“The hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship Him. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
John 4: 23-24
Good morning Prayer Team!
It’s hard to believe I am writing a reflection on how to worship at home, when I’ve spent nearly 22 years as a priest encouraging people to worship in church. There is no substitution for worshipping in church. This year, historically extraordinary circumstances dictate that this is the best thing we can do. For many years, I’ve used the motto “The best I can with what I have on a given day”. The best we can do with what we have (this coronavirus crisis) in a given year (2020) is to worship at home. No, this Holy Week experience we are about to have is exceptional, and I pray will not be the norm. I don’t think it will. But looking only at next week, this is how we are going to mark Holy Week this year. So here are a few helpful hints about marking Holy Week at home.
1. Make a plan for which services you will attend.
2. Since we will all experience Holy Week from some technological advice, please give the services your full attention. Don’t “channel flip” or check the phone during the service. Treat it as if you were in church.
3. Come on time. No one has to commute, so there is no traffic to fight. Come on time, and try to stay for the entirety. Whereas the Paschal Liturgy usually ends at 2:00 a.m., it will end closer to 1:30 a.m. this year, because there won’t be a long line for Holy Communion. While attending the Paschal Liturgy normally would have you getting home and into bed by 3:00 a.m. at the earliest, you could attend the whole service and be in bed by 1:45 a.m. this year.
4. Do not eat during the service. Again, treat this as if you were in church.
5. Do not watch TV after the service. With services most evenings beginning at 6:30 p.m., have dinner, get your kids ready for bed and at 6:30 p.m. gather around the computer. When the service is over, discuss it with your family and then go to bed early. You’ll be well rested for the lengthier services at the end of the week. Plus, I can’t imagine going from watching a service to two minutes later flipping the channel to a comedy or action movie.
6. Worship—Stand and sit as appropriate. Please make sure to always stand during the reading of the Gospels. Make your cross as appropriate, kneel during the processions. Sing along when you know the hymns and especially with the responses.
7. Use your Holy Week book and any other materials that are posted on-line
8. Create some sacredness to your space at home. Perhaps put an icon next to the computer or TV, wherever you watch the service. Create an atmosphere by turning down the lights, or lighting candles.
9. Create some special moments in your home. For instance, before the Resurrection service, completely darken the house except for the live-stream feed of the service. At midnight, as the Light is brought from the altar, light a few candles in your house.
10. Print out icons of the different days of Holy Week. A quick google search of “icon of Saturday of Lazarus,” or “icon of Crucifixion” will yield instant results. Display the icon of the day on your kitchen table and put it near the computer when you attend the service.
11. Get off screens (besides virtual worship) as much as possible. That should happen anyway during Holy Week. We should put aside as much as possible to focus on the services.
12. Clean the area around your computer where you will worship. Don’t have the church services going on top of a bunch of junk.
13. Clean your house on Holy Saturday. Sure, none of us is hosting a Pascha dinner, but if all things are supposed to begin anew in the Light of the Resurrected Christ, a clean feel to the house is in line with this.
14. Let your children go to more services or more of them. Because you can get them ready for bed before the service starts, let them try to stay up for part of Holy Thursday night or Good Friday night or even try the Anastasi if you can.
15. Keep a journal of your thoughts this year. At summer camp, many times we have had campers write letters to themselves and we mail those letters to them six months after camp, so they can remember how they felt. Keep a journal of how you feel this Holy Week and use it as motivation in future years and as a remembrance of this year.
I have given a lot of thought to how to creatively celebrate Holy Week within the confines of doing it behind locked doors, how they can be done in a way that enhances the worship experience for those worshipping at home. Thankfully God gave us minds that can create things. So I encourage you also to get creative with your worship experience, how you can mark this time in a way that still brings meaning to this most important week of the Liturgical year.
Lord, Creator of all things, thank You for my creative mind. Put thoughts into my mind of how to create a worship space that will help me to experience as best I can during Holy Week this year. Help me to work efficiently this week so that I can set aside many of my tasks and focus on You during Holy Week. Bless those with whom I will share this experience of virtual worship and allow us to be present in worship, attentive to what we hear, and open to how it can change us. Amen.
Prayer of Protection from the Coronavirus
(Prayer by Grace Bishop Alexis (Trader) of Bethesda)
O God Almighty, Lord of heaven and earth, and of all creation visible and invisible, in Your ineffable goodness, look down upon Your people gathered in Your name. Be our helper and defender in this day of affliction. You know our weakness. You hear our cry in repentance and contrition of heart. O Lord who loves mankind deliver us from the impending threat of the corona virus. Send Your Angel to watch over us and protect us. Grant health and recovery to those suffering from this virus. Guide the hands of physicians, and preserve those who are healthy that we may continue to serve You in peace and glorify Your most honorable and majestic Name, of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.
Give some thought to your Holy Week worship space.
The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! There you may find a database for past prayer team messages as well as books by Fr. Stavros and other information about his work and St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL.
These readings are under copyright and is used by permission. All rights reserved. These works may not be further reproduced, in print or on other websites or in any other form, without the prior written authorization of the copyright holder: Reading © Holy Transfiguration Monastery – Brookline, MA, Apolytikion of Abbot Marcellus © Narthex Press, Kontakion of Abbot Marcellus © Holy Transfiguration Monastery – Brookline, MA.
The Revised Standard Version of the Bible is copyrighted 1946, 1952, 1971, and 1973 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. and used by permission. From the Online Chapel of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website!
Fr. Stavros has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
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