St. John the Baptist Parish, A Parish of the Russian Orthodox Church, Canberra, Australia

Holy (Passion) Week

While our fasting efforts in this last week of Great Lent are if anything increased, they also undergo a change in focus. Great Lent, as the season of our own self-appraisal, repentance and spiritual strengthening, is in church practice brought to an end on the eve of Lazarus Saturday. That Saturday and the following day, Palm Sunday, while still Lenten, are festive in character. Then comes Holy Week, commencing on Monday. From this point onwards our fasting is no longer undertaken as an aid to changing our personal lives. It continues in order to reflect the nature of that which we now become participants in - the earth shattering events which we call Christ’s Passion.

And it is here that we come face to face with a mystery which characterises our whole life in the Church – the ability to be in two places at once! Yes, this week the obligations and strictures of our daily existence remain, but at the same time, in the depths of our inner life, we are somewhere else. We are travellers in time, or perhaps travellers beyond time. In these next few days we become witnesses to what occurs in Christ’s last days of earthly life. In terms of our spiritual and prayer lives, we do not simply remember the betrayal, the trial, the condemnation and the crucifixion of Christ as just moments in history. We mystically take part in these events, but not in the sense that they are somehow repeated each year. Rather, each year we are present there at the point that these events unfold. Yes, to be sure, they are still historical moments, but for us they are also events beyond history – because their importance is for all time.

This year, we are denied the opportunity to come to church and there to witness all that happens this week. As painful as that is, it is a burden we all share. Nonetheless, we can open our Gospel Books at home this week and by reading the Evangelists’ accounts of Holy Week, we can in our hearts and minds still become immersed in Christ’s journey towards Golgotha. The significance of what we read is both momentous and eternal. Perhaps as helpful a summary as any of that significance is captured in a hymn we hear during Matins on Holy and Great Monday:

Today the Holy Passion shines forth upon the world with the light of salvation; for Christ in His love hastens to His Sufferings. He who holds all things in the hollow of His hand consents to be hung upon the Tree, that He may save mankind.

May we all strive to be worthy of and thankful for this Divine sacrifice that has opened the doors of Paradise to all who desire to enter therein.

Father Alexander