The following outline presents a proposal for a family or small group celebration of Holy Week and Pascha anchored in the four principles gleaned from the New testament above: the priority of hearing the word of God, keeping vigil, observing the Sabbath, and breaking the fast with the risen Lord. Please note that this is a pattern designed to meet the ability of a standard family; it is not an attempt to copy the liturgies of Holy Week and simply transfer them from the Church to the home. For this reason, the pattern begins on Holy Thursday.
Faithful who desire to hear the word of God and keep vigil on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday can sing as much of the Matins services appointed to those days as possible. Another option is to set aside quiet time on those days to read the appointed Scriptural lessons, followed by quiet reflection.
Four notes about using this resource.
- The Gospels for Holy Thursday and Holy Friday are composites – they combine the stories from the four evangelists to tell the entire story of Jesus’ passion and death. In practice, they are very long – it takes up to 20 minutes to read those gospels. I have replaced the composite gospels for both Holy Thursday and Holy Friday with compatible selections that communicate the same message without drawing from all four gospels. Anyone who wants to read the composite gospel as it would be read at the Church’s public liturgy can obtain those Gospels from the web site of any Orthodox Church.
- The Home Liturgies below are patterns that feature the proclamation of the word of God. Families should adapt each pattern in a way compatible with what they can actually do at home. If you know the liturgies very well, feel free to add material or sing the whole service at home. If in doubt, focus on the Scripture readings and any hymns that are easy to sing. The point is to pray to the best of your ability.
- This resource is intended for families to use from their homes. In 2020, it is not appropriate to invite friends over to your home for a small group celebration of Holy Week and Pascha Home Liturgies. Increasing the number of people gathered in a home violates the social distancing requirements we need to observe to prevent spreading illness. However, it is possible to celebrate these home liturgies with extended family members and friends over digital meeting apps such as Zoom and Google Meet. This resource is suitable for those who wish to join in prayer with their family members in an online space.
- By praying these home services together, parents are handing down the tradition of learning how to hear the word of God. Children learn in two primary ways – first, by participating in the home service – reading psalm verses or readings, and singing together. The second manner of learning is by asking questions, akin to the Haggadah at the Passover Seder meal. Having proclaimed and heard the word of God together, invite your children to ask you what it means, and explain it to them in your own words. Tradition is passed down in this way – at table, in the home, and with family.
Here is the short version of recommended Home Liturgy, followed by a longer one with explanations:
- Holy Thursday: Scriptural lessons, solemn meal at home, blessing of thanksgiving “in your own words”
- Holy Friday: Vespers.
- Holy Saturday: Matins, and a quiet day honoring the “Lord’s sabbath rest.”
- Holy Saturday night: Paschal Nocturne (sing the canon)
- Pascha: Hours, epistle, Gospel, sermon, and prayer for food and drink in basket.
Holy Thursday (hearing the word of God)
- Home Liturgy (+ Zoom, Google Meet): Read the Old Testament, Epistle, and Gospel lessons appointed for the day;
- Exodus 19:10-19
- Job 38:1-23; 42:1-5
- Isaiah 50:4-11
- 1 Corinthians 11:23-32
- Gospel: Luke 22:7-30 (replaces composite)
- Make a festive meal at table, with wine and bread.
- When partaking of the wine and bread, offer a blessing of thanksgiving to God in your own words. An adult offers the first blessing, followed by everyone else gathered at the table.
- Ex: “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, for providing us with food, drink, and shelter.” Each family member offers a blessing after the leader. Then the leader finished with a petition: “Have mercy, God, on the Church, the world, our civil authorities, and this family.”
Holy Friday (hearing the word of God)
- Home Liturgy (+ Zoom, Google Meet): Vespers. Start with Psalm 104 (“Bless the Lord, o my soul”). Then, the readings:
- Exodus 33:11-23; Job 42:12-16; Isaiah 52:13-54:1; 1 Corinthians 1:18-22; Gospel: Matthew 27:33-54 (replaces composite reading).
