April 10 (old calendar) / April 23 (new)
Great and Holy Tuesday
Martyrs Terence, Pompeius, Africanus, Maximus, Zeno, Alexander, Theodore, Macarius, and 33 others, beheaded at Carthage (3rd c.). Martyrs James (Jacob) the Presbyter, and Azadanes and Abdicius—Deacons, of Persia (ca. 380).
Parable of the ten virgins
These three days, which the Church calls Great and Holy have within the liturgical development of the Holy Week a very definite purpose. They place all its celebrations in the perspective of End ; they remind us of the eschatological meaning of Pascha. So often Holy Week is considered one of the “beautiful traditions” or “customs,” a self-evident “part” of our calendar. We take it for granted and enjoy it as a cherished annual event which we have “observed” since childhood, we admire the beauty of its services, the pageantry of its rites and, last but not least, we like the fuss about the paschal table. And then, when all this is done we resume our normal life. But do we understand that when the world rejected its Savior, when “Jesus began to be sorrowful and very heavy… and his soul was exceedingly sorrowful even unto death,” when He died on the Cross, “normal life” came to its end and is no longer possible. For there were “normal” men who shouted “Crucify Him” who spat at Him and nailed Him to the Cross. And they hated and killed Him precisely because He was troubling their normal life. It was indeed a perfectly “normal” world which preferred darkness and death to light and life…. By the death of Jesus the “normal” world, and “normal” life were irrevocably condemned. Or rather they revealed their true and abnormal inability to receive the Light, the terrible power of evil in them. “Now is the Judgment of this world” (John 12:31). The Pascha of Jesus signified its end to “this world” and it has been at its end since then. This end can last for hundreds of centuries this does not alter the nature of time in which we live as the “last time.” “The fashion of this world passeth away…” (I Cor. 7:31).
Pascha means passover, passage. The feast of Passover was for the Jews the annual commemoration of their whole history as salvation, and of salvation as passage from the slavery of Egypt into freedom, from exile into the promised land. It was also the anticipation of the ultimate passage—into the Kingdom of God. And Christ was the fulfillment of Pascha. He performed the ultimate passage: from death into life, from this “old world” into the new world into the new time of the Kingdom. And he opened the possibility of this passage to us. Living in “this world” we can already be “not of this world,” i.e. be free from slavery to death and sin, partakers of the “world to come.” But for this we must also perform our own passage, we must condemn the old Adam in us, we must put on Christ in the baptismal death and have our true life hidden in God with Christ, in the “world to come….”
And thus Easter is not an annual commemoration, solemn and beautiful, of a past event. It is this Event itself shown, given to us, as always efficient, always revealing our world, our time, our life as being at their end, and announcing the Beginning of the new life…. And the function of the three first days of Holy Week is precisely to challenge us with this ultimate meaning of Pascha and to prepare us to the understanding and acceptance of it.
1. This eschatological (which means ultimate, decisive, final) challenge is revealed, first, in the common troparion of these days:
Behold the Bridegroom comes at midnight,
And blessed is the servant whom He shall find watching,
And again unworthy is the servant whom He shall find heedless.
Beware, therefore, O my soul, do not be weighed down with sleep,
Lest you be given up to death and lest you be shut out of the Kingdom.
But rouse yourself crying: Holy, Holy, Holy, are You, O our God!
Through the Theotokos have mercy on us!
Midnight is the moment when the old day comes to its end and a new day begins. It is thus the symbol of the time in which we live as Christians. For, on the one hand, the Church is still in this world, sharing in its weaknesses and tragedies. Yet, on the other hand, her true being is not of this world, for she is the Bride of Christ and her mission is to announce and to reveal the coming of the Kingdom and of the new day. Her life is a perpetual watching and expectation, a vigil pointed at the dawn of this new day. But we know how strong is still our attachment to the “old day,” to the world with its passions and sins. We know how deeply we still belong to “this world.” We have seen the light, we know Christ, we have heard about the peace and joy of the new life in Him, and yet the world holds us in its slavery. This weakness, this constant betrayal of Christ, this incapacity to give the totality of our love to the only true object of love are wonderfully expressed in the exapostilarion of these three days:
“Thy Bridal Chamber I see adorned, O my Savior
And I have no wedding garment that I may enter,
O Giver of life, enlighten the vesture of my soul
And save me.”
