Passion Week, also known as the Holy Pascha, is considered to be the most important week in the life of the Church. During this week, the Church re-lives the moments of salvation and the release of Mankind from the chains of sin and Satan ís bondage. These are truly moments patiently waited for by humanity in its entirety.
Passion week commences on Palm Sunday and is concluded at the end of Joyous Saturday and the beginning of the rite of the Feast of the Resurrection. Following the General Funeral Prayers, the Church leaves the sanctuary and prays in the second chorus level. In the same way as the Lord Christ was taken out of Jerusalem, and was hung on the wood of the Cross, likewise we too leave the first chorus, which symbolises Jerusalem. The Rite of Passion Week starts with the prayers of the ninth and eleventh hours of Palm Sunday. The veil of the sanctuary is then covered in black, as well as the north and south lecterns, which are also placed in the second chorus.
During Passion Week, the Church celebrates Maundy Thursday, also known as the Maundy (Covenant) Thursday, as well as the Friday of Crucifixion, commonly known as Good Friday, and Joyous (Bright) Saturday. Throughout the week, while the Church is fasting, the entire Four Gospels are read. The Gospel of St. Matthew is read on Tuesday, St. Mark on Wednesday, St. Luke on Thursday and St. John on Easter Sunday. In the past, the Book of Job was read on Wednesday, since the pains of Job remind us of the pains of Christ. The Mimar of Job was also read at the sixth hour of Wednesday. For this reason, it is known as Job’s Wednesday. Furthermore, the Copts had an old tradition of bathing in water containing plants known as “flourishing Job” (ra3-ra3 Ayoub), as a reminder of the pains of Job.
In this Rite, the prayers are divided between morning and evening. In every prayer, there are five hours, that is, five morning hours and five evening hours. The hourly prayers of the Agpeya are not prayed throughout the week because they include psalms that prophesize on the life, death and resurrection of Christ. Meanwhile, the Church is only focusing its attention on the pains and death of Christ. For this reason, the Church has arranged a specific order of prayers for this great week.
The word Pascha is a Hebrew word meaning “Passover”, referring to the passing of the Angel of Death over the Israelites when killing the firstborn of Egypt. In the rite of the Holy Pascha, the prayers of every hour start with the prophecies, followed by the homilies of the hour, if any. This is followed by the Paschal hymn Thoktetigom , which is chanted 12 times, instead of the Psalms of the hour. The Psalm is then read in the mournful tune, followed by the Gospel and the Exposition of the Hour. At the conclusion of the five hours, the Litanies (Morning or Evening) are prayed, followed by the Concluding Prayers of the Passion Week. It is of merit to be aware that for the prophecies, homilies and expositions, there are specific hymns for the introduction and conclusion of each. In addition, there are specific rites for each of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Joyous Saturday.
May the blessings of this feast be with us all. Amen.
Mikhail, Deacon Albair Gamal, The Essentials in the Deacon’s Service, (Shobra, Egypt: Shikolani, 2002), p.289-291. Translated from Arabic by Ragy Sharkawy, edited by Alexander A-Malek.