Wow! What a great weekend. Holy Week has finally arrived for the Eastern Orthodox Church. Friday night was the Little Compline with the Canon of St Lazarus. Then on Saturday morning, we gathered for Lazarus Saturday. When Fr Patrick began this special Divine Liturgy with “Blessed is the Kingdom of Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit both now and ever and unto ages of ages,” I felt this powerful rush of excitement and anticipation. Lent has been escalating to this moment. And with Lazarus Saturday, Lent ends and Holy Week begins. A hymn that we sang during the service and throughout the weekend services brings it altogether so well:
“By raising Lazarus from the dead before Your passion,
You did confirm the universal Resurrection, O Christ God!
Like the children with the palms of victory,
We cry out to You, O Vanquisher of death;
Hosanna in the Highest!
Blessed is He that comes in the Name of the Lord!”
On Saturday night we returned to church for the Great Vespers for Palm Sunday. At the end of the service, we venerated a striking icon of Jesus calling Lazarus from the tomb. Then Fr Patrick anointed our foreheads, palms and the back of our hands with oil.
This morning was Palm Sunday. A special feature of today’s service was a procession with palm branches out of the church and down the sidewalk. What a sight! And such incredible joy! Also the Lenten fast was lifted slightly, allowing fish, wine and oil. (During Lent, Eastern Orthodox fast from meat, dairy, wine and oil.) Coffee hour was crowded and bustling. In addition to some normal Lenten food, those who prepared coffee hour also brought some delicious salmon and several bottles of wine. It tasted so good! The anticipation of the coming week was palpable. We sat around talking and laughing and our family was one of the last ones to leave. Our family is making great friends at St Peters.
Our plan was to go home afterwards and get chores done, but my parents called. Yesterday I told my mom about our family’s decision to explore Orthodoxy during 2008. I wasn’t sure how she and my dad were going to react. My mom called wanting to get together today to talk. Debbie and I shared with my parents about the fullness of Christ’s life that we’ve been experiencing in the church. Both were positive and my mom admitted to a deep yearning for something more in her relationship with Jesus. After our talk, we went shopping for the girls’ Pascha dresses.
Then we bolted down the 210 Freeway to meet Mark, Barb and Maribeth for an enjoyable dinner of good food, talking and laughing. God has blessed our family with such great friends. And right now, my life feels so deep and rich. I feel like I’m drinking deeply from a well of crisp water.
The rest of this week will be very, very busy. There are two services (morning & evening) every day until Holy and Great Friday. Debbie and the kids are hoping to make it to some of the morning services before the kids start school.
By next weekend, we’ll be going full steam ahead. Three services on Holy and Great Friday followed by an all-night vigil of reading Psalms at Jesus’ tomb, all accompanied by a strict fast. On Holy and Great Saturday morning, we’ll experience the Paschal Vesperal Liturgy of the Harrowing of Hell. (What a great name for a worship service!) During this service, we’ll witness some of our new friends receiving the sacraments of baptism and chrismation as they join the Orthodox Church. Then we go home, sleep, cook and return at 10:30 that night for a candlelight Rush Service followed by Paschal Matins and Divine Liturgy. Then around 2 am, we break our Lenten fast together with a grand feast! Then we go home and sleep some more and finally gather for an afternoon Agape Service where one of the Gospel accounts is read in as many languages as possible, followed by a party in the park.
I’ve been a Christian for over 20 years. But this year will prove to be one of the fullest, most meaningful, most joyous Easters we will have ever experienced. Glory to God!
Oh… and by the way, this is my 500th post since I started blogging in 2003. Yeaa!