Why is Holy Week and Pascha Important to Us?
By Fr Chris Dimolianis
Parish Priest of St Eustathios Church, South Melbourne
Holy Week and Pascha are annual commemorations bringing us face to face with death and, in the process, helping us to discover the power of life.
It is a time when we proclaim the victory of everything good over everything evil.
When we stand in the darkness of night during Holy Week we are reminded of the darkness of suffering, sickness, distress, sin and death.
These are all things that we don't like about our lives and yet, we know only too well that we can't escape them and, paradoxically, we discover that it is only when we embrace them that we can move through them.
The good news coming out of this realisation is that God doesn't want these things for us either! That's what Pascha is all about - God doing something about our worst enemies by accepting all of these things upon Himself and then lifting us up above them.
That's why when we gather for the Resurrection service at midnight of Holy Saturday (midnight, of course, representing the absolute darkest hour) we hold our lit candle in our hand with its tiny flame displaying our expression of hope and joy in the power of life given to us as a gift.
However, this gift is not just for several years given to us only for this temporal, worldly life - this gift is eternal and merely begins now.
Unfortunately, we are often deceived into thinking, feeling and behaving as if this life is all there is. Consequently, we focus so much on worldly affairs that we often miss the whole point of our existence! Pascha, then, is a great time to reassess the way we live on a daily basis. In other words, to look at what our priorities in life really are and making adjustments where necessary.
In order to help us in this and to, once again, draw our attention to the reality of eternal life, on the night of the Resurrection the priest or bishop bursts out of the darkened Altar Sanctuary with the only lit candle in the Church building. Then, as the faithful come forward with their unlit candle, he proclaims with joy: "Come, receive light from the unwaning Light [i.e. the light that never goes out], and glorify Christ who is risen from the dead."
Before long, thousands of tiny, individual flickering candles join to become a blaze of light overcoming the darkness - reminiscent of the great Light and Life bursting out from the tomb at the very first Pascha.
It's at this time every year that we are invited to remember all of our beloved family members and friends who have departed this life and are now experiencing a foretaste of this joy in a very special way. But, we are also confronted with the reality that one day soon we too will join "those in the tombs" and, God willing, also experience the joy of continuing to share in God's eternal Life and Love.
As we ponder these thoughts and events on that night, the Church then directs us to the meaning of it all by proclaiming in the darkness outside of the Church (i.e. to the whole Universe): "Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and on those in the tombs (us!) bestowing life."
May this Holy Pascha be for all a foretaste of the joy and abundant life that God wishes us to have.
This article first appeared in the Greek Australia Vema April 2009