resurrection from Pascha to Christ’s Ascension.
Everything about Bright Week emphasizes the salvific act of Christ’s resurrection and the triumph over darkness. The magnitude of Christ’s Resurrection is intertwined in the liturgical celebrations to such a degree that there can be no doubt in the minds of the faithful that what has transpired has changed the world and humanity forever. Everything is brought into the fullness of the light shining in the world. As the Gospel of John Chapter 1 proclaims about Christ, that it is “through him all things came into being, and apart from him nothing came to be. Whatever came to be in him, found life, life for the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, a darkness that did not overcome it.” (John 1: 3-5).
A tradition of our Byzantine churches on Bright Monday is the proclamation of the four resurrection Gospels. The priest together with the faithful walk in procession while chanting resurrectional hymns to the four corners of the earth, represented by the four “corners” of the church. The significance of this relates to the command of the angel who appeared to the myrrh bearing women upon arrival at the tomb, directing them to go forth and proclaim the good news of Christ’s resurrection and in these gospels we hear this account. It is a beautiful tradition and one that if possible, all are encouraged to participate in when available. It reminds us that in the baptismal vows made by our sponsors on our behalf, that we too are obligated as Christian believers and held accountable to do the same, to witness Christ to the world. When we are able to join in this service, we are publicly making visible our commitment to all that we believe. In every sense, we demonstrate Christ’s life in us. Do we not want to shine to others also?
In the reading of the following Gospels which are chanted at the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy on Bright Monday, we find ourselves mystically at the tomb with the disciples and the holy women.
Matthew 28: 1 – 28
Mark 16: 1 – 19
Luke 24: 1 -12
John 20: 1 – 10
As we listen and meditate on the accounts, our hearts are stirred with the same wonder as the first witnesses. The sheer astonishment of the apostles in seeing the empty tomb and burial garments left in place brings to life – paints an icon – of the reality and actuality of the Resurrection. We can only imagine the rush of emotion they felt at the time as indescribable.
It is why their reading on this day after Pascha further confirms the authenticity of all we profess and believe. While the manner in which the Resurrection physically occurred is beyond the grasp of our human intelligence, the facts of the Resurrection cannot be disputed. Our faith in God lies in our surrender to trust in the mystery. And in our trust, God can do great things. The reading of the four Gospels should inspire us even more of the beauty of God’s plan and love for us. Our faith is emboldened in this beautiful tradition of their reading.
In the liturgical services during this festal period, everything points heavenly and unites all creation in praise and glory to God. Pascha is celebrated as a solemn feast for three days and liturgically observed the whole week. During this week, the doors of the iconostasis or icon screen including the Royal Doors remain open. This symbolizes visually that Christ’s resurrection opened heaven for all of us. We sing the Paschal troparion of “Christ is risen…” with the opening of each liturgy, during and closing. And in the final blessing, the priest continues to bless us three times with the hand cross loudly and emphatically proclaiming “Christ is Risen!” to which the faithful respond enthusiastically that “Indeed He is Risen!” while making the sign of the cross.
Our joy in the resurrection should be jubilant to the highest degree throughout Bright week and in the following 39 days because this is the summit of our Christian faith. As we sing “Shine in splendor” everything in Bright week does shine in splendor in the beauty of the white altar linens, vestments, candles, flowers, and intensified church lighting. Our celebration, as in other particular feast days, also removes the requirement to abstain or fast on the Friday of this week. And so our joy is extended to all aspects of our life. Let us fill our domestic churches – our homes – with joy and symbols of our unity of faith.
Our hearts rejoice in the hope of eternal life with our Lord. Let us sing and rejoice!
The post-festive period of the Resurrection lasts until Ascension, the next feast day in the awesome continuation of God’s plan.
Our journey with our Lord brings us to this most solemn week for all Christians. Yet we find ourselves both anxious and expectant of what may come next. It is not the events of our Lord’s passion that has us most anxious. Rather we feel the vulnerability and risk associated with a microscopic adversary, the novel coronavirus. This tiny entity that we cannot see, but fear greatly, has presented every person with never before foreseen challenges. We have been forced to submit to authorities in new ways, we have been stripped of our complacency and distanced from our self-created sense of comfort and self-reliance.
For us as Christians and Catholics it has been a Lenten journey like no other, one seen in a new light if we are able to see all that has come upon us through our spiritual eyes. This Lent has given us a stark reminder more powerful than any of our rituals of faith, of our human condition — the finite reality of our human physical bodies.
Now imagine for a moment the world back in the time of Jesus Christ. We may have an idealized view of what it was like. But it was a world of difficulties, of hardships, and of discomforts. During Jesus’ three years of public ministry he walked and lived the day to day realities of that time. And for what little the apostles had in terms of possessions, Jesus asked them to give up all for the greater treasure he offered. Now consider the works of Jesus during his travels in the many towns and villages around Galilee. Aside from his preaching, you would probably agree that his healing of the sick is among the most mentioned topics in Scripture. Wherever he traveled, Jesus was surrounded by people who sought to be healed.
In the situation of our present moment, we have been humbled to change our behavior, our thinking, our habits, relationships and more. Like the people in Jesus’ time on earth, we are a people and a world in need of healing. We have been in need of healing for some time. Our plea of healing is not only for our physical problems, but for healing of the many ways we fail to live the virtues that Jesus calls us to. Those failings are our sins. Jesus not only wished to heal the people of his time on earth of their physical infirmities, but in many ways their spiritual blindness, a blindness that is prevalent in our time. Jesus’ love and desire is to heal people of all time for all eternity.