- Recite “Vouchsafe, o Lord,” then the Canticle of Simeon (“Lord, now let your servant depart in peace.”) Ending: sing “The Noble Joseph” together; if you can, kneel, and make three prostrations before the cross or the burial shroud.
- Suggestion: ask children to participate in the services by reciting one of the readings.
- Families can make a cross and venerate it together, or make a burial shroud for Jesus.
- Light candles for the service; if possible, hold candles throughout, at least during the readings.
- For the remainder of the day, observe it in silence, in honor of hearing the word of God and keeping vigil.
- Invite your children to discuss the meaning of the word you proclaimed and heard.
Holy Saturday (keeping vigil and observing the Lord’s sabbath)
- If you are accustomed to going to Church for the liturgy of Holy Saturday, remember that this is the first service that begins Pascha, because the verses instead of Alleluia (Psalm 81) and the Gospel announce Jesus’ resurrection. The first Eucharist after Good Friday breaks the fast. This service was moved earlier in the day in the history of Paschal liturgy when the Matins celebrated in the monasteries became popular in parish practice. It is not necessary to attempt to pray a home version of the Paschal Vigil.
- If you want to have a service to maintain the rhythm of the Church’s liturgy, you can have Matins. In parish practice, this is normally celebrated on Friday evening, but it is the first service of Holy Saturday commemorating Jesus’ sabbath rest.
- Home Liturgy – Matins. (+ Zoom, Google Meet) Recite or sing one of the selections from the Lamentations. Take turns reading the psalm verses (from Ps. 119) and the hymns. Then, the readings: Ezekiel 37:1-14; Epistle (composite – see any Orthodox Church web site); Gospel: Matthew 27:62-66.
- It is certainly appropriate to honor Jesus’ sabbath rest by having a quiet domestic day, especially if you are devoting the day to cleaning and preparing food. If you do not have a home service during the day, make time to involve your children in contributing to the domestic celebration by coloring foods, and especially by preparing your home for a holy meal. Children can decorate candles, prepare the room for the main Paschal service, and practice the psalm or reading they will recite. Family conversations that happen as everyone prepares for the feast can be sacred – explain to your children why Pascha is different from every other day of the year, in your own words.
- Home Liturgy – Saturday evening: Dim the lights and go to a quiet room to sing the Paschal Nocturne together – it is very short and easily sung at home with everyone.
- Home Liturgy (+ Zoom, Google Meet): Select a time for the service (preferably the morning). Assemble with lighted candles and sing “Your resurrection” at least three times.
- Read the Gospel from St. Mark 16:1-8
- Open the service with the beginning used for Paschal Matins – take turns chanting the verses, beginning with “Let God arise,” and sing the Paschal Troparion together after each verse.
- Sing the rest of the Paschal Hours.
- After the Hours – sing or recite the Prokeimenon, and take turns reading. The Epistle is Acts 1:1-8; the Gospel is John 1:1-17.
- Read the sermon of St. John Chrysostom aloud – ask everyone to stand with candles lit.
- End the service by singing the paschal stichera from Matins and hymns from Ode 9 of the canon (The Angel Cried).
End all of the services with intercessions – pray for the bishops, the pastor of your parish, the civil authorities, and the names of any loved ones. Add a prayer for deliverance from coronavirus.
It is completely appropriate for people to bless their own Paschal baskets. Appoint someone to read the prayer out loud. If you have holy water, sprinkle it on the basket while you sing the Paschal Troparion.
At the meal, sing the Paschal Troparion.
Take comfort and be assured, brothers, sisters, and friends, that the risen Lord Jesus Christ is with you when you offer these prayers from your homes. He is with you through the fear and anxiety of coronavirus, and, as he promised, unto the end of the ages. Rejoice in the good news of his resurrection, and be grateful for the privilege of witnessing to the good news that He is risen while protecting your neighbors from infection.
Christ is Risen! Truly, He is Risen!