St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco the Miracle-Worker:
Sermon on Passion Week
(The Feast of the Annunciation fell on the Entrance of the Lord into Jerusalem
when St John delivered this sermon.)
The Feast of the Annunciation marks the joyful news of the coming Incarnation of the Son of God, hHis descent to Earth for the Salvation of the world. The Holy Spirit descended upon the Most Pure Virgin, and She conceived the Lord. This was the beginning of the New Testament, the beginning of the Salvation of mankind, the arrival to Earth of the Son of God.
The celebration of the Entrance of the Lord into Jerusalem is the beginning of His suffering. Accompanied by joyful exclamations of the people, Christ proceeded towards Jerusalem, towards His death, a death to which his own people betrayed him, who had so joyfully just welcomed Him.
The Orthodox Church begins to follow Him in a sense on Passion Week, remembering on a daily basis the events of the subsequent days. On Great Monday , the Lord was on the Mount of Olives, where He caused of fig tree to dry out by His word alone, then reveals to His disciples the future of Jerusalem. He criticized the Pharisees and Scribes for their superficial fulfillment of the Law of Moses. Continuing His teachings, first in Parables and then openly, depicting the end of the world and Judgement Day.
On Wednesday , in the house of Simon the Leper, a woman pours myrrh on His feet, while Judas promises the high priests that he will betray his Teacher. On Passion Thursday , the Lord performs the Last Supper and the “first Liturgy” of that day clearly reminds us of how we must partake of the Holy Mysteries--with piety, for as did the Apostles, we also consume the Body and Blood of Christ; while those who commune unworthily are like Judas. Let everyone strive to partake of Communion on this day, earnestly making confession of one's sins, and receiving the mercy of the Lord.
After the Last Supper, Christ goes to Gethsemane to pray, where He is seized and taken to the high priests, who that night that night sit in judgment of Him, and the following morning lead Him to Pontius Pilate.
The evening of Thursday we read the Twelve Passion Gospels of Christ. Great Friday then comes. During the morning reading of the “royal hours,” the Gospels on the trial by Pilate, the Crucifixion and Death of Christ are read. Christians are to observe very strict lent on that day. Vigil is usually performed at three in the afternoon, which recalls the Death of Christ, and ends with the emergence of the Shroud, upon which the body of Christ removed from the Cross is depicted. Then the canon of the Weeping of the Mother of God at the Tomb is read over the Shroud.
Matins on Great Saturday is recalls the Body of Christ lying in the Tomb and the Descent of His Soul into Hades. A procession of the cross at the end mysteriously illustrates the procession of Christ into Hell--not the burial procession of His Body, as is sometimes taught. Christ destroyed Hades with His Life, and the emancipated souls of the forefathers then joyfully praise Christ. Having freed the dead souls from hell, the Soul of Christ returns to His Body. No one on Earth knew at that moment what had happened in the other world, the warriors stood guard at His Tomb, the Apostles are in sorrow, the Myrrh-Bearing Women are preparing to anoint His Body, but the Angels and Prophets and the Righteous are already glorifying the Victor over death.
This is depicted in the readings and singing of vigil on Great Saturday , which is combined with Liturgy, with the singing of “Arise God and Judge the Earth,” the black vestments are changed to bright ones. The time of expectation of the Holy Hour is near, when everything is illuminated with Divine Life, and the Heavens and the Earth are filled with the triumphant praises of the Resurrected Christ. During the Paschal Liturgy, we commune of the Resurrected Body of Christ!