The Synaxaria for Holy Week


Synaxarion: Holy and Great Monday

On Holy and Great Monday we commemorate the blessed Joseph the All-comely and also the withered fig tree.
Inasmuch as the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ has its beginning on this day, and as Joseph is regarded as an image of Christ from former times, he is thus set forth here.

Joseph was the son of the Patriarch Jacob, born to him by Rachel. Being envied by his brethren on account of certain of his dreams, he was first concealed in a dug-out pit, and his father was tricked by a bloody garment and the deceit of his children into thinking that he had been devoured by some beast. Joseph was then sold to some Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver; they, in turn, sold him to Potiphar, captain of the eunuchs of Pharaoh, king of Egypt. His wife was enraged by the young man's chastity, because not wishing to commit sin, he fled from her, leaving behind his garment. She slandered him to his master, and he was put into bonds in a harsh prison. Afterwards, he was released because of his ability to interpret certain dreams; he was brought before the king and appointed governor of the whole land of Egypt. Later, he was made known to his brethren through his distribution of grain. Having spent the whole of his life well, he died in Egypt, recognized as being great in his chastity and kindness toward others. He is, moreover, a prefiguring of Christ. Christ was also envied by His own people, the Jews: He was sold by a disciple for thirty pieces of silver and was imprisoned in the dark and gloomy pit of the grave, whence He broke out by His own power, triumphing over Egypt, that is, over every sin. In His might He conquered it, and He reigns over all the world. In His love for mankind He redeemed us by a distribution of grain, inasmuch as He gave Himself up for us, and He feeds us with Heavenly Bread, His own Life-bearing Flesh. For this reason, Joseph the All- comely is brought to mind at this time. He is also commemorated on the Sunday before the Nativity of Christ.

At the same time, we also commemorate the withered fig tree, because the divine Evangelists Matthew and Mark tell of it after their accounts of the palm branches. One says, "Now the next day, when they had come out from Bethany, He was hungry" (Mark 11:12); while the other says, "Now in the morning, as He returned to the city, He was hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it but leaves, and said to it, 'Let no fruit grow on you ever again.' Immediately the fig tree withered away" (Matt. 21:18-19). The fig tree, then, is the Jewish synagogue, in which the Savior did not find the necessary fruits of obedience to God and faith in Him, but only the leafy shade of the Law; He took away even this, leaving it completely bare. But if anyone should ask, "Why did an inanimate tree wither and fall under a curse when it had committed no sin to make it wither?" It was because some people, seeing that Christ went about doing good to all, never causing real suffering for anyone, imagined that He had only the power to do good and not to do harm. The Master, who loves mankind, did not wish to demonstrate His power on a man and commit such a deed. To convince an ungrateful people, however, that He also possessed the might to impose punishment, but not wishing to use that power in His goodness, He inflicted such punishment upon inanimate and insensible nature.

There is also another mysterious explanation, which has come down to us from the wise elders. As St. Isidore of Pelusium says, "This was the tree of the transgression of God's commandment, whose leaves, the transgressors, also used to cover themselves. Because it did not suffer at that time, Christ, in His love for man, cursed it, so that it would no longer bear the fruit that was the occasion of sin."

It is also quite clear that sin is likened unto the fig, inasmuch as it possesses the "delight" of sensual pleasure, the "stickiness" of sin itself and the "hardness and sharpness" of a guilty conscience.

The Fathers, moreover, put the story of the fig tree here to arouse compunction and in relation to the story of St. Joseph, since he is a prefiguring of Christ.

The fig tree is also every soul which is devoid of all spiritual fruit. In the morning, that is, after this present life, if the Lord finds no refreshment in such a soul, He withers it with a curse and hands it over to the everlasting fire. It remains standing as a dried-up post, striking fear into those who do not produce the fitting fruit of the virtues.

Through the prayers of St. Joseph the All-comely, O Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.

Troparion of the Bridegroom

Behold! The bridegroom approaches in the middle of the night,
And blessed is that servant whom He shall find watching;
But unworthy he whom He shall find careless.
Beware, therefore, O my soul.
Be not overcome with sleep,
lest thou be given over to death and shut outside the kingdom.
But arise and cry:
Holy, holy, holy art Thou, O God!
Through the Theotokos have mercy on us!

Kontakion, Tone 8

Jacob lamented the loss of Joseph,
But his noble son was seated on a chariot and honored as a king.
For he was not enslaved to the pleasures of the Egyptian woman,
But he was glorified by God, Who sees the hearts of men
and bestows on them a crown incorruptible.

Ikos: Let us now add our lamentation to the lamentation of Jacob, and let us weep with him for the ever memorable and chaste Joseph, who though enslaved in body preserved his soul free from bondage and became lord over all Egypt. For God grants His servants a crown incorruptible.

The Exapostilarion (The Hymn of Light)

Thy bridal chamber, O my Savior, I see adorned,
and I have no raiment with which to enter therein.
Enlighten the garment of my soul, O Giver of Light, and save me.

