On this day, the third Sunday of Pascha, we celebrate the memory of the Holy Myrrhbearing Women. We also commemorate St. Joseph of Arimathea, who was one of the seventy secret Apostles. We also remember St. Nicodemus, who came to Christ at night and was one of the leaders of the Jews.
We remember the women because they were the first to truthfully bear witness to the Resurrection, while Joseph and Nicodemus were the first to bear witness to the burial of Christ. These two facts are both true and well known by us. Nicodemus was immediately banished from the synagogue and was forbidden to rejoin it. After burying the Body of Jesus, Joseph was thrown into a deep pit; however, by the grace of God, he was delivered from it and went to his estate in Arimathea. After His Resurrection, Christ showed Himself to Joseph, who was tied in bonds, thus firmly confirming the mystery of the Resurrection. Joseph suffered a great deal at the hands of his persecutors, but he could not bear to keep silent concerning all these mystical events and boldly taught all people about what had taken place regarding Jesus. It is said that Nicodemus, was the first to proclaim in detail what had occurred at the Passion and Resurrection of Christ. Since he was one of the foremost in the Council of the Jews and a Pharisee, he knew firsthand the councils and plots of the Jewish leaders and all that had come to pass regarding the Lord. Thus, as was first stated, St. Nicodemus and St. Joseph are commemorated after the Resurrection, together with the women who saw the risen Christ, because they are true and authentic witnesses of the Burial.
On this Sunday, the second Sunday of Pascha, we celebrate the Antipascha, that is to say the re-dedication of the Resurrection of Christ, and also commemorate the event of the Holy Apostle Thomas' touching the wounds of Christ.
This commemoration is due to the ancient custom of rededicating important events. As a year would pass and the date of such an event would arrive, a commemoration was made so that such great events would not be forgotten. This is why the Israelites celebrated the Passover at Gilgal, to commemorate the passing through the Red Sea. They also commemorated the consecration of the Tabernacle of Witness that was in the wilderness and many other holy events.
When the Roman Emperor warned that those who professed Christianity would be hunted down and killed, the great Roman soldier was not afraid.
Instead of going into hiding, George the Tribune - sometimes referred to as the "Dragon-Slayer" - decided to publicly proclaim his allegiance to Jesus Christ. After selling all his property and freeing all his slaves, he strode boldly into the Roman Senate and asked to be heard. Because he was a respected officer (a Tribune in those days commanded a thousand men), he was given permission to speak.
Without hesitating, the blunt-spoken Tribune told the stunned Senators that he was a practicing Christian ... and that he had no intention of giving up his faith, regardless of the recent decision by the Emperor Diocletian (284-305) that Christians would now be persecuted throughout the land.
Stunned, the Senators shook their heads in disbelief. Then they asked him to explain why in the world he had decided to challenge the mighty Emperor's authority in broad daylight, in front of the entire Senate. But the Tribune only smiled. Then, in a bold and determined voice, he told them quite simply, according to historians of the period: "I am a servant of Christ, my God, and trusting on Him, I have come amidst ye at mine own will, to witness concerning the Truth."
To be read during Bright Week in place of morning and evening prayers, thanksgiving prayers after Holy Communion, the prayers of the hours, compline, and the midnight office. In this manner, the Third and Sixth Hours are chanted before Liturgy. Likewise also before Vespers, for the Ninth Hour; and once for Compline. Likewise for the Midnight Office. It is a pious tradition to substitute the Paschal Hours for morning and evening prayers during all of Bright week. In this way, we take a little rest from long prayers, but do not neglect to give joyous thanks to God, so as not to fall into despondency and gluttony, as we partake of festive foods.
If a priest is present:
The priest: Bessed is our God, always, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.
Or if there is no priest:
Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
If any be a devout lover of God,
let him partake with gladness from this fair and radiant feast.
If any be a faithful servant,
let him enter rejoicing into the joy of his Lord.
If any have wearied himself with fasting,
let him now enjoy his reward.
If any have laboured from the first hour,
let him receive today his rightful due.
If any have come after the third,
let him celebrate the feast with thankfulness.
If any have come after the sixth,
let him not be in doubt, for he will suffer no loss.
If any have delayed until the ninth,
let him not hesitate but draw near.
If any have arrived only at the eleventh,
let him not be afraid because he comes so late.
On the Great and Holy Sunday of Pascha, we celebrate the Life-giving Resurrection of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ, which is called Pascha, which translated from Hebrew means Passover.
For this is the day on which God created the world from nothingness. On this day, He delivered the Israelites from I Pharaoh’s hands and led them through the Red Sea. On this day, He descended from Heaven and took His dwelling in the Virgin’s womb; now drawing forth mankind held in Hades, He raised them to heaven and brought them to the first created honor of incorruption. Yet, in descending into Hades, He did not raise all, but only those who had believed in Him. He delivered the souls of the saints held forcibly in Hades for ages and granted them all ascension to the heavens. We therefore celebrate today, rejoicing in the luminous Resurrection which surpasses all nature, prefiguring the joy with which our human nature will be enriched through the compassionate mercy of God. Thus, as we behold the destruction of enmity and unity with God and the angels, let us exchange the traditional kiss of peace.
