April 13, 2023

Journey Through Holy Week: Holy and Great Thursday

"He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth." (Prophet Isaiah 53:7)

On Holy and Great Thursday, our Holy Fathers, who legislated everything correctly, handed down to us one after the other in succession, reaching back to the Apostles and the Evangelists, to celebrate four events: The Holy Basin (where Christ washed the feet of of His Disciples), the Secret Supper (the tradition of the Divine Liturgy), the prayer of Christ in Gethsemane, and His betrayal by Judas.

This evening the Matins of Holy Thursday is chanted.

On Holy Thursday in the morning, the Divine Liturgy of Basil the Great is celebrated, in memory of the tradition of the Divine Eucharist by Christ to His Church.

Every pious Christian has as an objective and anticipates to prepare to receive Holy Communion on this day.

Today, the icon of the Bridegroom is removed from the center of the sacred church and is replaced after a procession, during which the troparion "When the glorious disciples..." is chanted, with the icon of the Secret Supper.

Each troparion elevates us higher than the other in power and meaning. And this climb will continue until Pascha Sunday.

The Canon of the feast has all the odes and has an acrostic (that is, the initial letters of all the troparia form a phrase, which is called an acrostic): "On Great Thursday, I chant a long hymn."

We are in the heart of the Ecclesiastical Year, in the Holy of Holies of our faith. The Mystery of the Divine Eucharist is delivered by Christ to the Disciples, shortly before His arrest.

From today Christ's teachings cease, and He prepares as a great High Priest but also as a willing victim to offer Himself and be offered in a bloody sacrifice, which will redeem man and put an end to every other bloody sacrifice on earth.

The stories of the Evangelists are shocking, but dispassionate and simple.

Christ knows everything that will happen.

No one from His surrounding understands: the Jews and the crowd see Christ without seeing Him; they do not sense His divinity and meekness. The Disciples follow, astonished and frightened, each to a certain point, without even understanding the height and depth of the events.

The same thing happens with all of us, the modern "spectators" of Christ's sacrifice: each one has a different attitude, from the blind and the indifferent to the frightened disciples, and some may come to stand next to Him in the Passion and the Cross.

The Sorrow and Timidity of Christ Before the Passion

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

(From the book The Feasts of the Lord)

After the Secret Supper, Christ took His Disciples and they came to a village called Gethsemane. After leaving the eight Disciples there, He took Peter, James and John further, and there He prayed fervently to His Father.

From this incident, two phrases of Christ should be noted, which are related to the theology of His Passion and Cross.

One was chosen for these three Disciples, and the other is a comprehensive prayer, which he prayed to His Father before the horrible Passion.

Christ, before His Passion, "felt sorrowful and distressed." The three Disciples gained experience of the sorrow and agony of Christ. This sorrow and agony was expressed with a phrase: "My soul is sorrowful even unto death", and he even asked for their support (Matt. 26:37-38). This phrase must be combined with the words of Christ, who said again before His Passion: "Now my soul is troubled, and what do I say? Father, save me from this hour?" (John 15:27).

According to Saint John of Damascus, here is expressed a timidity of Christ before the Passion and death. However, in order to avoid any misunderstanding, it must be said that Saint John of Damascus makes a distinction between natural and unnatural timidity.

The soul's natural fear of death is due to the fact that there is a close relationship between the soul and the body, and thus death, by which the soul is separated from the body, is not a natural event. Therefore, it is natural, when the soul prepares to leave the body, to struggle, to be afraid.

The unnatural timidity comes from the betrayal of thoughts, unbelief and ignorance of the hour of death. Because Christ, with His incarnation, took on all the blameless passions, and indeed because He took on a mortal body liable to suffering, that is why He was naturally afraid.

In Christ, however, natural timidity was manifested and not unnatural timidity. Of course, we must also see this from the perspective that even these blameless passions in Christ did not act necessarily, but voluntarily, that is, He Himself acted on them. Athanasius the Great, interpreting "now my soul is troubled", says that "now" means that the divine will allowed human nature to fear death.

According to Saint Cyril of Alexandria, Christ's timidity before the Passion showed that He was a real man, that is, that He assumed a true nature from the Panagia, and even that death is not a natural state. Because, however, when each nature acted in Christ, it acted with the communion of the other, for this reason even as a man He was disturbed by the memory of death, but immediately as God He transformed timidity into boldness. That is why, as we will see, Christ, with the authoritative power He had, Himself called for death to come to Him.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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