By Fr. Robert Holet, Director – Consistory Office of Stewardship
We all know how Father has been ‘encouraging’ us to attend services and activities in Church during Holy Week. It’s one of the best examples of the challenge we face in the stewardship of time. Parishioners will tell me that Holy Week is the ONE week when the boss decides the extra project needs to be done now, the taxes need to be sent in, the prom has been scheduled for months (Great Friday of course) or your co-worker has decided to have her baby. Or maybe the Lord decided for her.
It’s a conspiracy.
So maybe it’s appropriate that the Church reads from the Book of Job in Church this week, because it reminds us that the Devil will work overtime, over lots of time, to upset our Holy Week apple cart in any and every imaginable way. I can feel the angst in my chest today remembering the moment when I blew out a tire on the Interstate on Great Friday, heading at high speed to one of the most important services of the year. But the Lord took care of things then – and may He protect us this year!
Take a Look Ahead
Although it’s a little late this year, it’s always a good reminder to set your Holy Week schedule during the first week of January. This way you open up at least as much time as possible by taking vacation days (at least for Great Friday!) and setting your electronic calendar to ‘Busy’ as much as possible – so that no one schedules you to that critical meeting at the wrong time – like Holy Thursday evening. In addition to taking off Great Friday (and Saturday), I strongly recommend taking off Bright Monday – as it allows us to celebrate with the Church the second day of Pascha and drink in the spirit of that special time called Bright Week, when the joy of Pascha resonates its beauty, light and joy. And don’t forget, it shortens the work week by a day too!
In terms of Orthodox Stewardship – setting aside your time is a sacred offering, of yourself, to Christ. Your time is where you are and what you’re doing – so when that’s in Church, it can be a way of spiritually committing yourself to your Orthodox Faith. But it will be a sacred offering only if you do it willingly, and intentionally. Sometimes I wonder if we Orthodox Christians have ever graduated from junior high school. What do I mean by that? Remember that in junior high or middle school, your parents could still control where you were at any point in time; and so they took you to Church during Holy Week. You may have disliked it, even hated it and wanted to it to end as quickly as possible – perhaps because you couldn’t understand a word in some foreign language the priest was mumbling? But you survived. And here we are, some 20-40 years later, perhaps still going to Holy Week services not because we want to participate, but rather that if we don’t, we’ll feel guilty, break tradition and perhaps disappoint people who are “counting on us”!
Here’s the truth. Your time is God’s gift to you. When you offer it back to Him, attending the services of Holy Week, you give Him an opportunity to bless you in unusual ways. Over the years, I’ve sensed countless people ‘get it’ regarding the meaning of their Orthodox Faith – the Cross and Resurrection of Christ, by participating in the services. God communicates the truth in all of this – in His own ineffable way. How about trying something different this year? Attend the services of Holy Week with an open heart – try to listen to the words being chanted, the meaning of the Gospel, and experience the solemn atmosphere of the Great Friday services reminding us that this Jesus, who we proclaim as Lord, was ‘truly the Son of God’. (Mt. 27: 54). The Holy Week services are perhaps the most powerful moments – intervals of time – where we truly learn what it means to worship God – in venerating the shroud in silence, processing around the Church at Resurrection Matins in hope, seeing the brilliance of Christianity in joy at the Paschal Liturgy, enjoying the bounty of God’s blessings in the feast that pours out of our Pascha basket.
Stewards of Precious Time
Of course, there are a few hours left in the week outside of the services! First, it’s good stewardship of time to get rest during Holy Week, especially if your lifestyle involves family life and laborious work responsibilities. Throw in the extra time needed for special activities involving Holy Week – like special housekeeping, preparing foods for your basket, writing pysanky, preparing for Confession – all can be very time intensive. No, today we don’t have the kind of lifestyle that allowed Baba to spend hours braiding her Pascha perfectly. For many, the pressure of trying to keep up with ‘tradition’ can become extremely disruptive. In one family I know, the mother never made it to the Paschal Services – she was so busy trying to keep up with everything else that the stress lowered her resistance; and she always succumbed to a debilitating sickness late in Holy Week.
Finally, part of wise stewardship is recognizing special opportunities in life. Holy Week comes only once a year, and then only after a buildup of many weeks of spiritual effort in the Church. This time is special – take advantage of it! And yes, we never know if this will be our last opportunity to participate in these services – to ponder in silence the mystery of God’s redemption of our souls, or to see in the flickering candlelight the faces of children who have much, much more pure faith in Jesus than do we adults. As adults, we can choose to attend the services in a way that we are fully present in our minds and hearts to Christ – as stewards of our time in this most sacred and life giving way. So we can take that well-formed habit from our youth, the witness and memory of Baba and our forebears, and our respect for all the traditions – and schedule a personal appointment with Christ in His Church.
Wise stewardship means getting ourselves to a place where we can enter into the festal Banquet. (Lk. 14:16ff) At Divine Liturgy on Pascha, we proclaim the Prokimenon of the Feast,
“This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it!” (Ps. 118:24)
This is God’s gift – of the Day that He has fashioned and entrusted to us. Our faithful stewardship leads us to rejoicing and gladness on that Day – the Feast of Feasts! Ω
Note – Do check out the following links for some great ideas about managing family time and resources during Holy Week.