On this day, Holy and Great Saturday, we celebrate the burial of the divine Body of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and His descent into Hades, through which mankind was recalled from corruption to be lifted up again to life eternal.
Of all the days of the year, the fasting seasons are the most revered; and again, of the fasting seasons, the most distinguished is Holy and Great Lent; and again, the most eminent and the most exalted of all the weeks in Great Lent is Holy Week; and again, of all the days of Holy Week, the most exalted and most divine is that of Holy and Great Saturday. It is called Great Week and Great Saturday not because these days and hours are by chance more exalted, but because the great, extraordinary, portentous, and wonderful deeds of our Savior were accomplished during this week, and for this reason it is called great.
On this day, Holy and Great Friday, we celebrate the awesome, holy, and saving Passion of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ - the spitting, the blows with the palm of the hand, the buffeting, the mockery, the reviling, the wearing of the purple robe, the reed, the sponge, the vinegar, the nailing, the lance, and above all, the Crucifixion and Death which He condescended to endure willingly for our sakes - and also the saving confession of the grateful thief upon the cross.
After our Lord Jesus Christ was sold for thirty pieces of silver and was betrayed by a friend and disciple, He was led to Annas the High Priest. Annas again sent the Lord to Caiaphas, where He was spat upon and at the same time mocked and laughed at. He heard them saying to Him, "Prophesy to us, Christ! Who is the one that struck you?" (Matt. 26:68). Then many false witnesses and accusers arrived, perhaps because He said, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up" (John 2:19) and because He said about Himself, "I am the Son of God" (Matt. 27:43), or because He said, "Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of heaven" (Matt. 26:64). At that point, the High Priest tore his own garment, saying, "He has spoken blasphemy! What further need do we have of witnesses? Look, now you have heard His blasphemy!" (Matt. 26:65). And when morning came, Jesus was led into the Praetorium to Pilate, and "they did not enter," as they said, "lest they should be defiled, but that they might eat the Passover" (John 18:28).
On this day, Holy and Great Thursday, according to the order which our Holy Fathers inherited from the Holy Apostles, and the Holy Gospels, we celebrate four events: the Holy Washing of the Disciples' feet, the Mystical Supper (the institution of the Holy Mystery of the Eucharist, which we celebrate to this day), the Lord's Agony in the Garden, and His Betrayal.
On the morrow, Friday, the Passover sacrifice of the Hebrews was intended to take place, namely the slaughter of the lamb reared for this purpose. On that same Friday, the Truth was intended to follow the old type. For it was intended that the true Passover would be sacrificed, the Lamb of God the Father, who takes away the sin of the world - our Lord Jesus Christ, who was prefigured by the paschal lamb which was sacrificed each year by the Hebrews. On the evening of this day - which was the day of unleavened bread, the eve of the Passover of the Old Law, March 22, the fifth day of the week - Jesus observed the Passover and dined in the city with the Twelve Disciples. The Lord did this on the evening of the fifth day (Thursday), since among the Hebrews the "night-day" reckoning begins with the evening of the present day and is called the evening of the following day. In other words, according to Jewish tradition "Friday evening" was that time period that began after sundown on Thursday. (For example: as in the Orthodox Church today, the "liturgical evening" of a feast day would be that time after Vespers.) Zebedee (the father of the Holy Apostles James and John) prepared the Passover, since he was the one who carried the earthenware jar of water, as St. Athanasius the Great says and others also say exceptional things about Zebedee.
On Holy and Great Wednesday the divine Fathers ordained a commemoration to be kept of the woman who was a harlot and who anointed the Lord with myrrh, inasmuch as this took place a short time before the saving Passion.
As Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, when He was in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came and poured most precious myrrh on the head of Christ and wiped His feet with her hair, rendering Him service at a very great cost to herself. This event is set forth here that, according to the Savior's word, her act of great fervor may be proclaimed to everyone everywhere, and because it occurred a short time before the Passion. What moved her to act thus? She had seen how merciful Christ was and how accessible to all; now, in particular, she saw Him enter the house of a leper, whom the Law deemed unclean and unfit for society. She thought to herself that He would heal the man's leprosy and likewise the illness of her own soul. Thus, while He was seated, she poured on the top of His head a quantity of myrrh, which was worth about "three hundred thirteen denarii in silver coin," that is, sixty assaria, and she wiped His feet with her hair. She placed her head at His feet, showing her zeal for repentance, but the disciples rebuked her, particularly Judas Iscariot. Christ, however, welcomed her, not allowing them to frustrate her good intention. He further mentioned His burial, dissuaded Judas from becoming a traitor, and honored the woman by saying that her good deed would be related everywhere, throughout the whole world.