This is another day of extremes. In this one day, we read of the extreme love of Mary of Bethany-how much she sacrificed her livelihood to anoint Him for His burial. At the same time, we witness the betrayal of one of Christ's disciples that He chose, raised and taught for over three years.
Bethany was just over the hill from Jerusalem. A few weeks earlier, Christ had come at Martha and Mary's request to raise their brother Lazarus from the dead. After this great event, He had avoided Jerusalem because the Jewish authorities became determined to arrest Him.
Christ spent the entire day alone in Bethany before the great day of redemption. Perhaps the family had tried to hide Christ secretly, for they realized that there was danger in harboring this wanted Man. As the Jews separated the Passover lamb until its slaughter day, Jesus rested in Bethany during that day before offering Himself to be slaughtered.
Martha had expressed her gratitude to Christ for resurrecting her brother from the dead by preparing a meal for Him. But Mary, the less conventional sister, now takes it upon herself to perform an unthinkable act of love. She first takes a very expensive flask of perfume. This alabaster flask, alone, was precious. So much so that once used, it could never be used again because the neck of the flask had to be broken to release the perfume. Even more precious was the perfume, harboring a special aroma worth fortunes that came from the Himalayas. It was worth 300 dinari-a family could have lived for a year on the price of this perfume. Mary goes even further. She does not even allow a servant to wash His feet, but personally anoints Him out of her love and humility- exactly what Christ would teach His disciples within 24 hours!
To continue along the Paschal theme, there is joy within sadness and sadness in the midst of joy in these very two stories. The anointing of Christ's feet was a joyous act of thanksgiving for bringing the dead alive, while at the same time a foreshadowing of Christ's death and burial. As they celebrate the welcoming of their brother, they were saying goodbye to their Savior.
Judas had criticized her for wasting the cost of this perfume on Christ by saying it could have been used for the poor. But Christ encourages her work and service for Him, for she had done this for His burial. Mary gave out of her heart; Judas had criticized her out of his selfishness. Mary sacrificed her life and all her money for Christ; Judas stole from the moneybox and betrayed Him for 30 silver coins. Mary acted out of loyalty, Judas out of betrayal. He thought of money, while forgetting about the Lord. Mary is serving the poor through the Lord; Judas is preventing and discouraging service to both.
Judas also sought opportunity to betray Jesus. According to church tradition, kisses and greetings are forbidden from the First Hour of the Eve of Thursday (Wednesday night) until the end of the Divine Liturgy on Bright Saturday. This is to remember the betrayal of Christ by Judas with a kiss.
The prophecies continue along the story of Moses and the Israelites in the wilderness. In the first hour prophesy, the people are complaining that there is no water to drink. After we see their lack of faith, the remaining prophecies remind us of how faithful God was to them in their escape from Egypt. In the third hour, we read of the first instance where God the Israelites a guides His people with a cloud of smoke by day and a pillar of fire by night. In the Sixth Hour, we are reminded of how the children of Israel miraculously escaped from the hands of Pharaoh and his army when crossing the Red Sea. Despite all of these blessings and rescues, the people continue to complain that they don't have figs, vines, fruit or water in the prophesy of the ninth hour.
The Lord spends the day in Bethany. He left the temple on Tuesday evening with no intent of coming back. On Tuesday, Jesus said to the Jews "your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say 'Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord'" (Matt. 23:38,39). Both Matthew 26:6-13 and Mark 14:3-9 tell us about the jar of spikenard that was spread on Jesus head. The betrayal of Judas the Iscariot, including his agreement with the chief priests on the price he would get, is narrated in the four gospels, (Matt. 16:14), (Mark 14:10,11), (Luke 12:3-6) and (John 13:1-3) shedding of blood of the lamb, there came forgiveness. "And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission." (Hebrews 9:22).
On the night of their exodus from Egypt, the Lord commanded the Israelites to roast the lamb, and eat unleavened bread with bitter herbs (Exodus 12:8). The meat that the Jews would feast upon was not raw or unbaked, but cooked in fire. The lamb had to suffer through fire; it had to suffer. This meat had a sweet smell, but a bitter taste. Such is the great reminder of sin--however pleasing it may seem to our senses, however alluring it may be to us, we must never forget the bitter sadness of its consequences. This bitterness lies within the cross: "He has filled me with bitterness, he has made me drink wormwood" (Lamentations 3:15).
