As we get ready for Holy Week, our Lord extends the same invitation to us who wish to see His glory, who desire to be by His side at the Holy Resurrection. Are we willing to be by His side, and to carry His cross with us during Holy Week?
Holy Resurrection is not just a Sunday on which we show up, having given no thought to Christ on the days of Holy Week. St. John Chrysostom rightly noted: “God is grieved not so much by the sins that we have committed, than by our unwillingness to amend ourselves.” During Holy Week, everyone who wants to be a faithful disciple of our Lord Christ should do everything possible to renounce sinful desires and to place prayerful communion with God above all else. Here are some guidelines that will help you as you make the best of Holy Week!
1.) Follow the steps of Christ: Meditate on the events of the week one by one, from Palm Sunday, when Christ refused His worldly kingdom and the Jews gave up their hopes in Him until they crucified and buried Him. Ask yourself: Is Christ King and Lord over everything in my life? Do I, like Christ, turn down worldly glory for spiritual and eternal glory? When the church denounces Judas’ betrayal with a kiss on Wednesday of holy week ask yourself in prayer, “How often, O Lord, have I betrayed You?” “How many times have I told You words of love in prayers, while my actions show the opposite and my heart is far away from You?”
2.) Go to as many services as you can. All the Holy Week services are arranged in such a way that we do not miss any of them. Our Tewahdo churches offer a large number. The majority are open every day during Holy Week. Talk to the priest of your church and ask for times and days. And if you cannot attend every service, set aside time to read prayerfully during those days. It is through prayers, prostrations, and fasting that we return and unite ourselves with our Lord Christ. The services of Holy Week are not just memory exercises. It is important not just to “stand through” the services but recall and share in the fellowship of our Savior’s suffering, prayerfully and to be co-crucified with Christ, in His journey to Golgotha. The love which Jesus shows is real, it is now, and we are invited through worship to receive it.
3.) Intensify your fasting. Each person is called to fast as he or she is able. Some more, some less. During Holy Week, each of us should increase the intensity of the fast. Reflect on how you have followed the fast until now. During Holy Week, continue what you do, and then do a little more. Consider eating smaller meals each time. For some, it may be possible to eat only two small meals a day rather than three. St. Athanasius even declared that this period of Holy Week should be received with “longer prayers, fasts, and vigils prostrate (sigdet). ” And again, the blessed saint says, “Let us thus engage in the holy fasts, as having been prescribed by Him, and by means of which we find the way to God.” Holy Week is a time in which we should increase our hunger for our Lord. Physical hunger reminds us that we need what God offers, and fasting helps us to focus on the His enduring love. Fasting is hard, but remember the good gift which waits for us at the Divine Liturgy of the Holy Resurrection — the good gift of our Lord Christ Himself! Whoever puts the suffering of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ before Him will not take any pleasure in eating, drinking or pampering the body. But in order to succeed in pursuing asceticism, we must satisfy our souls with spiritual food so that we may thrive and overcome physical hunger.
4.) This is NOT A DIET. Do not treat it as such. Not feeding your soul with spiritual food every day, not attending church, watching television shows that pollute your mind and restrict you from gaining clarity, being around company that does not help you spiritually or causes you to gossip, attending places such as parties and clubs during the fasting period weaken your soul by feeding the fleshly desires. Simply abstaining from milk and meat does not constitute a spiritual fast, but a diet.
5.) Feast time! The Bible is food for your soul, the word of God literally has the power to fight evil in your mind because it is the power of God. "For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. " [Hebrews 4:12]. If you fill your life with it, you will notice the exit of pollution in your mind and the entrance of clarity and understanding in your life. Your spirit is hungry, feed it with the word of God.
