I live between two churches: one on my street and the other three blocks away. Their bells are always beautiful, and today they hold extra special meaning. The biggest difference for me this Holy Week has been the constant presence of God.
A well-known Orthodox prayer contains this phrase: “everywhere present filling all things,” and Greece takes this to heart. With a church on every corner and the ringing of bells inescapable, God has never been closer to my thoughts during Holy Week.
Working. Sleeping. Waking. Walking. Shopping. Always bells, always the echoes of a service happening nearby.
Friday afternoon, Jesus dies. We remove his body from the cross and prepare it for burial in the tomb. Friday night we sing the soul-wrenching lamentations as Mary weeps for her only son. We join her, mourning with a sadness that is real and contemporary and as fresh as the day it happened. This is my favorite service. If we do not let ourselves honor Christ in his human death, how can we cherish and fully celebrate his eternal life?
In Orthodoxy, this is all present tense. The Pascha season gives us an annual opportunity to relive and remember why (and what) we believe. It is such a gift.
Today, bells toll all afternoon in neighborhoods across Athens and around the world as a somber reminder of the gravity – and the greatness – of today’s events.
All day I have thought of God. It has been the biggest blessing! Even at our lowest, darkest points, God is everywhere present filling all things.
Friday’s bells take on a much different meaning than the bells we ring Saturday. What the resurrection brings in joy, Christ’s death brings in sadness. Yet, it’s easy for many to gloss over Friday because we lament Christ’s passing with hope in the resurrection. But, let us step back for a moment. Let us be present in this great loss. As Christians, I believe we’re called to feel each emotion of Holy Week with intention and purpose. The preparation, the promise, the pain. To be thoughtful of God only in joy is living a half life, for he is with us always. He is everywhere present filling all things.
Kali Anastasi, my wonderful friends, as we mourn and rejoice together this weekend.
- Platytera (plot-tee-TERRA) icon. In an Orthodox Church, the wall behind the alter usually contains an icon of the Virgin Mary, who is also known as Panagia or the Theotokos. This icon is a platytéra, which means wider or more spacious in Greek. It’s called this because by containing Christ in her womb (who is the creator of the Universe), Panagia becomes platytera ton ouranon, “more spacious than the Heavens.” By giving birth to Christ, she joins heaven and earth. In Orthodox Doctrine, we believe in the Holy Trinity, which sees God as being one god existing in three coequal, coeternal, consubstantial divine beings: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, three distinct persons sharing one essence. The three persons define who God is, while the one essence defines what God is.
- Christ Suspended on the Cross. “Today He who hung the earth upon the waters is hung upon the Cross.” Holy Friday is the culmination of the observance of Christ’s suffering and death for our sins. This commemoration starts on Thursday evening and ends with a Vespers on Friday afternoon that observes the un-nailing of Christ from the Cross and the placement of his body in the tomb.
- The Kouvouklion & Epitaphos. On Holy Friday, after the lamentations are sung, Orthodox faithful will process outside the church as they continue to sing dirges. They follow the kouvouklion – which represents Christ’s tomb and is the wooden structure (usually decorated with flowers) – which holds the epitaphos, an ornately embroidered cloth icon depicting the body of Christ. This represents Christ’s funeral procession. For me, it is an emotion experience as they lay the body of Christ in the tomb and carry it for burial. What a sacrifice!