The community of Holy Week
When I was a kid and we lived in Chicago I remember the highlight of the evening vespers during Holy Week at the great domed cathedral of our church, the Assumption on Central Avenue: it was long hours, but we shared it with the whole community, and when we came out of that week it was like we had been on a pilgrimage together.
I would be wearing my new suit from Robert Hall and my Sunday School perfect attendance wreath. My father would be wearing his customary suit from Hart Schaffner Marx and tie clip. My mother would be wearing her pillbox hat and her gold ring. My sister would be wearing her pillbox hat and her bracelet with the little toy piano. And we would drive to church in our 1960 white Chevy Impala with the whitewall tires and red interior and red stripe on the side.
The church when we got there would be lit up against the sky and look almost like it was floating. You could smell the incense from the sidewalk because the doors were open. You could hear the psalmodia and it would surround you as the usher with the white hair and elastic step would lead us to our pew (and somehow manage to find four seats) and people shuffled to make way for us. Then as a kid with limited view, I would resign myself to stare at the back of the man’s jacket in front of me for the next three hours, and his wife with the glittery belt, or it might be something more interesting like a dead fox on her shoulders that would snarl at me the whole night.
But just when you got tired of staring and rubbing away the lacquer on the back of the pew and wondering when you would kneel again so you could drop down the padded kneeler before some other kid beat you to it, something dramatic would happen: the last of the 12 Evaggelia had been read and now the whole candelabra was lit! The cross was being carried with lamentations and shaky steps and you could see the top of the cross shaking and the sallow and shrunken body of Christ. The Epitafio was ready and when you kissed it you saw the same sallow and shrunken body of Christ but now it was smothered with sweet-smelling flowers! The candles were passed out for the Resurrection and when it came the whole church was filled with song and you finally got to light that candle with the red cup that you had been holding for the past three hours and felt like it was melting in your hands and you felt silly lifting it every time you sang but then everybody was doing it and you started singing louder!
And then when you drove home at night holding your lit candles in the car, you might see another car in the night with people holding their lit candles and some kid might be staring at you holding his candle and you would be holding yours and you knew you were both part of God’s community.
Hristos Anesti and Hronia Polla.
Dimitri C. Michalakis