Great and Holy Week
Great and Holy Week is the week leading up to Pascha, the celebration of the Resurrection of the Messiah–Easter. This week is a time of strict fasting and increased liturgical prayers. On Great Monday and Great Tuesday, Bridegroom Matins are taken in addition to the Pre-Sanctified Liturgy. These services focus on the Second and Glorious Coming of the Messiah, when He shall come to restore the Kingdom of God, which is why they are referred to as Bridegroom matins (Mark 2:19).
The Holy Mystery of the Anointing of the Sick is generally served during Holy Week. During this service, all who are preparing to celebrate Pascha are welcomed to receive the Holy Mystery, which is reserved for those seriously ill during the rest of the year.
The first service on Great Thursday is the Vesperal Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great. This service commemorates the Mystical Supper that Christ Jesus had with His Disciples in which He instituted the Holy Eucharist.
The second service on Great Thursday is the Service of the 12 Gospels. The Passion of the Lord is commemorated by reading the Gospel passages that describe the Passion suffered by the Messiah. It is a long and solemn service.
The mystically commemoration of the Passion of the Lord which begins in earnest at the Service of the 12 Gospels on Thursday night is continued in the Royal Hours of Great Friday. The hours are services that consists of a set of Psalms and some short prayers and hymns. They are the lesser monastic offices of First, Third, Sixth and Ninth Hours, which correspond with the hour after sunrise in which they’re prayed, i.e. 7 a.m., 9 a.m., 12 p.m. and 3 p.m. The royal hours are those hours served on special holy days. In addition to Psalms, there are also readings from the Gospel and from the Old and New Testaments. The scripture readings and Psalms correspond to the holy day. The Royal Hours of Great and Holy Friday has scripture recalling the Passion and Burial of Christ.

We venerate Your Passion, O Christ. (prostration)
We venerate Your Passion, O Christ. (prostration)
We venerate Your Passion, O Christ. (prostration)
Show us also Your glorious Resurrection. (Katavasia, 9th Hour)

In the Great Vespers of Entombment on Friday evening, we accompany the faithful women, St. Joseph of Arimathea, and St. Nicodemus who took Jesus down from the Cross and buried Him. There is a procession with the plaschenytsia, a cloth icon of Christ as he is being prepared for burial, that goes three times around the outside of the church, mystically following the myrrhbearing women and their companions who take the Body of Christ to the Holy Sepulchre.
Returning from the procession, the clergy hold low the plaschenytsia. The faithful can enter the church by bending down and going beneath the icon of Christ’s burial. This is a graphic symbol of our entering the tomb and being buried with Christ in order that we may rise with Him on the Great Day.

Today the Master stands before Pilate, today, the Maker of all things is given up to the Cross, and of His own will is led as a lamb to the slaughter.
He, before whom the powers of heaven stand with trembling, stands before Pilate.
The Creator is struck by the hand of his creature.
He, who comes to judge the living and the dead, is condemned to the Cross.
The Destroyer of Hell is enclosed in a tomb.
O You, who endure all all these things in Your tender love, who have saved all from the curse, O long-suffering Lord, glory to You! (Katavasia)

During Jerusalem Matins on Holy Saturday morning (or in some places on Friday night), we accompany the faithful women and their companions, who, keeping vigil at the graveside, mourn the crucified Christ. This is arguably the most aesthetically beautiful service of the entire Christian year. Its hymns are hauntingly lyrical and profoundly spiritual. They express the anguish of loss and the yearning for restoration and justice as we sing in funeral tones. Again there is a procession around the church with the plaschenytsia.

By descending into death, O Life Immortal, You destroyed hell’s power by the brilliance of your Divinity and raised the dead from their deep sleep.
For this the Powers of heaven shout triumphantly:
“O Giver of life, Christ our God, glory to You!” (Tropar)

An angel greeted the myrrh-bearing women as they neared the tomb:
“Mortal death deserves the soothing balm of precious spices,
but the corruption of death can never defile Christ.” (Tropar)

The Liturgy on Holy Saturday places great emphasis on the presence of the plaschenytsia which remains throughout the day as the faithful maintain a prayerful and somber vigil at Christ’s tomb.