Xristos voskresse! Christ is risen!
However, the road leading to this joyful explosion is long and the Holy Week celebrations, rich in prayers, gestures, and hymns, launch us in a deep reflection on the human condition and our need to be saved.
Let us prepare to meet Christ. We need to break away from the clamoring of a society where, too often, speaking has become useless and sterile gossip.
In the Byzantine tradition, the celebration of Easter involves a serious commitment. It is not only a question of taking part in rites, but rather the living of a long preparation to meet someone. This involves taking time since we must create the conditions needed to relate to God.
In fact, Pope Benedict XVI explains very well how God constitutes a real person and thus the demand for a relationship:
“In recognizing God, the creator of Meaning, as a person, the Christian faith proclaims Him as knowledge, word and love… the person in the absolute singular does not exist. This is already clear from the words that gave birth to the concept of the person: the Greek word prosopon means literally “a look toward”; the prefix pros (=turned toward) implies a relationship as a formative element. The same is true for the Latin word persona: to resound through; once again the prefix per (=through… toward) expresses this relationship, but this time it is a relationship of word…”
(J. Ratzinger, “Christian faith of the Past and Today”, p. 113, Les Éditions du Cerf, Paris, 2005)
The strong moments of the liturgical year have as a goal a return to the source of our identity, to make us become persons once again, that is to say capable of relationships.
This helps us understand how long liturgical celebrations in the Orthodox tradition and notably those of Holy Week are a road that teaches how to reestablish our relationship with God.
This road begins on Holy Monday with the parable of the ten virgins.
One must stay awake and vigilant since the Spouse is coming.
Staying awake and vigilance are mainly a way of coming out of oneself so as to make the other one present.
This theme of staying awake lasts until Holy Wednesday, when the contemplation on the Bethany anointing (Mt. 26:6-13) reveals the attitude that lets us enter into a relationship with God: a sentiment of deep communion and love that opens our heart to giving: “It is truly a “good work” that she has done for me.”
Starting from this attitude of gratitude and thanksgiving, we are invited on Holy Thursday to follow Christ and contemplate the various moments of His Passion through which our salvation takes place.
In the evening of that same day twelve gospels are read to us; these help us to stop and look at the sufferings of Christ. Good Friday is the day of the cross.
One must lift up one’s eyes and meet those of Christ who dies for each of us. It is there, on Calvary, that man’s destiny takes place. It is only when our eyes meet those of Christ who gives Himself up to death for us that we truly become “persons.”
Holy Saturday is a day of expectancy. A most beautiful prayer expressing in all of its power the oriental idea of salvation is recited. It is the prayer of the Lamentations of Hell:
“On this day, hell laments and cries out: “It would have been better for me not to receive the child of Mary, since when He penetrated into my domain, He put an end to my power; He broke down the doors of bronze and those that I was holding since long ago; being God He had them rise up.
Glory be, Lord, to your cross and resurrection!
On this day, hell laments itself and cries out: My power is destroyed. I received a dead man like all the other dead ones, but I am in no way able to keep Him and I am going to be despoiled by Him of the souls of which I was king. I, who from the beginning of ages, owned the dead, look how He awakens all of them… “
Death can no longer break our relationship with God. On the contrary, in the depth of the hell of our heart, there is a look of love and mercy that frees us of all despair when faced with our sins and servitudes. It suffices that we cross Him to become once again persons, liberated persons,
“The celebration of Easter starts with these words oftentimes sung:
To the dead He has given life. He is risen from the tomb as He had said. He has given us eternal life and His great mercy.”