The Christian life is full of bitter herbs that bring forth a sweet, saintly aroma. One type of herb comes from loving of our enemies. Another comes from serving the Lord in difficult circumstances-either a family difficulty or a conflict in our schedules. There is a garden of bitter herbs awaiting you in prayer and vigil in times of weakness, sorrow, or confusion. When you fast, you taste of these bitter herbs.you have experienced the Cross. By choosing to take this narrow and difficult path, by submitting to travel along the Via Dolorosa, "we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing" (2 Corinthians 2:15).
Christ, Himself became the true and ultimate Passover Lamb, the fulfillment of this prophesy. "For indeed, Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us" (1 Corinthians 5:7). After the disciples had eaten the Passover Meal, the Old Testament had been fulfilled. Our Lord and Savior perfected the Passover meal by offering His Body and Blood in the form of bread and wine. This was the "marriage supper of the Lamb" discussed in Revelation 19:9. This however, was only the first Passover.
The Second Passover: Faith and Baptism
The Second Passover was the crossing of the Red Sea by Moses and the Israelites. Just as Moses had parted its waters and crushed Pharaoh's soldiers, Christ had destroyed the soldiers of Satan at the bottom of the sea. Moses used his staff; Christ used the cross. They both spread their arms as an eagle, one divided waters between two nations; the Other separated the gap between two worlds.
In our lives, this Passover is the grave importance of baptism. Just as the waters of the Jordan saved the Israelites from the evil army of Pharaoh, so does the baptismal waters save us from Satan's forces. Once the Jews had crossed the river, they began a new life and were in search of a new home. So too do we begin this Christian Journey through baptism, seeking for eternal rest in Heavenly Jerusalem.
To live this new life in Christ, we cannot seek after the sacramental waters of baptism without faith. An ancient Jewish legend has it that the parting of the Red Sea did not actually take place when Moses had spread his arms, but when the first person took the first step on the water. This legend demonstrates that this miracle was based on the faith that God would fight and work a miracle for His people. We are no longer slaves to doubt, captives of anxiety; we are princes of confidence, kings of faith. As Saint Paul so boldly declared, "we walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Corinthians 5:7).
The Third Passover: The Institution of the Eucharist
Jesus delegated Peter and John for the preparation of the bread, the wine, the herbs and all that was needed for the celebrations. However, Peter and John didn't know the place of the Passover. He answered their question by giving them a sign to recognize the house's owner -- a man carrying a jar of water. Our Savior intentionally did not mention the place at an earlier time, lest Judas would tell the Jews who would keep Him under arrest until the end of the feast. When Peter and John told Jesus that everything was ready, He took His disciples to eat the paschal meal. The disciples argued about who would be the first and last among them. Jesus rebuked them for their evil thinking, saying that the greatest among them should behave as the smallest. Jesus then started washing their feet.
Jesus instituted the Godly Supper, giving us the bread that comes from heaven, the giver of life -- His Holy Body and His Precious Blood. He fulfilled the prophecy, showing them its content. Jesus replaced the first covenant, eating the paschal meal, with a new covenant. ".after supper, He took bread . and the cup.and gave it to them saying 'take, this is my body. this is my blood which is the new covenant. do this in memory of me.'"(John 20).
He told them about Judas's betrayal, saying "one of you shall deliver me" (John 13:21). Judas who took the bread when he did not deserve it gave Satan power over him. Judas left immediately after being revealed and went to the Jews to agree with them on thirty pieces of silver (Ex. 21:33).
On the same day Jesus foretold Peter about his denying Him three times. He then went to the Garden of Gethsemane where He prayed with such anguish that His sweat turned into blood. An Angel appeared to comfort Him saying: "Yours is the strength, the glory, the blessing and the majesty o Emanuel, our God and King", which is the only psalm the church keeps repeating the whole Holy Week. Judas arrived with an armed crowd on behalf of the High priests to arrest our Good Savior.
FIRST HOUR: The betrayal of Judas
The prayers of the first hour are celebrated in the first section of the church, in the Chorus of Deacons. There, the altar curtain is opened as the church prepares for the Liturgy. After the prophesy from Exodus is read, the readings and prayers follow the basic structure of the Divine Liturgy, with some exceptions.
