The Prayers of Holy Week Explained


The Prayers of Holy Week Explained


1- Introduction and Structure:

The prayers of Holy Week begin in the Orthodox Church on the evening of Palm Sunday and extend until the Divine Liturgy of Pascha.

- Before we enumerate these prayers and explain them, it is necessary to draw attention to the fact that the services in this week are not held on time, but they are arranged differently in the following manner:

1- The Bridegroom Service that is held on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday eve is actually the Matins of the next day.

2-The Holy Oil Service, which is held on Wednesday evening, is actually the Matins for Thursday.

3-The Gospels of the Passion that are read Thursday evening are from the service of the Matins of Friday.
4-The Descending from the Cross which is held on Friday morning is in fact the vespers for Friday.

5-The Holy Saturday Liturgy combined with Vespers is in fact he Liturgy of the vigil that started on Saturday night to Sunday. Some think it is the Liturgy of the Feast.



The Service of the Bridegroom: Meeting the Bridegroom and Being Garbed with light.

The name of the service is from the figure of the Bridegroom in the parable of the Ten Virgins. Christ speaks of a spiritual wedding where the bridegroom comes at midnight. Some virgins are ready to receive Him with their lamps while others are not ready. These are left outside the wedding (Matthew 25:1-13); hence, the Church sings: "Behold the Bridegroom comes in the middle of the night and blessed is that servant whom He shall find watching…". From Palm Sunday evening until Great Tuesday evening, the Orthodox Church holds a special service called “The Bridegroom”, which is in fact the Matins for the next morning.

The image of the Bridegroom indicates the close loving relationship that binds us to Christ, for the Lord compares the Kingdom of God to a bridal chamber. According to the patristic tradition, this parable is related to the Second Coming of Christ. It teaches us that we need vigilance and spiritual readiness to keep the commandments and receive the blessings of uniting with God in this life and in the age to come.

That is why in the hymn the Church warns us not to fall asleep so that we meet Christ. Returning to the parable, we note that only the wise virgins entered the wedding. Here, is emphasized the notion of meeting and union with Christ, to hear in another chant: " Thy bridal chamber, O my Savior do I behold all adorned."

This is the bridal chamber where the newly wed sleep. Now, every faithful soul asks to become a bride of Christ, but are we really dressed in the wedding garment?

Here the chant continues: “…and a garment I have not that I may enter therein. Illumine the garment of my soul, O Giver of Light, and save me” This is similar to the wedding of the prince in Matthew 22:1- 41.

The humble soul asks God to grant a garment to enter the wedding.


Sometimes we find the word “behold the man” ό άνθρωπος on the icon of the Bridegroom.

This is related to what Caiaphas said about the Lord Jesus Christ: “`Ye have not known anything, nor reason that it is good for us that one man may die for the people, and not the whole nation perish' (John 11:49-50).

Whether Caiaphas realized or not, he uttered a prophecy.

The words of Caiaphas came after Jesus had resurrected Lazarus from the dead and many believed bin Him. The chief priests, therefore, and the Pharisees, gathered together a Sanhedrim, and said, `What may we do? because this man doth many signs? if we may let him alone thus, all will believe in him and the Romans will come, and will take away both our place and nation.” (John 11:47-48) 


The Prayers:

After we saw and witnessed the resurrection of Lazarus from the dead and the entry of the Lord Jesus to Jerusalem to be crucified and resurrect on the third day, as He had foretold it to his disciples, we enter the procession towards the Golgotha with the Lord in prayers and services of beauty beyond description and expression.

In fact, we live this passage with the Lord from death to life, a passage from the earthly Jerusalem to the heavenly Jerusalem, a passage in which the Lord declared victory over death, as we previously sang on Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday:

“As by baptism we were buried with Thee, O Christ our God, so by Thy Resurrection we were deemed worthy of immortal life; and praising Thee, we cry: Hosanna in the highest; blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord.”

The central theme is to be constantly prepared for the reception of Christ, who is the absolute bridegroom of all humankind.

The lessons, hymns and events derived from the Holy Bible highlight important aspects of the history of salvation; they bring to our minds the facts that preceded the Passion of Christ and through the declaration of suffering.

Note: The written readings that are recited in the evening prayers in the great week are taken from the books of Exodus and Job. The reason for this is clear: The Book of Exodus tells the story of the passage that was a symbol of the passage of all humanity from the bondage of death to eternal life, through the sacrifice of Christ himself and His resurrection. As for the Book of Job, in the image of a model saint who was not from the Jews but who accepted the divine revelation and enjoyed the vision of God, it provides the experience of overcoming death through patience and absolute confidence in God. He became a prototype of the Passion of Christ, and of the universality of salvation.



Detailed Explanation of the Prayers

The First Bridegroom Service - Joseph and the sterile fig tree

 – click here to read the explanation

The Second Bridegroom Service - The Ten virgins - click here to read the explanation

The Third  Bridegroom Service  - The Adulterous Woman - click here to read the explanation

Holy Oil Service - Click here