Passion Week Psalms

As Passion Week approaches we find ourselves looking forward eagerly to this one very special week in our annual cycle. Those who can take a week off work. Uni students use it as an excellent excuse to skip classes (is there a better one?!). And of course, off the shelf comes the dusty Passion Week Book for a bit of early revision of the chief hymns and readings.

It’s a very special week.

With a lot of very long Psalms. So today, I just thought I’d share a few ideas with you on how to get the most from your time in Church during all those very long Psalms.

1. Contemplate the Psalm
Delve deeply into the meanings of the words. Why was this particular verse chosen for this particular time? What light does it shed on the prophecies that came before it and the gospel that follows it? If you are good at Coptic, look for the slight differences in meaning between the two languages that often reveal some unexpectedly beautiful thoughts. Let the tune of the Psalm take you away on a flight of profound reverie and insight…

2. Contemplate the Gospel
What would it have been like to have lived through these events with Jesus? What do the gospels tell me about Jesus, His personality, His thoughts, His ideals and His manner with people? Get to know Jesus as a real person through this biography of His last days.

3. Contemplate on the events of the day
The Passion Week Book has some concise summaries for each day as well as for the week as a whole. They run to many pages and reading them on the appropriate day can help bring the service to life. And then there other books full of contemplations on the events of this week, such as HH Pope Shenouda’s classic on the Seven Words of Christ on the Cross.

4. Contemplate an icon
Special icons of Christ are placed at the front of the Church during the services. They help focus our attention on Jesus Himself. Take the time to look at the ocon closely, to think about those thorns piercing the soft flesh, or to see the love in those eyes. I love looking into His face as we sing “Emmanuel our God, is among us now…” at the end of the service – it helps make it real.

5. Read a good book
Is there a particular virtue you would love to learn? Read a book about it through this week. Or what about that great book you’ve been meaning to get around to for ages but never had the time? This is your chance for some serious reading. Scribble your thoughts in the margins. Stop every now and then to digest what you have just read and consider how to put it into practice.

6. Read THE Good Book
Tradition dictates that we read the Four Gospels, The Book of Psalms and the Book of Revelation through Passion Week:

Tuesday = Matthew
Wednesday = Mark
Thursday = Luke
Friday = Psalms
Apocalypse Vigil = Revelation
Evening before the Resurrection Liturgy = John

Bring your Bible with you and read, read read! You’ll be amazed how differently you see a Gospel when you read it straight through, from beginning to end, like a novel. All sorts of patterns and lessons show up that you never notice reading it one chapter a day.

7. Lay a major problem before God
This is your chance to have a nice long uninterrupted talk with God. Don’t keep carrying that burden around for ever! This is a good time to unload and let Him share the burden, as He has always wanted to. Let His comfort and His peace flood through you as you realise that He is in control, whatever happens…

8. Keep a journal
Often you will come upon some lovely and inspiring thoughts or contemplations as you pray in Church. Keep a little notebook handy, and when you sit down for the Psalm, jot down those thoughts, perhaps with the time and ‘Hour’ of the Psacha when they came to you. This little journal can be a great support and motivator in later times when you are feeling down or lost. Just pick it up and read it, and you will be transported back to that lovely time in Passion Week!

9. Have a chat with Jesus
How well do you really know Him? How often have you really just stopped to chat? You don’t have to ask for anything, and you don’t have to complain. What about just sharing your life with Him – He’s all ears! Or better still, what about sharing HIS life with Him? Tell Him how you feel about all that happened to Him. Let Him know that you care.

10. Play a DVD in your head
Some people’s brains are very visual. Close your eyes and play a little movie in your imagination of the events of that hour and day. Try it from different perspectives, different people’s points of view. Movie makers often develop a much better grasp of events they are reconstructing than anyone else.

11. Pray for someone in need
Perhaps your heart is bleeding for someone who is going through a very, very difficult time. This is a great time to pray for them. I mean, really pray for them. With focus, with passion, with faith, with confidence in the love of God. but don’t forget to say, as Christ did in Gethsemane, “Let Thy will be done”.

12. Help a bored child (or a harrassed mother – same thing)
Passion Week can be torture if you have to keep a little child quiet for hours on end. Some mothers (not all!) would love the chance to have a few minutes of peace and wuiet to enjoy the prayers. Bring some colouring pages or activities for a mother you know might need them or even offer to keep the child busy (quietly please!) to help her out.

So much to do, so little time!!!

No wonder in times past when life was less hectic people would spend the whole week at Church! But at least we aren’t living in the most ancient of Christian times, when Passion Week was observed only once every 33 years…

Fr Ant

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7 Replies to “Passion Week Psalms”

  1. PERFECT TIMING!

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  2. Thanks Abouna!!
    I benifited very much reading that before going into the Passion Week journey. It was amazing!

    Sorry for going off topic- but I was hoping to perhaps get you’re oppinion on something.

    “http://tasbeha.org/content/community/index.php?topic=6500.0”

    What do you think? Is there a right and wrong side in the discussion, or does the truth lie somewhere in between?