The first prophecy demonstrates the great symbol of the Holy Cross when Moses had lifted up his arms against the Amelikites (Exodus). This is the power and glory of God we proclaim during the Paschal Doxology. Through this prophesy of the Cross, we begin the entry into the Liturgy.
Special Hymn: He who offered Himself
Acts: Unlike normal liturgy, there are no readings from the Pauline or Catholic Epistles. The first reading is from Acts 1:15-20, regarding the explanation of David's prophecy concerning Judas. St. Peter explains how the land that Judas bought with the money he denied His Lord was cursed, and how Judas had died on this land, "the field of blood."
Chanting of Judas: Then, the deacons chant the famous hymn of Judas, while circling the church in the opposite direction. This is to remember that Judas, had broken the law, and acted contrary to the proper Christian way.
Trisagion sung in Paschal tone
Psalm. The prophecy of the Psalm stresses the subtlety of the sin, as well as the extreme moral pain caused to the Lord ".had it been the enemy, I could have endured." (Ps. 54:10). We are assured that man's denial does not prevent our salvation. God's infinite love has overcome all Man's corruption. The tune of the Psalm is the 'maluki', adopted by the church on Tuesday of the holy week for the Psalm when we sing "Your Throne O God". The same tune will be used again on the Holy Friday at the time of internment. "If You are sold today as a slave O my Lord God. if You entered the grave to untie the bonds of my sin. Your Church and bride You redeemed with Your blood knows Who You are . You are the King seated on the throne of His glory, holding His reign in His hands".
Gospel. The gospel explains the preparations of the Passover Meal that Christ tells the disciples. As Christ is preparing for the feast, the Devil is preparing for His death. As the First Passover draws nearer, the Christ, the Lamb is about to be offered and slain.
3rd Hour: Prepare for His Coming
The prayers of the Third, Sixth and Ninth hours are conducted at the second section of the church, as the rest of the Paschal prayers.
First prophesy continues with God speaking to the Israelites regarding their stiff necks and unwillingness to accept His commandments.
The reading of Sirach explains the might and glory of God, dwelling on high and enthroned in majesty through the "tabernacle" in Zion. This is a symbol of His coming into Jerusalem and His High Priesthood.
The gospel of the third hour again speaks of the preparation of the Passover from the book of Matthew. The 1st, 3rd, 6th, and 9th hour gospels all speak of this same topic of preparation for the Passover. Each is drawn from the synoptic gospels (Luke, Matthew, Mark, Matthew, respectively). Just as Christ is preparing for the partaking of the Passover, we are preparing for the partaking of communion in the Divine Liturgy.
6th Hour: Prepare the House
The Lord is pushing His people to repent. He urges them to help the neighbor, the stranger, the orphan and the widow. The Lord pushes them to prepare His house, so that it is not a den of robbers. In the same manner, our God is asking us to prepare our hearts and to respect the sacrament that is being prepared before us (Jeremiah). At the same time, Our Lord Christ explains to the disciples how they shall meet a man (St. Mark the Apostle) who shall show them the house where they will eat the Passover meal. This house is the first Church, our Church, which must be prepared for Christ's coming.
9th Hour: Sacrifice and Salvation; Struggle and Hope
Again this hour of the Pascha illustrates two great ironies. That salvation must come through sacrifice; and that hope is created through such struggle.
The first prophecy mentions the Story of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac in Genesis. This is an additional symbol of the cross and a father's sacrifice of his son. The prophesy of Isaiah speaks of both the initial punishment that man had as a consequence of sin and the restoration of man through salvation. As a consequence, God has allowed us as priests and ministers, who shall inherit the land a second time. As Origen writes, "Isaac himself carries the wood for his own holocaust: this is a figure of Christ. For He bore he burden of the cross; yet to carry the wood for the holocaust is really the duty of the priest. He is then both victim and priest."
The second theme lies in the hope of man in struggle. The final parable used by Job explains the struggle of man in the world with the will of God. Cast down by pain and trouble, he questions hope in God. This is then compared to the very special Psalm 23, which describes the Lord as our Shepherd who satisfies us from all our needs. He is the Provider of our Souls.