Holy and Great Thursday at St. Volodymyr Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral - Chicago, IL
Holy and Great Thursday at St. Volodymyr Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral - Chicago, IL

Великий і Страсний Четвер в Українському Православному Соборі св. Князя Володимира в Чікаго, ІЛ

“As we mark these celebrations, we need to remind ourselves that these are not just historical events to be recalled. This is the LIFE we celebrate. In liturgy, we actually share in the Holy Mystery of these sacred events of Holy Week. We are transformed by our celebrations. This Sacred day, we are truly fed, just as were the disciples at the Last Supper. It is Christ that we receive. It is not history, which gathers us together in these holy days. It is grace…”

His Eminence Archbishop Daniel, the spiritual father of the Western Eparchy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA marked the beginning of last three days of Holy Week on Thursday, April 13, 2023 at the Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral of Holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Great Prince Volodymyr the Great in Chicago, IL (Very Rev. Fr. Ivan Lymar – pastor).

There are four events commemorated on Thursday of Holy Week: the washing of the disciples' feet, the institution of the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist at the Last Supper, the agony in the garden of Gethsemane, and the betrayal of Christ by Judas.

His Eminence Archbishop Daniel led the Liturgical Service of the commonly known 12 Passion Gospels. The cathedral choir, under the leadership of Maestro Wolodymyr Popowych led the chanting of prayerful hymns and odes.

Following the conclusion of the service, Vladyka Daniel stated: "...Today, we remember that intimate meal Christ Jesus had with his disciples the night before he died to show his love for all humankind. It was a meal that continues to speak to us today about the Holy Eucharist, about our Priesthood (ministerial and baptismal), and about Christian love or agape expressed in humble service.

Very significant for not just this liturgy, but for the whole passion of Christ, is his focus on love, rather than the physical suffering that awaits him. It is all about love. Jesus came from the Father whom he loves, and now he is returning to the Father who loves him. Out of that love, the Father has trusted everything to Jesus – the whole plan of salvation. Jesus in turn has always loved his disciples, and now he wants to show how perfect his love is. He will do this, not so much by his physical suffering, but by a radical act of humbly washing his disciples’ feet.

“…The narrative of our Lord's Passion — His suffering, death and resurrection — begins in earnest on Holy Thursday after supper. And we therefore began to read and meditate on it today. We read together the words of all four evangelists, woven into 12 composite texts that tell nearly the entire account of the Passion from Christ's last words to His disciples at the supper table to his burial by Joseph and Nicodemus. After each reading, we sing hymns meditating on what we have just read, so that the significance of these events might pass into our hearts and we might give glory to our Lord and Savior. This service, which lasts about 3 hours, is a wonderful opportunity to learn who our Lord is, to learn something about His love and humility which truly surpass our understanding…

…I am constantly reminding myself: I am ONLY able to love because He (Christ) loved me FIRST! Our Lord tells us, "there is no greater love than to lay down one's life for one's friend" (John 15:13). We remember our Lord's suffering and submission to death in order to save us. It is truly a somber reminder, when we listen to the gospels and hymnology during the services of Holy Week.

The Lord asked his disciples if they understand his loving act of humility. It is a statement that sets the scene for all that will follow – his passion, suffering and death on the Cross. The focus through all of that for Jesus is not his physical suffering, but his love for his disciples, and for us. All the evangelists take pains to point this out by barely referring to his physical suffering. Both Mark and Matthew mention only that Jesus was stripped, mocked, struck on the head with a reed, then led away to be crucified. Luke mentions only that they led him away to be crucified. John says even less: “Then Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.”

This is just the opposite of the movie The Passion of the Christ by Mel Gibson, who makes Jesus out to be a Rambo V, beaten and bludgeoned ad nauseum. The evangelists, by saying so little, want to keep the focus on the deeper meaning of the Last Supper and the passion of Christ, and for us, the deeper meaning of the Eucharist and discipleship. It is all about the love that Jesus had for his disciples, and us, and the hope that we would enter into as intimate a loving relationship with him as he had with the Father. That is because it is a relationship of intimate love and not physical suffering that transforms hearts.

