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.
The Catechetical Sermon of St. John Chrysostom is read during Matins of Pascha.
If any man be devout and love God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast. If any man be a wise servant, let him rejoicing enter into the joy of his Lord. If any have labored long in fasting, let him now receive his recompense. If any have wrought from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward. If any have come at the third hour, let him with thankfulness keep the feast. If any have arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; because he shall in nowise be deprived thereof. If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near, fearing nothing. If any have tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness; for the Lord, who is jealous of his honor, will accept the last even as the first; He gives rest unto him who comes at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who has wrought from the first hour.
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 Tuesday, we commemorate the parable of the ten virgins, because the Lord related this parable to His disciples as He was going toward Jerusalem to His Holy Passion.
He told the parable of the ten virgins to call attention to almsgiving, at the same time teaching that every man must be ready before the end comes. He had spoken many times to them about chastity. Virginity is held in great honor, because it is indeed a great thing. Yet, lest anyone, while practicing this one virtue, neglect the others, and particularly love, by which the lamp of virginity is given light, he will be put to shame by the Lord. The Holy Gospel introduces this parable, calling five of the virgins wise, because they represent readiness to practice both love and virginity, and five of them foolish because, though they had virginity, they did not have love commensurate with it. They are foolish, therefore, because they practiced a great virtue yet neglected one that is easier and were reckoned as being no better than harlots; the latter were defeated by bodily pleasures, whereas the former, by possessions.
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.
On this day, Palm Sunday, we celebrate the bright and glorious feast of the Entrance of our Lord Jesus Christ into Jerusalem.
After the raising of Lazarus from the dead, many people who witnessed this event believed in Christ. Moreover, a decree was passed by the council of the Jews to have both Christ and Lazarus killed. Therefore, giving place to their wickedness, Jesus withdrew. The Jews, for their part, made plans to kill Him during the Feast of the Passover. Having stayed away for a long time in the wilderness near Ephraim, six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany to the house of Lazarus, who had been dead. There at supper, Lazarus ate with Him, and his sister Mary poured ointment on Christ's feet. Since Lazarus had been raised from the dead, numerous Jews had forsaken the lifeless synagogue and believed in Jesus. In the future, these would be recognized as the first Christians. At this time, the Jews were divided between those who wished Christ dead and were planning His death and those who acknowledged Him as the Messiah.
On this day, the Saturday before Palm Sunday, we celebrate the fourth-day raising from the dead of Lazarus, the righteous friend of Christ.
Lazarus was a Hebrew, of the sect of the Pharisees and, as far as is known, he was the son of Simon the Pharisee, who dwelt in the village of Bethany. He became a friend of our Lord Jesus Christ when He sojourned on earth for the salvation of our race. For when Christ continually conversed with Simon, entering his house and discoursing on the resurrection from the dead, Lazarus was quite pleased with the genuineness of this teaching, and not only he, but also his two sisters, Martha and Mary. As the time of the Savior's Passion drew near, when it was especially necessary to believe in the Mystery of the Resurrection, Jesus was sojourning on the other side of the Jordan. Here, He raised from the dead the daughter of Jairus and the son of the widow. At this time, His friend, Lazarus, contracted a grievous illness and died. Then Jesus, even though He was not present there, said to His disciples, “Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up” (John 11:11), and again a little later, “Lazarus is dead.” (See John 11:14.) Then Jesus left the Jordan and went to Bethany, which was about fifteen stadia (approximately 2 miles) away from Jerusalem. Martha, the sister of Lazarus, went to meet Him and said, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give you” (John 11:21-22). Jesus asked the crowd, “Where have you laid him?” (See John 11:34.) Immediately everyone went to the tomb. As the stone was removed, Martha said, “Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days” (John 11:39). He shed tears for the one lying there, and He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth” (John 11:43). At once, he who was dead came forth, was unbound, and set out for home amidst great rejoicing and thanksgiving. This strange wonder roused the Hebrew people to malice, and they were infuriated with Christ. But Jesus once more fled and escaped. The high priests determined to kill Lazarus, because many who saw him were won over to Christ. Since Lazarus knew what they were thinking, he sailed away to Cyprus. He dwelt there and was later elevated by the Holy Apostles to be Archbishop of Citium (present-day Larnaka). He was beloved by God, conducting himself most nobly as an archpastor, performing many miracles. Thirty years after his resurrection, in 63 A.D., he died once p: more and was buried in Citium.
On this day, the fifth Sunday of Great Lent, we celebrate the memory of our holy and venerable Mother, Mary of Egypt.
The recorder of the life of this wonderful saint is St. Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem. A hieromonk, the elder Zossima, had gone off at one time during the Great Fast on a twenty-days’ walk into the wilderness across the Jordan. He suddenly caught sight of a human being with a withered and naked body and with hair as white as snow, who fled in its nakedness from Zossima’s sight. The elder ran a long way, until this figure stopped at a stream and called, “Father Zossima, forgive me for the Lord’s sake. I cannot turn around to you, for I am a naked woman. ” Then Zossima threw her his outer cloak, and she wrapped herself in it and turned around to him. The elder was amazed at hearing his name from the lips of this unknown woman. After considerable pressure on his part, she told him the story of her life.