A tradition during Great and Holy week in the Byzantine Catholic church has always been the chance for all Byzantine Catholics – not limited to those with physical ailments — to receive the Sacrament of Sick, usually on Holy Wednesday. Our Eastern view of the Sacrament is that we are all in need of healing, whether that is spiritual or physical and we are invited as a church family to receive this Sacrament during Great and Holy Week. Unfortunately, during this time of cloistering and distancing, we are unable to receive this important Sacrament of our Catholic church. However, we can still ask Jesus to heal us wherever we may be. We can “attend” one of the many streamed services online, even to chant and pray along as participants.
We do not know what comes next in our present crisis. In any crisis we do not know. But we do know what comes next in the upcoming and final days of Holy Week. And as we participate in our domestic church services this week, we can appreciate more clearly what Jesus endured for us, we see the price of sacrificial love, and the meaning of the cross. We also see what Jesus wants us to have, wants us to possess, and that is the constancy of hope, a hope in all that is Truth, all that is eternal. For the cross is more than a symbol. Jesus Christ our Lord has conquered what we fear most. He shows us the Way, loves us as children, knows our fears and hears our prayers.
We call to mind the many ways Jesus healed those who sought his help in total trust. In faith we can obtain those same graces and spiritual healing. Jesus, the great Physician of Souls is always near to the hearts of those who seek and ask.
- Please pray this week for healing for those who are suffering in any way and those who are grieving the loss of loved ones.
- Pray for all who tirelessly serve the needs of others in sacrifice, that they may have the physical strength and patience they require.
- Pray for healing and softening of the hearts that reject and mock God or are lukewarm in their relationship with Him.
- And do not fear to ask for your own spiritual healing to trust God in all the trials of life, in asking for protection in the Most Holy and Blessed name, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
“Your word, O Lord, endures forever; it is firm as the heavens. Through all generations your Truth endures.”
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
I want to share with you at this time some thoughts that have inspired me.
The first of these are in reference to general concepts in the Word of God or the Gospel. I believe that in today’s realities, in today’s circumstances of life, these are most relevant to the needs and challenges we are facing as they relate to the essence of each person’s life.
The questions we are presented today in the face of these challenges are ones that should be the foundation for every Christian, but unfortunately, this is not always the case. It is not because in times of suffering, the suffering that we are experiencing now, that not everyone can answer the question: “Why does it happen that innocent people suffer?” We may simply find ourselves less hopeful in such situations.
In times of suffering, what Jesus Christ proposes remains valid and is relevant. Jesus says: “Take my yoke …. and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart. Your souls will find rest, for my yoke is easy and my burden light,” writes Matthew the Evangelist in Chapter 11:29-30.
If so, then the question is: How can this yoke be carried and remain light? How can one bear the cross of problems, suffering, fears, anxieties, emotions and not lose hope? What’s more, how can we be sharing hope and love with others? It is possible when we focus on how Jesus Christ carried the cross and how he answered the question of human suffering.
The word “gospel” itself is what we are now going to consider in exploring these questions. I am convinced that many of you know that from the Greek original form, the word “gospel” sounds like or translates to “Good News”, but we will deepen our knowledge of this word “gospel”.
In the history of the Roman Empire, the term “gospel” was widely used in relation to the person of the emperor, who the people considered divine. Because this was the belief that was held, everything related to or associated with the emperor was also attributed as sacred. The thinking in the time of the Roman Empire was that the emperor expressed the will of the gods the people believed in. Therefore, all that he proclaimed was gospel, good news for the people.
Interestingly, this gospel not only applied to the emperor, but everything that was deemed pleasant for the people; but in reality, some things proclaimed were not so pleasant. For example, information that required tax increases probably did not please people, but even that was also called a gospel. Another example would be when a son was born to an emperor, it was considered a gospel. Now the question arises: “Why were so many things in the various spheres of the Emperor’s life called the gospel?” Because the people at that time believed him, and believed that everything he was doing was the gospel of good news for everyone. Very interesting concept, isn’t it?
That is why in the time of such historical realities, when Christ walked the earth, preached, died and rose again, the disciples could relate to the use of this word (“gospel”) as the basis of God’s word, “Good News.”
When the disciples saw that the doctrine of Jesus Christ, his attitude toward people, and all that he did transcended any human experience that was before, they wanted to reformat this word and give it a qualitatively different meaning, to fill it with a new essence. Since the word “gospel” until the time of Christ’s coming to earth presented a premature guarantee of a good life on earth, how much more authoritative it is for the same word to give meaning and reference to all that Jesus Christ taught and said. Jesus is responsible for his spoken words both here on earth and in heaven.
One day, Peter asked Jesus, “Have we trusted your life, left everything we will have for it?” [“Then Peter said to him …. ‘We have given up everything and followed you. What will there be for us?’ ” Matthew 19:27]
Christ answered Peter that they would have one hundred times more than they left; that life is the eternal inheritance. [“And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more, and will inherit eternal life.” Matthew 19:29]
When we hear or read the words of Jesus Christ, we do not receive the words of an emperor, king, or president who is limited by earthly boundaries and authority, but we receive the words of a God who created everything and controls everything and is responsible for every word of it.
Therefore, we must consider that sometimes the word of God takes us where we do not want, reveals to us the secrets of ourselves about which we would prefer to remain silent, but it is still the word of God. In his letter to the Hebrews, the Apostle Paul says this very aptly: “The Word of God is lively and active, sharper than any two-edged sword; “. That’s just the good news. Jesus comes to us in his Word as a caring doctor who treats not only the outside, just as changing one’s appearance is now very fashionable, but changing the essence of our very soul and spirit.
I wish all of you my dear parishioners a deep experience of the Word of God that comes into our lives and an openness to its realization.
I wish you as holy Faustina Kowalska, who has lived through the experience of meeting with the merciful Jesus Christ, has said: “Without God, I can do nothing, only sin, but with God I can do everything.”
With my heartfelt prayers for all of you,