Brief Explanation of Each Day of the Paschal Week
Pascha (pronounced ‘ba-skh-ah’) is a Coptic word that means pass over. Paschal Week is the celebration of pass over in the Church of the New Testament. The Israelites celebrated the pass over first as commanded by God through Moses, as they were getting ready to leave Egypt. They kept a lamb from the 10th to the 14th day of the month of Nissan of the Jewish calendar (The Jewish calendar is lunar calendar, however most of the time Nissan coincides with April). On the 14th the lamb was slaughtered and they used the blood to cover the two posts and the over hang of the doors of their homes so that when the angle of death came around, and saw the blood he passed away and every first born in this house from people to cattle was saved from death, this was in the last plague in which the first born males of all the Egyptians from Pharoah to the lowest of the low was killed by the angel of death as punishment for the enslavement of the people of Israel, Hebrews (‘ebraneyeen’, sons of light). The Israelites were commanded to eat the lamb of the pascha cooked on a fire and not boiled on bitter herbs they grilled it to remember slavery, for them the physical, for the New Testament Church spiritual slavery to Satan and to Sin. Eat every part of it, its legs and its head, and its intestines to remember the need for all the parts and that they are holy in the Lord, and again spiritually to remember that we are all parts of Him (Christ).
We are His bones and His flesh as the apostle wrote. His Church that He bought (redeemed) with His precious blood. After this, that was the tenth plague, pharaoh allowed them to leave Egypt. Also, after we partake of the Lamb of God we also are freed from the slavery of sin. They continue the celebration to this day as a remembrance of freedom from enslavement. However, the more important symbol of the paschal celebration escapes our Jewish brothers, that is the celebration of salvation from the enslavement of Satan through the precious blood of Christ our Savior.
Christians celebrated the Paschal week since the early days of the Church, since our Lord Jesus Christ celebrated Passover with his disciples, and they in turn celebrated the same with their disciples and so on. Although the celebration and meaning are the same, our blessed Coptic Orthodox Church exceeds all the others in our elaborate celebration. I recommend the Book of Pascha by the Virgin Mary Coptic Orthodox Church, Pasadena, California. It is the most complete compilation of Paschal prayers in English, Coptic, and Arabic. To Appreciate the Paschal Week, we need to understand the meaning of the arrangement, which the Church guided by the Holy Spirit, made. It is a full week celebration Sunday through Sunday, in which we enact the passion (suffering) of Our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ endured for our Salvation. We complete the Paschal Week with the celebration of His Resurrection, victory over death, by death he defeated death, and those who were in the tombs, received the promise of eternal life. Each day of Paschal celebration has two groups of prayers: The Morning Prayers and the Evening Prayers.
One has to recognize the two days before the Paschal Week as part of the process that stats on the first day of lent and is followed with the paschal week.
The End of Lent Friday:
This is absolutely the end of lent, in which the Church celebrates a special celebration, we reached the end of lent and are approaching the Paschal Week. The celebration is an afternoon liturgy which ends lent and is conducted in the lent tone and using the Katamaros of Lent (The Book of the Great Fast).
The day following the end of lent is Lazarus Saturday. The Church celebrates the miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead after he was buried for 4 days. It is a great miracle and is a strong evidence that Christ is the only begotten son of God. He gave us life, He can take it, and He can bring it back to life. Lazarus lived a long life after he was raised from the dead and was one of the 70 Apostles. In the morning, we celebrate a liturgy. Following Church Calendar, the day starts in the evening. So, that evening is the beginning of Palm Sunday. The evening prayer is in ‘shaaneen’ tone and usually people receive palm tree branches that evening to bring back in to the church in the morning. I remember my grandfather and my father after him weaving the palm tree branches in beautiful shapes that looked like hearts and crosses are interweaved in them. The symbolism is receiving the kings with branches of olive trees and palm trees as the Jewish nation did when it received Christ as their King who entered Jerusalem. The inner leaves of the branch are white and soft, a symbol of cleanliness and child faith. The outer branches get darker and darker, harder and harder, a symbol of what happens when we get farther away from the source of our salvation.
