On Great and Holy Saturday at the Vesperal Divine Liturgy we anticipate the resurrection victory of Christ our God and particularly see this as a fulfilment of the great promise of redemption in the Law and the Prophets proclaimed in the 15 Old Testament Readings. During the Song of the Three Holy Children the Temple and the Vestments are all changed from purple to white/gold to signify this change. Baptisms and chrismations often take place in this service; this will be the case this year. The epitaphion is then brought into the Altar where it remains until the end of Pascha. This Liturgy can take place on Saturday morning – alternatively in the late afternoon.
The Services of Holy Week and Easter are many and a rich source of salvation in our lives through the power and operation of the Holy Spirit. Through them we become more closely conformed to Christ through whom we receive the death destroying life of Pascha from the Father. Here follows a very short guide to the services of Passion Week (or Great and Holy Week) and Pascha (Easter) in the Orthodox Church.
On Great and Holy Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday we serve the Bridegroom Matins. This puts our hearts in readiness to receive Christ the Bridegroom who will come perhaps when we least expect. We must always be prepared to greet him by watchfulness and prayer. (Usually served the evening before, ie., Sunday, Monday and Tuesday).
The Divine Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts is also served on the mornings of these three days.
On Great and Holy Wednesday evening we serve the Unction Service of Healing. Hearing the 7 gospels and imploring the healing grace of Christ we are anointed and made whole.
On Great and Holy and Thursday at the Liturgy we celebrate our Lord’s Institution of the Eucharist in the Vesperal Liturgy. This may include the Foot-Washing of the people. (This Liturgy can be served on Thursday morning).
On Great and Holy Friday at Matins we proclaim the 12 Passion Gospels. In this service the holy and life giving cross is installed in the nave. (This service is often served on Holy Thursday evening). At Vespers on Holy Friday (mid-afternoon) we take down the image of our Lord from the Cross and place it in a white shroud in the altar. Shortly afterwards, the burial epitaphion (shroud) is solemnly processed into the nave where the icon of the crucified Christ is venerated with great devotion. At Matins later in the same evening we sing the solemn but joyful funeral chant for our Lord and process with his icon in the epitaphion outside the Church. The people walk under the epitaphion as they come into Church to signify that through the cross they have passed from death to life. They then venerate the gospel book and receive a flower from the epitaphion (venerated at the end of the service).
In the evening of Holy Saturday in a darkened temple we read the Acts of the Apostles in its entirety. Pascha marks the beginning of the new Israel of God, the Church. Afterwards we serve the Midnight Office or Nocturnes which prepare our hearts and minds to enter into the joy of Paschal victory. We then process around the temple, enter and celebrate the resurrection with “Christ is Risen!” in many languages – concluding with the famous Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom. There then follows Paschal Matins, the Paschal Liturgy and a Parish Agape Meal. Later on the Sunday of Pascha, the Vespers of Love is served with the appearance to St. Thomas from St. John’s Gospel preached in as many languages as possible.