For the third year now, we have served the Holy Week services at Nativity of the Holy Theotokos Greek Orthodox Church in Greenville, North Carolina, and its sister mission, the mission of St. Mark the Evangelist in Raleigh. I wanted to share with those of you who were not able to make it this year a little about how we schedule this busy time and how we make it possible to have services in both Raleigh and Greenville.
Holy Week begins with Lazarus Saturday, when we commemorate Jesus’ raising of his friend, which prefigures His own resurrection. We served this liturgy in Raleigh, and the peace of this day was only interrupted by the tornados which blew through the area on April 16. On Sunday, we drove to Greenville and celebrated Palm Sunday. The weather was perfect, and we enjoyed handing out the beautiful palms that one of our parishioners lovingly made for the spiritual benefit of all.
Sunday evening we were back in Raleigh, and began the cycle of the evening Bridegroom Matins (Orthros) services. This beautiful service reminds the faithful to watch out, for we know not when the Bridegroom (Christ) will return and ask for us to give an account. Holy Thursday morning, we commemorated the Mystical Supper (the Last Supper) with a liturgy in Raleigh. We took a break from wearing the dark vestments for this liturgy, wherein we wore red. At four o’clock, our chanter John and I left for Greenville, where we arrived to set up for the service of the Twelve Passion Gospels. We were blessed to have, besides the normal parishioners, repeat visitors to this moving service, and also a new friend who was visiting family in Rocky Mount. Finishing around 9 o’clock, we returned to Raleigh, where I then went and picked up three people who came in to town so they could attend Holy Friday through Pascha with us. The dedication of some of our flock amazes me!
On Holy Friday, we celebrated the Royal Hours immediately followed by the Vespers with the Taking Down from the Cross in Raleigh. This service is profound, and one parishioner remarked that, “it was like you are actually there with Christ!” Spiritually, we know we are, but it was almost tangible to all of us in a physical way. This is one reason that I so love the Holy Week services in the Orthodox Church. Again at four o’clock, we went out to Greenville and prepared the Kouvouklion (tomb) and Epitaphios for the Matins service, which is conducted with bright vestments. We sang the Lamentations in front of the tomb, and then carried the Kouvouklion in procession around the Church at the end of Matins.
On Holy Saturday morning, we were joined by some friends from Charlotte, whom we received from a New Calendar jurisdiction and who are prayerfully contemplating the establishment of a sister mission in Charlotte, North Carolina. The Vesperal Divine Liturgy of St. Basil, often called the “First Resurrection,” with its fifteen readings from the Old Testament and the magnificent chanting of “Arise, O God! Judge the Earth!” made an impression on all. We had a festive meal, and then did shopping and preparations for Pascha, followed by rest, and then the hour and a half trek to Greenville. We were joined there by our regular parishioners, and also were blessed by the presence of several people who had not previously attended liturgy with us before. All in all, our attendance this year was double that of last year, and we thank God for blessing us with growth!
The Paschal liturgy ended after about two and a half hours, and we enjoyed a feast afterward. Finishing around 2:30 am, we set off to our homes. Some live in Greenville, while others live 30 to 60 miles away, or in my case, 90 miles away, but we all safely arrived at our locations, and put in for the night.
We are so blessed and thankful that Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has blessed our missions to once again join together to experience the saving events of Holy Week together. As our Church family grows, we pray that those who have not yet come to worship with us in the community will be moved to come and “check us out” and share in our joy, which has its origin in the joy of Christ’s resurrection.