The day on which Jesus entered Jerusalem on an ass and a colt (baby ass), on the way the multitude spread their garments on the road that He took from beit ania to Jerusalem, and carried branches of olive trees and palm trees hailing him saying “Houssana..” meaning: “Save Us” They were saying what is to be fulfilled through the suffering, crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Christ the Savior. “Save Us, O’ King of Israel. Blessed Is He Who Comes, In the Name of The Lord.” “Ossana khen-ei etshosy, epouro ente en-be-israel. Je- vis maraoot enge-eni ethnio, khen-evran en-bi eb-choice ente ni-goam”, He kicked the merchants out of the temple, telling them “This is a house of prayer and you turned it into a den of thief’s” He also prophesied about Jerusalem and the Jewish nation saying: “Your House will be desolate until you say Blessed Is He Who Came In the Name of the Lord.” The tone of prayer is “Shaaneen” during Palm Sunday. We also read 12 Gospels as we go around the Sanctuary 4 on each side of the Sanctuary: East: 1) Main Altar, 2) St. Mary’s Icon, 3) Arch-angel Gabriel Icon,
North: 4) Arch-angel Michael Icon, 5) St. Mark’s Icon, 6) Apostles’ Icon, 7) the Door to the North West: 8) St. George’s Icon, 9) St. Anthony’s Icon, 10) At The Door to The Wes, South: 11) At the Door to the South, 12) St. John the Baptist’s Icon.
The selection here is worth noting and contemplating:
1. The main altar symbolic of the body and blood of our Lord,
2. St. Mary, the mother of God in truth, is the highest regarded of all creation,
3. Arch-Angel Gabriel is the messenger, who always brings the good news to our race,
4. Arch-Angel Michael is the head of all the heavenly host,
5. St. Mark the Apostle, Evangelist, Martyr, beholder of the divine, and the one who brought the message of the Gospel to our Land,
6. The Apostles, here, are symbolized by an Icon of Peter and Paul, whereas Peter is the
Apostle of the circumcised (Jewish Nation) and Paul the Apostle of the Gentiles, the one who worked more than all of the Apostles to bring the message of salvation to the gentiles (you and me and everyone who was not born a Jew,
7. The stops at the doors of the Church are to fulfill the prayer that the church might prosper and spread the Good News of Jesus Christ to the four corners of the world,
8. St. George in the Coptic Orthodox Church is considered the prince of all martyrs because of his suffering and strength and he was only but a young man who endured suffering at age 18 and endured for seven years to become a martyr at age 25.
9. St. Anthony is the father of all monks, and is being honored here on behalf of all celibates males and females who departed the world because of their love for Christ our King,
10. St. John the Baptist is the greatest man who lived according to Christ, the b aptist and forerunner who prepared the way of the Lord. This is followed with the Sunday Liturgy and all singing is in the “shaaneen” tone. It is the tone of urging and anticipation for the plan of salvation. The hymnal “Evlogimenous” meaning “blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, .. Houssanna (Save Us), .. etc.” Celebrating Christ the King Coming to Save Us, Entering Jerusalem as the King on the Hearts of His people, not on a fancy throne, but on the back of a lowly donkey.. Evlogimenous is song after the epreksees. During the morning prayers, the palm tree branches the people bring with them are blessed, and after the liturgy, the Church is prepared for a week of solemn prayers by changing the drapes from the normal color to the black color, sign of mourning. We mourn our sins, which caused the only begotten son (‘Omonogeneese’) to suffer and die.
The blessing of Palm Branches is in the morning, the sprinkling of water after the Liturgy is for the blessing of the congregation. As we read the 12 Gospels, it is good if the Icons in the Church are arranged according to the arrangement in the readings, they then do a general funeral service prayer for all those who will depart during the Paschal Week. Because there will be no funeral service if any one departs during Paschal Week. So, if anyone departs during the Paschal Week, they bring the body to the Church and the people celebrate the paschal service only. And following the funeral service, is the first Pascha (Morning or Days Pascha for Sunday). The people go home and come back in the evening for the evening Pascha.
