The daily liturgical services of Holy Week (the six-day period preceding Easter called Pascha in the Byzantine tradition) offer us the opportunity to immerse ourselves in the drama of Christ’s crucifixion and death so that we may experience more fully the great joy of His Resurrection.
Holy Thursday: The Vesperal Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great commemorates the meal at which Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist. During a second service, The Matins of the Passion, the 12 Gospels are read describing the final events in His life.
Holy Friday: This day’s services recall our Lord’s Crucifixion and Burial. Royal Hours may be served in the morning. Later, Vespers of Entombment is served, concluding with elders carrying the Burial Shroud in procession. The Shroud is placed in a “tomb” for veneration by the faithful. In the evening (or the next morning), Jerusalem Matins is served at which the Dirges (mournful hymns) are sung.
Holy Saturday: This day Jesus rests in the tomb. At the Vesperal Divine Liturgy of St. Basil, the Resurrection is first announced in the Gospel reading.
The Resurrection: Services begin in the dark, at midnight or at dawn outside the church doors. The Shroud is taken from the Tomb and placed on the Altar. Then a light is passed from the Altar to people holding candles, and clergy lead a procession around the church. At the main doors, the priest, for the first time, proclaims: "Christ is Risen!" The people respond: "Truly He is Risen!" The priest knocks thrice on the doors, enters the church and everyone follow for Resurrection Matins and Divine Liturgy.
And, some may ask, “What about the blessing of baskets with food? This may take place on Holy Saturday; but traditionally, food is blessed after the Divine Liturgy. Blessing food is a beautiful cultural practice, but let’s not forget to focus on Jesus, the Paschal Lamb, not the “Paschal ham.”