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  3. Hi Monika

    The discussion you pointed out revolves around the issue of Pacificism. My definition of Pacificism, and the one I think the first poster was referring to, is the philosophical belief that all war is evil, and that one should never take part in war under any circumstances. Pacificists tend to be very unpopular when their country goes to war, and in some countries can even be put in prison for the duration of the war if they refuse to be conscripted into the army to fight for their country.

    My understanding of the subject from the Christian point of view may be summarised as follows:

    1. Not all violence is necessarily evil.
    2. There are rare situations when violence may be the only right course to take.
    3. War may be one of those situations, but (and this is VERY important) it must be a JUST war that is waged JUSTLY).

    To elaborate a little on the above:

    1. We know that God ordered wars (hence violence) in some situations in the Old Testament. If anti-violence were an absolute sin with no exceptions, that could not have happened.

    2. Imagine if you saw a little old lady being mugged and beaten by a thug, and the only way you could protect her was to hit the thug. Would that not be justified violence? Thus, protecting the weak and the innocent is about the only situation I can think of right now that would justify violence, and only when there is no other option available.

    3. An example of a Just war might be if another country tried to invade your country in order to take over and make you second class citizens, perhaps even do a bit of raping and pillaging and slaughtering along the way. You have the right to choose to die rather than fight in this situation, and from a Christian point of view, no one could say you made the wrong choice. But you have no right to make that same choice for others, especially for those who cannot defend themselves. Thus in this situation, I think the Christian thing to do would be to do all that is possible to prevent this atrocity, even fight as a soldier in the army and kill enemy soldiers. After all, it was they who came to your doorstep and threatened your people.

    However, power and war have a very corrupting influence. It would not be acceptable, in defending your land, to kill innocent civilians, or to purposefully torture enemy individuals, or, in other words, to do anything more than what is absolutely necessary for the defence of your land. This is what I mean by the war being conducted in a Just manner, for you are not just killing for the sake of killing.

    All of this is an over-simplified response because in the real world things are rarely ever black and white. Consider the following questions:

    – Was the USA justified in setting off the atom bomb at the end of World War II?

    – Were they justified in killing hundreds of thousands in order to save the lives of millions, on both sides, by ending the war so suddenly?

    – Were they justified in exploding TWO bombs, rather than just one?

    These are complex questions. I leave you to ponder…

    Fr Ant

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  4. How about the death penalty?…

    The reason I ponder this is not to be pretentious or controversial (though it could be for some, and for genuine reasons), because it has come up on numerous occasions (like the Bali 9, Corby etc.), and I have found myself changing camps. The problem here is I don’t know if this was influenced by spiritual-wisdom or by earthly wisdom…

    I do have the fear that once one is dead, enlightening evidence that would clear a wrongly accused and executed man might occur (and I think it has)- that would be tragic. But I think if that is the hindrance, it should be making sure that this sentence is only given to those who are proven guilty without any doubt, though I thought that is what it is with any sentence…I felt saddened when I thought Corby was going to get the death sentence, and when those guys did get the sentence. In my eyes at the time the sentence did not fit the crime, and I guess that is also a problem, since many will not see eye-to-eye with things like this also.

    Also, I commonly hear that those who have already committed a crime worthy of death, would continue making more abhorrent crime, just because it will not matter. That argument made me think.

    However, I notice that most of problems with the penalty is not based on anything uniquely Christian, however, as much as we elevate justice to a virtue. Thus, I just do not understand whether Christians should represent their anti-death penalty views as Christian-based?

    I am sorry for extending the “Debate” here…But the topic does get me conflicted now and again.

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  5. Hi Tony

    My understanding is that our Church once again does not oppose the death penalty in principle, given that some Old Testament crimes were punished with it.

    However, I think we would insist that the death penalty only be applied in cases of absolute certainty and in a humane manner. Unfortunately, modern states who apply the death penalty can guarantee neither of these conditions. Studies have repeatedly shown that up to 30% of people executed in countries like America eventually turn out to have been innocent of the crime for which they were executed. A court of law is only required to prove guilt “beyond reasonable doubt”, a far cry from absolute certainty. With the advent of DNA identification, many old cases that seemed watertight have turned out to be grave miscarriages of justice.

    States that use the electric chair regularly produce gruesome tales of prisoners living for quite some minutes while they experience their body being burned alive – hardly humane!

    What is worse is that most studies have found that the death penalty has absolutely no impact on the serious crime rate. It does not deter people from killing each other.

    Given all these factors, it would seem to me that the correct Christian response would be to oppose the death penalty as it is practiced in modern western societies.

    Fr Ant

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  6. abouna on the topic of passion week i was attending a tuesday eve and i hear a verse in one of the gospels which talks about the abomination of desolation but i didnt uderstand what is meant, can u please explain?

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  7. Hi Ibram

    Most of the Ancient Fathers identify the Abomination of Desolation with some form of image of the Antichrist that he will set up as the centrepiece of the Temple of Jerusalem which he is expected to rebuild. It is an abomination because it is a sort of horrible blasphemy that he will set up a statue of himself in the place where the Ark of the Covenant used to be, representing the presence of God in the Temple. It is like he is making himself out to be God.

    Hope that helps.

    Fr Ant

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