Another observation, the Church prayer day is from evening to evening. For that reason the second paschal service is the evening of Monday (the following day), etc.
Evening and Morning Pascha as explained above, Christ spent this whole day in Jerusalem and in the evening He returned to Bethany “Beet Annia” the village of Lazarus and his sisters, where He told the disciples that he will suffer and will be crucified and die and on the third day, He will rise again! On this day He also cursed the fig tree because it was full of leaves but had no fruits, symbolic of the Jewish nation.
He returned to Jerusalem, His disciples were surprised to see the fig tree has weathered away completely. He told them about the parable of the prodigal son, the bad husbandmen(vineyards’ men), and he told about the destruction of Jerusalem, and the end of the world and His second coming.
He spent the whole day in “Beet Annia” determined not to go back to Jerusalem, He strengthened their faith, and told them again about his suffering, and rested this day in “Beet Annia” Outside Jerusalem, as the lamb of sacrifice was kept (rested) from the 10th to the 14th of Nissan, outside the city, before the sacrifice. The Lamb was kept outside the city. Christ stayed outside Jerusalem, because He is the Lamb of God, who carried the sins of the whole world.
Paschal Thursday (Thursday of the Covenant)
1. He ordered two of the disciples to prepare for the pass over, which took place in the house of the parents of St. Mark.
2. He washed their feet (which we celebrate also on the Thursday of Pascha),
3. He instituted the Holy Eucharist Mystery, and was betrayed by Judas.
4. He was captured, in the garden of Gassemmani, and his disciples ran away.
5. He was tried, condemned, and beaten in the house of the head priest. On Thursday between the morning Pascha and evening Pascha is a special Liturgy for the institution of Eucharist, in which the prayer of consolation and congregation of saints are omitted, because consolation is not completed yet (Resurrection) and we celebrate only Christ during Paschal Week. There is also a song by the deacons going backward saying: “Judas, Judas, betrayer and hypocrite, you sold your master for 30 pieces of silver ...” Reminder that we also, can go the way of Judas, sin against the Holy Spirit, which has no forgiveness. They come back in the evening for evening Pascha, the Evening of Great Friday. Starting with great Friday, the Gospel reading is from all four Gospels in order: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. After this service, they prepare the Church for Great Friday, by moving the pews forward and preparing the table of the Crucifix.
Great Friday of the Holy Pascha
The service started the night before. The Great Friday Service is six hours, but each hour has four gospel reading, and intercession, and closing of prayer as well as hymns for the different hours:
First Hour (Commemorating the Trial):
6 readings from the prophets, “Thok-ta-ti-gom”, 2 Psalms, 4 Gospels, contemplation, intercession, closing.
Third Hour (Commemorates the beating, mocking, and crown of thorns):
5 readings from the preheats, “Thok-ta-ti-gom”, 2 Psalms, 4 Gospels, Contemplation, Intercession, Closing.
Sixth Hour (Commemorates His Crucifixion):
4 readings from the prophets, , “Thok-ta-ti-gom”, the candles are lit, priests raise incense, Tai-Shori (Great Hymnal Tone), “Vay Itaav Inv” (Meaning He Who Raised Himself as A Sacrifice), Ten-Oosht, Pauline Epistle, The Pieces of the Sixth Hour (Long Hymnal Tone), “Omonogeneese” (Meaning the Only Begotten Son, ...), “Agios” (Holy God, ..), 2 Psalms, 4 Gospels, The Thief’s Profession, Contemplation, Intercession, Closing. During the reading of the Gospel when the words “It was darkness on earth...” they turn the lights off.
Ninth Hour (Commemorates His Death):
They turn the light on. 2 readings from the prophets, “Thok-ta-ti-gom”, tee-shori (not taishori), “Vay Itaav Inv” hymnal, “ten-osht- imook..”, Pauline Epistle, The pieces of the Ninth Hour, “Agios”, Psalm, 4 Gospels, (Good Time for Sermon), Contemplation, Intercession, Closing.