The lesson for us is that we are to imitate Jesus, the Lord and Master, to become a carbon copy of him, to do as he did, to let go of any need for possessions, prestige and power, to let go of any need to make a name for ourselves, and to give our lives in humble service out of love for him and for each other. We are to take off our outer robes as well, and to wash each other’s feet.

The gospel strikingly reminds us we do not celebrate the Eucharist for our own sake, or for our own personal holiness only, as if that was disconnected from life. We do it for others, for the broken world. 

Jesus washed the feet of his disciples to show the meaning of the priesthood, the meaning of the Eucharist, the meaning of our own baptism, and the meaning of what he would do on the cross. Love, following Jesus and Christian ministry is not about power and glory. No – love, following Jesus and ministry, is all about humble service.

There can be no compromise about this. Those who profess to follow Jesus, filled with his Spirit, must die to power and glory, and willingly accept to express their faith and love through humble service, through “washing each others’ feet.” To wash each other’s feet is to serve one another lovingly with complete humility. When we were baptized, we were made priests (prayer); prophets (truth) and shepherds (caregivers). We live out our baptism by celebrating the Eucharist together, and then going to live out the Eucharist through lives of humble service, washing the feet of our brothers and sisters.

Two hymns from the Service of the 12 Passion Gospels sung on Holy Thursday evening that always stir up great emotion within me are below:

"Every member of Thy holy flesh endured dishonor for us. Thy head, thorns; Thy face, spitting; Thy cheeks, buffeting; Thy mouth, taste of vinegar mingled with gall; Thine ears, impious blasphemies; Thy back, scourging; Thy hand, a reed; Thy whole body, extension upon the cross; Thy joints, nails; Thy side, spear. By Thy sufferings Thou hast set us free from suffering. In Thy love for mankind, Thou didst stoop down to raise us up. O Almighty Savior, have mercy on us!"

"Today He who suspended the earth upon the waters is suspended upon a Tree. (3x) A crown of thorns is placed on the head of the King of angels. He who wore a false purple robe covered the Heavens with clouds. He is smitten who, in the Jordan, delivered Adam. The Bridegroom of the Church is fastened with nails, and the Son of the Virgin is pierced with a spear. Thy sufferings we adore, O Christ! (3x) Make us ready to behold Thy glorious Resurrection."

If we want to remember our Lord's saving Passion & Death, let us not forget His glorious Resurrection. We live in a "post-Paschal" world. To paraphrase one of the Orthodox Theologians: The greatest tragedy is to live as if He never came…

Let us also take to heart the meaning of these Divine Services of the day – humble service and intimate loving union with Christ. Let us pray for the faith and love to live out the Most Holy Eucharist and our baptismal priesthood in humble service.

May our Lord grant that, through prayerful attention during these services, we may each come to love Him more.

In conclusion, those who were in attendance at the Holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Great Prince Volodymyr Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Chicago, IL, had an opportunity to once again participate in the prayers and the historical sequence of the events, as related in the Gospels and hymns, providing a vivid foundation for the great events yet to come.

Serving with Vladyka Daniel were the clergy of St. Volodymyr Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Chicago, IL: Very Rev. Fr. Ivan Lymar – pastor and Protodeacon Andriy Fronchak, Very Rev. Fr. Mykola Lymar of the Protection of the Birth-Giver of God Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Milwaukee, WI, assisted by the seminarians of the Church Subdeacons Maksym Zhuravchyk, Andrii Akulenko, Roman Marchyshak and Yurii Izhyk.

Once again, the evening entered those in attendance into the celebration of the holy, saving and awesome Passion of Christ. To take away our sins, Christ willingly endured the spitting, scourging, buffetings, scorn, mocking and the purple robe; the reed, sponge, vinegar, nails, spear and, above all, the Cross and Death. 

Holy and Great Thursday at St. Volodymyr Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral - Chicago, IL

Photos by Olena Lymar

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