“As we mark these celebrations, we need to remind ourselves that these are not just historical events to be recalled. This is liturgy we celebrate. In liturgy, we actually share in the Holy Mystery of these events. We are transformed by our celebrations. This Sacred day, we are truly fed, just as were the disciples at the Last Supper. It is Christ that we receive. It is not history, which gathers us together in these holy days. It is grace…”
His Eminence Archbishop Daniel, the spiritual father of the Western Eparchy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA marked the beginning of last three days of Holy Week on Thursday morning, April 25, with Holy Thursday Vesperal Divine Liturgy of the Lord’s Supper at the Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral of Holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Great Prince Volodymyr the Great in Chicago, IL (Very Rev. Fr. Ivan Lymar – pastor).
This Liturgy commemorates the institution of the Holy Eucharist, and it was spiritually uplifting to see the clergy of the Deanery (Very Rev. Ivan Lymar, Very Rev. Vasyl Sendeha, Rev. Gregory Jensen, Rev. Silouan Rolando, Rev. Walter Hvostik, Very Rev. Raymond Sunland and Protodeacon Andriy Fronchak) pray together at the Altar of St. Volodymyr Cathedral. The hierarch in his remarks reminded the faithful in attendance that “The Eucharist is at the center of the Church's life. It is her most profound prayer and principal activity. It is at one and the same time both the source and the summit of her life. In the Eucharist the Church manifests her true nature and is continuously changed from a human community into the Body of Christ, the Temple of the Holy Spirit, and the People of God… Our new life in Christ is constantly renewed and increased by the Eucharist. The Eucharist imparts life and the life it gives is the life of God.”
There are four events commemorated on Thursday of Holy Week: the washing of the disciples' feet, the institution of the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist at the Last Supper, the agony in the garden of Gethsemane, and the betrayal of Christ by Judas.
“As we pray together these next few days, we will remember our Lord’s gathering with His disciples at a celebration of a Pascha meal, His death and His glorious resurrection from the dead,” said the archpastor. “We will reflect on these as separate moments in celebrations which are distinct from each other, but, in essence, they are all one. They are all part of Jesus’ saving mission – the history of our Salvation.”
Vladyka Daniel told everyone in attendance that despite knowing he had been betrayed, Christ embraced the sacrifice he was about to make, giving himself for the salvation of the disciples and for us, and promising to make himself present in the bread broken and in the wine poured out whenever the events are remembered and celebrated in the Mystery of Holy Eucharist.
“The cruel events which were about to unfold would be transformed and would become the occasion of the gift of love which is Jesus’ life within us. What Jesus does for His disciples, He does for us.”
Holy Thursday also serves as a time to reflect on how Jesus shows the disciples how we wants them to live, humbly washing their feet before telling them “as I have done for you, you should also do.”
“We might remember that there have been many great people through the ages that have asked others to follow their teaching. Jesus instead tells us ‘Follow me,’” said Vladyka Daniel. “His life is a constant attempt to instruct the disciples in his way so that they could pass on his message and live his life. The gesture of feet washing is a powerful one. It shows us that love, as Jesus lives it, is active and involves sacrifice. This is what it means to follow him. To follow is to serve.”
Drawing near the conclusion of the Vesperal Liturgy, an ancient and sacred Rite of Washing of Feet took place in the nave of the St. Volodymyr’s cathedral. It appears that the Early Church had a ceremony of the Washing of the Feet annually on Great Thursday in imitation of the event at the Last Supper. For the most part, it was limited to Cathedral Churches and certain monasteries. In time, the service fell into disuse except in certain areas. It is now being recovered by many eparchies throughout the Orthodox world. The service is elaborate, dramatic and moving.
The hierarch with the clergy processed from the sanctuary to the nave of the church in order to spiritually put into action the very example of humility and service to others that was preached by our Savior. By washing the feet of His disciples, the Lord summarized the meaning of His ministry, manifested His perfect love and revealed His profound humility. The act of the washing of the feet (John 13:2-17) is closely related to the sacrifice of the Cross. While the Cross constitutes the ultimate manifestation of Christ's perfect obedience to His Father (Philippians 2:5-8), the washing of the feet signifies His intense love and the giving of Himself to each person according to that person's ability to receive Him (John 13:6-9).
The eparchial archpastor, having taken off his outer vestments approached each priest and in Christ like manner washed the feet of his clergy, dried them up with a towel and prayerfully kissed them, thus as a spiritual father of the Eparchy and a successor to the Apostles he instructed the clergy and the faithful in attendance the importance of humility, love and sacrifice in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
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Later in the evening, His Eminence Archbishop Daniel led the Liturgical Service of the commonly known 12 Passion Gospels. The cathedral choir, under the leadership of Maestro Volodymyr Popowych led the chanting of prayerful hymns and odes.
Following the conclusion of the service, Vladyka Daniel stated that “…The narrative of our Lord's Passion — His suffering, death and resurrection — begins in earnest on Holy Thursday after supper. And we therefore began to read and meditate on it today. We read together the words of all four evangelists, woven into 12 composite texts that tell nearly the entire account of the Passion from Christ's last words to His disciples at the supper table to his burial by Joseph and Nicodemus. After each reading, we sing hymns meditating on what we have just read, so that the significance of these events might pass into our hearts and we might give glory to our Lord and Savior. This service, which lasts about 3 hours, is a wonderful opportunity to learn who our Lord is, to learn something about His love and humility which truly surpass our understanding…
…I am constantly reminding myself: I am ONLY able to love because He (Christ) loved me FIRST! Our Lord tells us, "there is no greater love than to lay down one's life for one's friend" (John 15:13). We remember our Lord's suffering and submission to death in order to save us. It is truly a somber reminder, when we listen to the gospels and hymnology during the services of Holy Week.
Two hymns from the Service of the 12 Passion Gospels sung on Holy Thursday evening that always stir up great emotion within me are below:
"Every member of Thy holy flesh endured dishonor for us. Thy head, thorns; Thy face, spitting; Thy cheeks, buffeting; Thy mouth, taste of vinegar mingled with gall; Thine ears, impious blasphemies; Thy back, scourging; Thy hand, a reed; Thy whole body, extension upon the cross; Thy joints, nails; Thy side, spear. By Thy sufferings Thou hast set us free from suffering. In Thy love for mankind, Thou didst stoop down to raise us up. O Almighty Savior, have mercy on us!"
"Today He who suspended the earth upon the waters is suspended upon a Tree. (3x) A crown of thorns is placed on the head of the King of angels. He who wore a false purple robe covered the Heavens with clouds. He is smitten who, in the Jordan, delivered Adam. The Bridegroom of the Church is fastened with nails, and the Son of the Virgin is pierced with a spear. Thy sufferings we adore, O Christ! (3x) Make us ready to behold Thy glorious Resurrection."
If we want to remember our Lord's saving Passion & Death, let us not forget His glorious Resurrection. We live in a "post-Paschal" world. To paraphrase one of the Orthodox Theologians: The greatest tragedy is to live as if He never came…
May our Lord grant that, through prayerful attention during these services, we may each come to love Him more."
In conclusion, those who were in attendance at the Holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Great Prince Volodymyr Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Chicago, IL, had an opportunity to once again participate in the prayers and the historical sequence of the events, as related in the Gospels and hymns, providing a vivid foundation for the great events yet to come.