Synaxarion: Holy and Great Tuesday

On Holy and Great Tuesday, we commemorate the parable of the ten virgins, because the Lord related this parable to His disciples as He was going toward Jerusalem to His Holy Passion.

He told the parable of the ten virgins to call attention to almsgiving, at the same time teaching that every man must be ready before the end comes. He had spoken many times to them about chastity. Virginity is held in great honor, because it is indeed a great thing. Yet, lest anyone, while practicing this one virtue, neglect the others, and particularly love, by which the lamp of virginity is given light, he will be put to shame by the Lord. The Holy Gospel introduces this parable, calling five of the virgins wise, because they represent readiness to practice both love and virginity, and five of them foolish because, though they had virginity, they did not have love commensurate with it. They are foolish, therefore, because they practiced a great virtue yet neglected one that is easier and were reckoned as being no better than harlots; the latter were defeated by bodily pleasures, whereas the former, by possessions.

As the night of the present life was going by, all the virgins fell asleep, that is, they died, for death is called a sleep. While they were sleeping, a cry rang out in the middle of the night, "Behold, the Bridegroom is coming; go out to meet Him!" (Matt. 25:6). Those who had their oil ready and lamps trimmed went inside to the Bridegroom when the doors were opened. Earlier, the others, who had insufficient oil after their sleep, had asked the first for oil. The wise virgins wished to give them some, but could not. Before they went inside, they replied, "No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves" (Matt. 25:9). While they went to buy, the Bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with Him to the wedding, and the door was shut (See Matt. 25:10). The foolish virgins knocked on the doors and called out, "Lord, Lord, open to us" (Matt. 25:11). But the Lord Himself uttered the terrible reply: "Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you" (Matt. 25:12). For how can you see the Bridegroom if you lack the dowry of mercy? On account of this depiction, the parable of the ten virgins was given its place here by our God-bearing Fathers to teach us always to be watchful and ready to meet the true Bridegroom with good works, especially almsgiving, because the day and hour of the end are unknown to us. Therefore, it is made quite clear that after death, correction of mistakes and wicked acts shall be impossible, a teaching which is also found in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus the beggar. (See Luke 16:19-31)

In the same way, we are taught by the All-comely Joseph to practice chastity and by the fig tree to produce spiritual fruit at all times. He who practices one virtue - and a great one indeed - but neglects the others, especially love, does not enter into eternal life with Christ but is turned back and is put to shame. There is nothing sadder and more shameful than to see virginity set at naught by possessions.

O Christ our Bridegroom, unite us with the wise virgins and join us to Your chosen flock, and have mercy on us and save us. Amen.

Troparion of the Bridegroom

Behold! The bridegroom approaches in the middle of the night,
And blessed is that servant whom He shall find watching;
But unworthy he whom He shall find careless.
Beware, therefore, O my soul.
Be not overcome with sleep,
lest thou be given over to death and shut outside the kingdom.
But arise and cry:
Holy, holy, holy art Thou, O God!
Through the Theotokos have mercy on us!

Kontakion, Tone 2

Understanding that this is the final hour,
and fearing the cutting down of the fig tree,
work diligently with the talent given thee, O wretched soul,
be vigilant and cry:
May we not be left outside the bridal chamber of Christ.

Ikos: Why art thou slothful, O my wretched soul? Why do useless cares occupy thy thoughts amiss? Why dost thou busy thyself with things that pass away? The final hour is at hand, and we shall be parted from all earthly things. Therefore, while there is yet time, rouse thyself and cry: I have sinned before Thee, O my Saviour. Do not cut me down like the barren fig tree. In Thy compassion, O Christ, take pity on me who call out with fear: May we not be left outside the bridal chamber of Christ.

The Exapostilarion (The Hymn of Light)

Thy bridal chamber, O my Savior, I see adorned,
and I have no raiment with which to enter therein.
Enlighten the garment of my soul, O Giver of Light, and save me.

Synaxarion: Holy and Great Wednesday

On Holy and Great Wednesday the divine Fathers ordained a commemoration to be kept of the woman who was a harlot and who anointed the Lord with myrrh, inasmuch as this took place a short time before the saving Passion.

As Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, when He was in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came and poured most precious myrrh on the head of Christ and wiped His feet with her hair, rendering Him service at a very great cost to herself. This event is set forth here that, according to the Savior's word, her act of great fervor may be proclaimed to everyone everywhere, and because it occurred a short time before the Passion. What moved her to act thus? She had seen how merciful Christ was and how accessible to all; now, in particular, she saw Him enter the house of a leper, whom the Law deemed unclean and unfit for society. She thought to herself that He would heal the man's leprosy and likewise the illness of her own soul. Thus, while He was seated, she poured on the top of His head a quantity of myrrh, which was worth about "three hundred thirteen denarii in silver coin," that is, sixty assaria, and she wiped His feet with her hair. She placed her head at His feet, showing her zeal for repentance, but the disciples rebuked her, particularly Judas Iscariot. Christ, however, welcomed her, not allowing them to frustrate her good intention. He further mentioned His burial, dissuaded Judas from becoming a traitor, and honored the woman by saying that her good deed would be related everywhere, throughout the whole world.

