How You Can Keep This Holy Week From Being a Total Bust
Guest post by Laura Michael
Seven or eight of us gathered in a small classroom after dinner, dumping our heavy bookbags against the wall. We nodded our greetings.
One guy hooked his laptop up to the screen and turned it on. He opened a browser and scrolled to the livestream of his home church. The Evening Pascha service was about to begin, and, in the video, we could see people milling about and hear the quiet murmurs of preparation.
I attended college miles away from the nearest Coptic church, and many of the members of our college group came from big Coptic churches and were used to attending every Evening Pascha after school. They were missing that experience here, but we were doing the next best thing: streaming it together.
Others tiptoed into the room over time, some carrying their dinner, filtering in as their classes let out. While we didn’t quite fill the room, we could feel that stillness in Christ’s presence, the miniature Body of Christ that we were.
Together, we stood, and our voices joined the chorus of the stream for “Thok Ta Ti Gom.” We listened intently to the readings and stood respectfully for the litanies. We sat riveted for Abouna’s sermon at the end of the night, many of us taking notes as though we were still in class.
I’ll never forget those days when we were so hungry to be at church and a livestream was our only option. (Maybe you also had that experience while churches were closed for the pandemic. Holy Week 2020, I’m looking at you.)
Something’s lost though, isn’t it, when it feels like everything’s done for you, when you go to Evening Pascha at a big church, and there’s an uncle up there doing all the work. All you have to do is show up and look holy (or so it seems!).
But it was different for us in those days. If we didn’t get off our butts and go to that classroom, if we didn’t provide the tech and hook it up ourselves, there would be no Evening Pascha. Our presence was make-it-or-break-it.
To fully experience Holy Week, you need to do the same thing. No, I don’t mean you need to stream it from a college classroom. You need to take ownership of it. You need to understand that if you don’t participate in the service, it’s just as though it didn’t happen.
If you don’t put your heart into the litanies, their efficacy is reduced. If you don’t sing the hymns, their power is weakened. If you don’t respond to Abouna, the service is diminished.
Picture the church as one giant light bulb, shining through the world, lighting it up with holiness and righteousness. When you’re distracted or silent, the bulb flickers. When everyone is distracted or silent, the bulb goes dark. Every person needs to do that job of powering the light, and that means YOU.
Pascha is not Pascha if you are not there in body, mind, heart, and soul.
Sometimes it’s hard to really feel present for Holy Week. Maybe you have work, exams, or projects all the way up to the last minute. It can be stressful balancing responsibilities and services, but there are ways to set it up, so you can get maximum benefits.
I’m not going to give you a ten-step process to prepare for Holy Week. You don’t need a hundred to-dos.
You only need to do three things.
First, prepare for Holy Week by being proactive.
Any studying or work you can complete ahead of time—do it. Contact your teachers and work managers and explain that this is a holy time for you and how you plan to take off. Let them know that you won’t be available on Covenant Thursday and Good Friday. Explain the importance of those days for you and your faith.
What a different feeling it is to truly center time with God and recognize everything else—yes even work—as a distraction from Him.
Next, fill the quiet moments of every day with Christ.
Change your down-time routine drastically. No Netflix, no secular Spotify, no video games. Disconnect from social media—and anything else that eats up your downtime.
Put Pascha on repeat. Let it become the soundtrack even while you’re doing all the other necessary things to survive in the world. This week, let all the downtime be for Him alone.
Christ suffered and died on the Cross for you, yes, you, this week and surely you can make Him a priority. Treat every other task as the pesky interference it is.
Finally, make it a point to attend the services.
If you can be there in person, do it. If you can’t, watch a stream. Whenever there’s an opportunity to be doing Pascha instead of something else, grab it.
Maybe you can listen to music while working independently? Stream the church service.
Maybe you can be on your phone at lunch time. Watch the service in a different time zone or replay the one from your local church. (If you’ve done it for a World Cup game, you sure better be doing it for Pascha!)
Be that guy or girl in the corner completely immersed in Christ’s passion.
Then when the days come that you can attend Covenant Thursday, Good Friday, Apocalypse Night or all of the above, your body, mind, heart, and soul will already be tuned into the right mode, to the right channel.
Laura Michael is the founder of CopticDadandMom.com which provides resources to Copts to help them grow in faith in the diaspora. She is also a teacher, mother of two, and wife of Fr. Philopateer. She and her family serve in Jacksonville, Florida. You can find her on Instagram @copticlaura