The Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday. The service of this day commemorates the triumphant entrance of Christ into Jerusalem, and signals the beginning of the short period leading to his passion. Six days before the Jewish Passover, Jerusalem becomes the scene of the fulfillment of the messianic prophecy, which promised the arrival of the chosen one to bring salvation to His people. The teacher enters Jerusalem, and is greeted by crowds of people who cover the road with palm branches and praise him to the heavens. To reflect the joyous mood of the day, the priest celebrating the liturgy wears festive vestments, and the altar is adorned with a bright cover. The faithful hold palm branches, as did the crowds in Jerusalem, two millennia ago.
There were however the Pharisees, who showed much concern for this triumphal entrance to the city, and who would do anything to stop the threat to their status, a threat they saw in the cheers of the crowd. The stage for the passion has been set.
The services held on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, commemorate the various events and saying of the master before his final discussion with his disciples and the last supper. While each day has its own distinct character, all share in common the themes of mourning, repentance, vigilance and judgment. They are focused on the Parousia, the second coming. They are the days of the bridegroom who will come, unannounced, in the middle of the night. They represent the most urgent call to repentance, as the congregations prepare to address the mystery of death and resurrection.
During the evenings of Palm Sunday, Holy Monday and Holy Tuesday, the service of the bridegroom is chanted. On Monday evening a procession takes place within the church. Preceded by altar boys, the priest carries an icon of Christ, wearing the purple robe of ridicule and holding the mock scepter. He chants:
|`` ... behold and bridegroom cometh, in the middle of the night, and blessed is the servant whom He shall find awake. And unworthy is he whom He shall find heedless. Beware therefore, oh my soul, lest thou fall asleep, lest thou be given up to death, lest thou be shut out of the kingdom ...''|
During the services Christ is presented to us as bridegroom, and the Church as his bride. This is intended to illustrate how closely Christ is related to and identified with the Church. In the light of the events of the Holy Week, the bridegroom will suffer for his bride, the Church. This is the image Paul had in mind when he wrote to Ephesians:
``Husbands should love their wives just as Christ loved the church, and sacrificed himself for her.''