2. The same theme develops further in the Gospel readings of these days. First of all, the entire text of the four Gospels (up to John 13: 31) is read at the Hours. This recapitulation shows that the Cross is the climax of the whole life and ministry of Jesus, the Key to their proper understanding. Everything in the Gospel leads to this ultimate hour of Jesus and everything is to be understood in its light. Then, each service has its special Gospel lesson
At Matins: Matthew 22: 15-23, 39. Condemnation of Pharisees, i.e. of the blind and hypocritical religion, of those who think they are the leaders of man and the light of the world, but who in fact “shut up the Kingdom of heaven to men.”
At the Presanctified Liturgy: Matthew 24: 36-26, 2. The End again and the parables of the End: the ten wise virgins who had enough oil in their lamps and the ten foolish ones who were not admitted to the bridal banquet; the parable of ten talents “. . . Therefore be ye also ready, for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of Man cometh.” And, finally the Last Judgment.
3. These Gospel lessons are explained and elaborated in the hymnology of these days: the stichiras and the triodia (short canons of three odes each sung at Matins). One warning, one exhortation runs through all of them: the end and the judgment are approaching, let us prepare for them:
“Behold, O my soul, the Master has conferred on thee a talent
Receive the gift with fear;
Lend to him who gave; distribute to the poor
And acquire for thyself thy Lord as thy Friend;
That when He shall come in glory,
Thou mayest stand on His right hand
And hear His blessed voice:
Enter, my servant, into the joy of thy Lord.”
4. Throughout the whole Lent the two books of the Old Testament read at Vespers were Genesis and Proverbs. With the beginning of Holy Week they are replaced by Exodus and Job. Exodus is the story of Israel’s liberation from Egyptian slavery, of their Passover. It prepares us for the understanding of Christ’s exodus to His Father, of His fulfillment of the whole history of salvation. Job, the Sufferer, is the Old Testament icon of Christ. This reading announces the great mystery of Christ’s sufferings, obedience and sacrifice.
5. The liturgical structure of these three days is still of the Lenten type. It includes, therefore, the prayer of Saint Ephrem the Syrian with prostrations, the augmented reading of the Psalter, the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts and the Lenten liturgical chant. We are still in the time of repentance for repentance alone makes us partakers of the Pascha of Our Lord, opens to us the doors of the Paschal banquet. And then, on Great and Holy Wednesday, as the last Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is about to be completed, after the Holy Gifts have been removed from the altar, the priest reads for the last time the Prayer of Saint Ephrem. At this moment, the preparation comes to an end. The Lord summons us now to His Last Supper.
by THE VERY REV. ALEXANDER SCHMEMANN
Troparion of the day, tone 8
Behold the Bridegroom comes at midnight, / And blessed is the servant whom He shall find watching, / And again unworthy is the servant whom He shall find heedless. / Beware, therefore, O my soul, do not be weighed down with sleep, / Lest you be given up to death and lest you be shut out of the Kingdom. / But rouse yourself crying: Holy, Holy, Holy, are You, O our God! / Through the Theotokos have mercy on us!
Kontakion of the day, tone 2
You know that this is the last hour, O wretched soul, / And fear the cutting of the fig tree. / Work diligently therefore at the talent given to you / Keep watch and pray: / Let us not remain outside the bridal chamber of Christ.
Matthew 24:36-26:2 (Gospel, Presanctified)
- But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.
- But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.
- For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark,
- and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.
- Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left.
- Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left.
- Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming.
- But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into.
- Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
- Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season?
- Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing.
- Assuredly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all his goods.
- But if that evil servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’
- and begins to beat his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunkards,
- the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him and at an hour that he is not aware of,
- and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
- Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.
- Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish.
- Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them,
- but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.
- But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept.
- And at midnight a cry was heard: ‘Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!’
- Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps.
- And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’
- But the wise answered, saying, ‘No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.’
- And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut.
- Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us!’
- But he answered and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.’
- Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.
- For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them.
- And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey.
- Then he who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents.
- And likewise he who had received two gained two more also.
- But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord’s money.
- After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them.
- So he who had received five talents came and brought five other talents, saying, ‘Lord, you delivered to me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents besides them.’
- His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’
- He also who had received two talents came and said, ‘Lord, you delivered to me two talents; look, I have gained two more talents besides them.’
- His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’
- Then he who had received the one talent came and said, ‘Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed.
- And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours.’
- But his lord answered and said to him, ‘You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed.
- So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest.
- Therefore take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents.
- For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away.
- And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
- When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory.
- All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats.
- And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left.
- Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
- for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in;
- I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’
- Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink?
- When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You?
- Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’
- And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’
- Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels:
- for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink;
- I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’
- Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’
- Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’
- And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
- Now it came to pass, when Jesus had finished all these sayings, that He said to His disciples,
- “You know that after two days is the Passover, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.”