Orthodox Christians Mark Start of Holy Week
Orthodox Christians in Bulgaria and around the world mark on April 2 Holy Monday – the first day of the most important week in the church calendar, the Holy Week leading to Easter.
For Christians, Holy Week is the last week of Lent and the week before Easter. It includes the religious holidays of Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday (Holy Thursday) and Good Friday. Easter Sunday is the first day of the new season of The Great Fifty Days.
Holy Week - also known as Passion Week - commemorates the last week of the earthly life of Jesus Christ as recorded in the Canonical Gospels.
During Holy Week, services for each day are held on the preceding evening. Thus, the service of Great Monday is sung on Palm Sunday evening, and so on.
In the Orthodox Church, Great Lent ends on the Friday before Palm Sunday, but the faithful continue fasting until Easter. Fasting during Great and Holy Week is, actually, very strict. Dairy products and meat products are forbidden. On most days, no alcoholic beverages are permitted and no oil is used in the cooking.
Friday and Saturday are observed as strict fast days, meaning that nothing should be eaten on those days. However, fasting is always adjusted to the needs of the individual, and those who are very young, ill or elderly are not expected to fast as strictly.
On Holy Monday, the Gospels tell the story of Jesus and his disciples traveling to Jerusalem for Passover, where he expels the money changers from the Temple, accusing them of turning the Temple to a den of thieves through their commercial activities
In the Orthodox Church, Holy and Great Wednesday is the commemoration of the sinful woman who anointed Jesus before his Crucifixion and Burial; a second theme is the agreement to betray Jesus made by Judas Iscariot.
Maundy Thursday is connected with the Last Supper, the final meal that Jesus Christ shared with his Twelve Apostles in Jerusalem before hiscrucifixion. Jesus, on the night he was betrayed or "delivered up", gave his disciples bread, saying it was his body, which was broken for them, and gave them wine, saying it was the new covenant in his blood, and told them to do it in his memory.
For children in Bulgaria, Maundy Thursday is the most anticipated day of Holy Week. The tradition is to get up very early and go watch which hen will be the first one to lay an egg. This is the first egg to be colored, always in red. It is rubbed on children's cheeks for good health. In the Orthodox Church, those who cannot dye their eggs Thursday are allowed to do it on Saturday.
Good or Holy Friday is the Day of the Crucifixion, dedicated to the passions of the Christ. Work and chores are not allowed on this day – the only thing one can do is to draw on the already colored eggs. Food is also banned; the faithful can only drink water.
On Holy Saturday, people visit the graves of their departed family and friends and share colored eggs and bread. This is the day to bake the traditional Easter bread known as kozunak.
The Easter vigil starts at midnight before Easter Sunday, which is the great feast day and culmination of not only Holy Week but the whole year. On this day, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is celebrated. It is considered the most important day in the Church year, as it is the day on which Jesus rose from the dead. Easter Sunday is the main reason why Christians keep Sunday as the primary day of religious observance.
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