Let it be known that there are two women who anointed the Lord with myrrh, as the divine Chrysostom says. He said that in the three Evangelists there is a certain woman who is also called a harlot, while in Saint John there is another woman, Mary the sister of Lazarus, who was not a harlot but a friend of Christ. Thus, the woman in St. John's Gospel is not the same as the one mentioned by the other Evangelists. Whether both of them anointed Christ on the same day - this is not mentioned. Others, however, assert that there was a third woman: the one who was at the house of Simon the Pharisee; a second, Mary the sister of Lazarus; and a third woman, a different one who was at the supper. Although this opinion is added as a supplement, it is not known whether it can be held as accurate, since one of these women is not she who is now set before us.

That nard, or rather myrrh, with which the harlot anointed Christ, was very costly. It belonged to that type of compound called myrrh, which Moses was commanded by God to make for the anointing of priests and chief priests. It is of this that David says, "It is like the precious oil on the head, running down to the beard, to Aaron's beard, running down to the edge of his garment" (Ps. 132:2). It was a compound of four substances: myrrh, flowers, fragrant cinnamon, and oil. It was called true or genuine, because skilled and trusted men were appointed to prepare that which God had in a mysterious manner revealed to Moses alone. An alabaster jar is a glass vessel made with no handle, which is also called a vykion.

We should know that today the deceitful Judas, that lover of money, that whelp of Satan, began the negotiations with the wicked Sanhedrin to betray the Master for thirty pieces of silver. Being indignant after Christ rebuked him for showing concern for the cost of the oil of myrrh, he sought out the Jews who were at the court of Caiaphas. After taking council with the Jewish High Priests, he searched for an opportunity to betray the Lord when He was alone, for the Sanhedrin feared the multitude that followed Christ.

We see in today's Gospel (Matt. 26:6-16) that the sinful woman brought oil of myrrh to anoint Christ, while Judas brought his greed to the Sanhedrin. She spread out her hair to wipe the Lord's feet, while Judas stretched out his hands for the money. She rejoiced to pour out the very precious oil on the Lord, while Judas made plans to sell the One who is above all price. By anointing Christ, she acknowledged Him as Lord, while Judas severed himself from the Master. She was set free of her sins, while Judas was entrapped and became a slave of the devil. She tenderly kissed the feet of Christ, asking for forgiveness, while Judas plotted to betray the Lord with a kiss, anticipating the silver.

Because the betrayal of Christ occurred on a Wednesday, the Orthodox Church has received the tradition from Apostolic times to observe Wednesday as a fast day throughout the entire year.

O Christ our God, Who was anointed with the noetic myrrh, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.

Troparion of the Bridegroom

Behold! The bridegroom approaches in the middle of the night,
And blessed is that servant whom He shall find watching;
But unworthy he whom He shall find careless.
Beware, therefore, O my soul.
Be not overcome with sleep,
lest thou be given over to death and shut outside the kingdom.
But arise and cry:
Holy, holy, holy art Thou, O God!
Through the Theotokos have mercy on us!

Kontakion, Tone 4

Though I have transgressed, O Good One,
more than the harlot,
I have never offered Thee a flood of tears.
but, praying in silence,
I fall down before Thee,
with love embracing Thy most pure feet,
that Thou as Master mayest grant me remission of sins.
And I cry to Thee, O Saviour:
Deliver me from the defilement of my evil deeds.

Ikos: Having come to hate the works of sin and carnal pleasure, the woman who before had been a prodigal became chaste at once. Calling to mind the magnitude of disgrace and the condemnation of torment which harlots and profligates, of whom I am first, shall endure, I also am afraid; yet I foolishly continue in my evil ways. But the woman who was a harlot, having been filled with fear, hastened quickly to the Deliverer, crying out: "O compassionate Lord who lovest mankind, deliver me from the defilement of my evil deeds."

The Exapostilarion (The Hymn of Light)

Thy bridal chamber, O my Savior, I see adorned,
and I have no raiment with which to enter therein.
Enlighten the garment of my soul, O Giver of Light, and save me.

The Hymn of Cassia

O Lord, the woman who had fallen into many sins,
perceiving Thy divinity,
became one of the Myrrhbearers,
bringing Thee ointment in tears before Thy burial.
She cried, "Woe is me!
"For I lived in a night of licentiousness,
"moonless and dismal love of sin.
"Accept the fount of my tears,
"O Thou who drawest the waters of the sea from the clouds.
"Bow down Thine ear to the sighing of my heart,
"O Thou who didst bow the heavens in Thine ineffable self-emptying,
"that I may kiss Thy most pure feet
"and wipe them again with the hairs of my head,
"the feet whose step Eve once heard in Paradise in the cool of the day,
"when for fear she hid herself.
"My sins are many. And who may search the depths of Thy judgments?
"O Saviour of souls, my Saviour,
"despise not Thy servant
"in Thy limitless mercy."

Archpriest Victor Sokolov, Rector, Holy Trinity Cathedral (http://www.holy-trinity.org),
San Francisco, CA (http://www.schmemann.org)