On Holy and Great Thursday evening (April 25, 2019), His Eminence Archbishop Daniel led the service of the Passions of our Lord - the Reading of the 12 Gospels at St. Volodymyr Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Chicago, IL. Serving with the bishop was the pastor of the cathedral parish family – Very Rev. Ivan Lymar, assisted by the seminarians of St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary Subdeacons Ihor Protsak, Yurii Bobko, Mykola Zomchak and Ivan Venhryn. The cathedral choir, under the leadership of Maestro Volodymyr Popowych led the chanting of prayerful hymns and odes.
The evening entered those in attendance into the celebration of the holy, saving and awesome Passion of Christ. To take away our sins, Christ willingly endured the spitting, scourging, buffetings, scorn, mocking and the purple robe; the reed, sponge, vinegar, nails, spear and, above all, the Cross and Death. The confession from the cross of the penitent thief, crucified with Christ, is celebrated. This service is usually long, but its content is dramatic and deeply moving for the devout Christian.
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.