6.) Create silence. How can you silence the distractions in your life during Holy Week? Will you disconnect from your cell phone, email, internet usage and social media? (If any of this is needed for work or school, designate a window of usage of no more than a few hours.) Will you avoid watching TV, or listening to the radio? Will lessons, sports, and social activities keep you from focusing your time fully on our Lord Christ? If so, cut them out. It’s only one week. The world will still be there after Fasika. When we create silence in this way, we give ourselves space and opportunity to be drawn by God and delve deeply into His words and actions during Holy Week. We remove some of the man-made barriers that separate us from “drinking from his cup” (Mark 10:38). And if we do not create the silence, then the noise of this world will easily overwhelm the “still small voice” through which the Holy Spirit speaks (1 Kings 19:12). To hear the voice of our Lord, we must quiet the relentless cascade of screed and distraction we otherwise allow the world to pump full force into our hearts and minds.
Be still. Set aside time each day to sit quietly in front of God. Light a candle, say a prayer, and then simply wait in silence for the Lord to speak a word, or to bestow a deeper sense of His presence. Being silent is a way of saying to God, “I am here. And I wait on no other than You. Visit me in my smallness.” Stillness during Holy Week is a good practice for the experience of Great and Holy Friday and Saturday.
7.) Turn on some Mezmur. In particular, listen to the Hymns of Holy Week and mezmur (check our YouTube channel for a playlist of Tsom Mezmurs) And learn something about each hymn you hear: Listen to the sadness of the voice, pay attention to the words, on what day do we sing this hymn? During which service? What is the place and purpose of this hymn? The hymns of Passion Week create holy echoes that help to connect our worship with the rest of daily life. The hymns of Passion Week are moving and full of spiritual depth. They also preserve thoughts from wandering and directs them in a spiritual direction. Hearing and singing hymns throughout your day, while driving, walking, studying or cleaning, the house is even better. Doing so, we allow the prayer of the Church to become the prayer of everyday life.
8.) Read the Holy Scriptures. Set aside time each day to read several chapters of the Gospel. Be sure to read the last chapters of the Holy Gospels from either Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John that speak of the Passion, Death, Burial, and Holy Resurrection of our Lord Christ. Read the Psalms and try to complete the entire 150 chapters the whole week. And remember that in the Gospels, we do not only find words about Christ, we find words from Christ Himself. Each verse of Holy Scripture is a word spoken directly to us by the raised and glorified Lord. Each word is a word, for now, each word is a new word that you have never received before. Enjoy the gift!
9.) DO NOT STOP THE FAST. If you mess up, do not fret. "When we die God will not ask us why did we sin, He will ask us why did we not repent" [Abune Shenouda]. God knows temptation can get to us. By our own willpower, we are weak. Depend on our Lord Christ to help you through this time. Tell Him you are struggling and He will strengthen you. Memorize a verse that you can repeat when you are in a time of temptation and keep going, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" [Philippians 4:13]. Breaking the fast does not only mean the dietary side but any aspect of the fast spiritually, that you felt you broke. Spiritually speaking, we fall all the time. What we must never fail to do, however, is failing to get up, to take up the struggle anew, and to begin to live again the Christian life.
10.) Think about Bright Week and Glorious 50! With Fasika comes the true light that enlightens the whole world and each person in it. As we unite ourselves with our Lord, the radiance of the Holy Resurrection changes everything. The week after is truly a Bright Week, the Holy Resurrection colors all with brilliance and beauty. Let this Holy Week be a launching pad into the rest of life. May we remember that every Sunday is a “little Fasika” and that each time we gather to celebrate the Divine Liturgy we proclaim our Lord and Savior Christ’s death and we confess His resurrection. And if every Sunday is a little Fasika, then every week is a little Holy Week. Each day of the year is a day on which we give thanks for the Holy Mysteries we last received, and look forward to being received by our Lord once again at the life-giving chalice. Holy Week and Fasika occur once a year, but they are the rule, not the exception. They are the models for every single week of the year. Our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ touches all of the time through the Cross, and all of the time collapses into the eternal now of His divine love.
May He guide us to live a life in the light of the Holy Resurrection!
Glory Be to God
And to His Virgin Mother
And to the Glorious Cross