Eleventh Hour (Commemorates His Coming down from the Cross):
One reading from the prophets, “Thok-ta-ti- gom”, 2 Psalm readings, 4 Gospels, Contemplation, Intercession, Closing.
Twelfth Hour (His Burial):
The priest opens the curtains of the main altar, puts new covers appropriate for celebrating the burial on the altar, he starts the services of preparing the burial, as the people do the readings in a hurried way, as they were hurrying to bury the Lord Jesus Christ because it was the eve of the Sabbath. One reading from the prophets, “Thok-ta-ti-gom”, 2 Psalm readings, 4 Gospels, Contemplation, Intercession, then they chant “Kerye- laisson” 450 times, One hundred to the North, One Hundred to the South, One Hundred to the West, One Hundred to the East. Then another 50 to the East, then they Chant “Golgotha” according to the known Aramaic tone. The icon of burial covered with a special mix of spices that is based on the Jewish burial spices formula used by Necodimus and Joseph Aramiath to burry Jesus, then petals of red roses are sprinkled richly on top of the spices. This is wrapped in cloth resembling burial cloths is placed on the altar, and two lit candles (or electric lights shaped as candles) are placed one at each end of the wrapped icon re- inacting His burial and the two angels that guarded Him, one at His head and one at His feet. One of the customs of this most solemn occasion is to get a taste of Vinegar and Mirrah mixed in little water. Usually one or more small bottles passed around for a little sip. People leave the church without the ordinary kiss of agape, because this was the time of betrayal when the Only Begotten of the Father was betrayed and suffered alone for the sins of all people.
Saturday of Light
The people return back to Church at Midnight on Great Friday to start the Saturday of Light celebration, the passage from death to life celebration is partly in the mourning tone, and partly in the festive tone, as follows:
1. First Hoss (Moses Hymnal celebrating the Israelites crossing of the Red Sea, crossing from death through slavery in Egypt to Life in the promised land)
2. The Prayer of Anna the mother of Samuel, who was given a son Samuel who revived her barren (dead) womb.
3. The Prayer of the prophet Habakkuk.
4. The Prayer of the Prophet Jonah from the Whales Belly (Death to Life).
5. The Prayer of King Hezekiah, who was given 15 years more to live through prayer, humility and the intercession of the prophet Isiah.
6. The Praises of the three young men from the pit of fire (they were seen in the pit of fire with one who looks like the Son of God (Christ) who transported the m from death of fire to life.
7. Also the praise of Isiah (3), Armeiah, Baroukh, Elijah, David, Solomon, Daniel (2), Azariah)
8. Third Hoss praising God
9. The praises of the three young men (Sedrak, Missak, and Abdnaghou)
10. The story of sossana the daughter of Halkia, she was condemned to death by false accusation and was saved through the wisdom of the prophet Daniel, whom the Lord called on the tongue of the Arch-angel Gabriel “The Righteous Man”. Sossana was transported from death to life.
11. Praises of St. Mary (Theotokos), Zakariah the Priest, Simeon the Elder.
12. Raising of Incense, Saturday of Light Epsalia and Theotokia
13. Saturday Pascha: Third and Sixth Hours (Prophecy, Sermon, Pauline Epistle, Psalm, Gospel reading)
14. The reading of Revelation: (epo- ghalamsseesse). The reading is of the entire book of revelation with stops at key points and singing of certain phrases.
15. Saturday Pascha: Ninth Hour (Prophecy, Sermon, Pauline Epistle, Psalm, Gospel reading)
16. The Liturgy of the Saturday of Light, short without reconciliation prayer, but with the congregation of saints and prayer for the departed in which congregations are encouraged to remember relatives and friends who are departed in anticipation of Resurrection (life).
17. Closing of the service after communion is by reading Psalm and Gospel from Luke and singing: “Ely Ely why you left me ... “Elahy Elahy Lemaza Taraktany ...” “ using a distinct Aramaic Tone of anticipation.
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