In Orthodox Church practice, Holy Week is a unique unit of time making liturgically present to the faithful the experience of our Savior immediately leading to His crucifixion and resurrection from the dead. This is "the day of the Lord" prophesied for centuries now unfolding before our eyes (see Zeph. 1:7, 14; 3:8), the culmination of the work of God’s Anointed One (Gk., Christos; Heb., Messiah; see Acts 2:22-33). Therefore, Holy Week is not merely a part of, or the end of, the season of Lent; rather, Holy Week is its own profound mystery to be observed, assimilated, and lived.
Holy Week consists of the following days and themes:
- Day 1 (Saturday): Raising of Lazarus who was four days dead (John 11:1-45);
- Day 2 (Sunday): Entry of Christ into Jerusalem/cleansing of Temple (John 12:1-18);
- Day 3 (Monday): Christ curses the fig tree/teaching in the Temple (Matt. 21:18f.);
- Day 4 (Tuesday): Christ teaches in the Temple/on the Mount of Olives (Matt. 23-25);
- Day 5 (Wednesday): Judas plots with the Sanhedrin to betray Christ/anointing of Jesus at Bethany (Matt. 26:3-16);
- Day 6 (Thursday): Christ institutes the Lord’s Supper/His arrest at Gethsemane (Luke 22:7-53);
- Day 7 (Friday): Christ condemned to death/Crucifixion/Burial (Matt. 27; Mk. 15; Lk. 23; John 19);
- Day 8 (Saturday): Great and holy Sabbath - Jesus’ body resting in the tomb/His descent to Hades (Matt. 27:62-66; 1 Pet. 3:18-19; Eph. 4:9-10). Of course, the events of Holy Week are completed in the Resurrection of Christ at the Feasts of feast, Holy Pascha.
Three times Christ Jesus predicted His suffering, death, and rising again to His chosen disciples. During His three-year public ministry, Christ Jesus encountered ever increasing opposition to His teachings and works of the Kingdom of God, opposition especially from the religious authorities who eventually appealed to the Roman political authority empowered to execute Jesus. Holy Week contains the final clash between the Son of God in the flesh and arrogant humanity arrayed against Him. The Savior is finally rejected by those He has come to save.
"All we like sheep have gone astray. Man has gone astray in his way, and the Lord delivered Him over for our sins. Although He was ill-treated, He opened not His mouth. He was led as a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb is silent before his shearers, so He opens not His mouth" (Isa. 53:6-7).
We watch this process unfold during Holy Week with all its cast of characters: the disciples, the bystanders, the Jewish priests and Pharisees, Pontius Pilate, Herod Antipas, the soldiers, the centurion, the thieves, the faithful women, the Virgin Mary, and of course, Jesus Christ, the "Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29; 19:36). Holy Week is a lens through which we can truly examine our lives in the light of Christ. We see our sickness exposed: the pride and self-centeredness, the greed, the cowardice and fear, the despair, the unbelief.
But we also see the cure in the love of Christ: His infinite patience, His compassion, His forgiveness, His constant care, His confidence in the will of God, His calm power over death. The Son of God became man to deliver us from our sins, from our passions, from Satan's power, and from death. He did this of His own free will. Therefore Holy Week is the opportune time to make God's will in Christ our own as we witness its accomplishment by our Savior.
Jesus Christ has done these things for us and for our salvation. In the words of the 15th Antiphon sung during the Matins of Holy Friday: "We worship Your passion (i.e., suffering), O Christ. Show us also Your glorious Resurrection."