On Thursday, April 29 of Passion Week in the 2021, the seminarians of Saint Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary accompanied His Eminence Archbishop Daniel in Chicago, Illinois for the celebration of Passion Week and the glorious Resurrection of Christ on Pascha.
As the seminarians traveled by van to Chicago from the seminary in New Jersey, we spoke about the Great Day of the birth of liturgy, which is Holy Thursday of Passion Week, and reflected upon it with His Eminence Archbishop Daniel. Once we arrived in Chicago, we prepared ourselves for the evening’s service and the service of reading 12 Gospels, which began at 7 p.m. His Eminence Archbishop Daniel led the service Thursday evening at 7 p.m. Serving alongside Archbishop Daniel were pastors of St. Volodymyr Cathedral Rev. Ivan Lymar and Rev. Mykola Lymar, Protodeacon Andriy Fronchak, Deacon Myroslav Mykytyuk and the Seminarians of St. Sophia Seminary (Subdeacon Pavlo Vysotskiy, Subdeacon Yaroslav Bilogan, reader Maksym Zhuravchik, reader Andrii Vatrich, and Seminarians Andrii Akulenko and Mykols Stefanyk). Responses to the evening’s service were sung by the beautiful choir of this parish. Thursday’s service and Reading of the 12 Gospels is a unique service that occurs only once per year during Passion Week.
Among the days of Holy (Passion) Week, Great and Holy Thursday occupies a special place. On this day, the Church commemorates the Last Supper of our Lord Jesus Christ with His disciples - the apostles. At the Last Supper, the Savior established the main Sacrament of our Church - the Sacrament of the Eucharist, or Communion, during which all believers taste the true Body and the true Blood of Jesus Christ under the guise of bread and wine. The Holy Orthodox Church teaches that, without Communion, there is no true Christian life since in this Sacrament takes place the most complete, utmost possible on earth, the grace-filled union of man with God. Moreover, without Holy Communion, there is no Church, no Christianity, since all our teachings are focused on the Eucharist. The Last Supper began with ablution. The Son of God, the Creator of the world, performs a ceremony traditionally performed by slaves: He washes the feet of the apostles. The disciples were amazed at the actions of their Divine Teacher. They took their ablution from Jesus in silence. Only the Apostle Peter, a fervent man, could not restrain the feelings that seized him. "O, Lord!" Peter exclaimed, "Do You wash my feet?"(John 13:6) To this Christ replied: "Now you do not know what I do now, but you shall know hereafter... Unless I wash you, you have no part with Me." (John 13:7-8) By His example, the Lord showed not only love for the disciples but also taught them humility - so that they would not consider it an abasement for themselves to serve their neighbor.
Also on this Day, we remember the very last time of Jesus before the soldiers seized Him. Before that, He went and prayed, prayed that God would give Him the strength to endure everything that awaits, also from here we see that he was a real man, and a real God because as the man He was afraid and prayed that the He would pass everything that should happen, but how God who came to save us, he went to suffer voluntarily for us and our sins. (Matt. 26: 21–42) We see how strong prayer should be and with what power he prayed to his Father and our Father, one of the last examples from Him how to address Our Father who is in heaven. Now his disciples left Him and ran away, and He was left alone, although not alone but with His Father, who loves us so much that he gives Him to suffer for us to save us. Truly a Great Day where incredible and sacred things happen that will be experienced towards the end of time.
The service that is carried out on Thursday is very beautiful. It is a truly breathtaking service, which was engraved in the memory of everyone present there. Clouds of incense, prayerful atmosphere with the subtle odor of sadness were present there. Sadness because of Jesus who is betrayed and bound, the very last moments of His life were read now.
In his sermon, Archbishop Daniel said that on the Last Supper there were not 13 people, only Jesus with His disciples, but there was one more person, the devil himself, who tempted apostles and especially Judah Iscariot. Who later went and betrayed Jesus, kissed Him, and gave to the hands of elder priests. Although it is not a happy and joyous service, it makes us think about our life if we do not betray Him now by our actions. Little by little, we step toward the Great Day of Resurrection, but there is no Resurrection without Golgotha, where we go today with Jesus in His way, experience it with Him, and take part in it.
Written by Reader Andrii Vatrich
Photos by Subdeaon Yaroslav Bilohan, Seminarian Mykola Stefanyk and Olena Lymar