Pascha Week Background
Without question, the Pascha week is the holiest week of the entire year. The artistic beauty and spiritual depth of the rites of this week are at its zenith. Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection are the foundation upon which the whole fabric of Christianity is built.
In this week we commemorate our Lord’s journey, from entering Jerusalem riding on a donkey on Hosanna Sunday to His crucifixion on Good Friday and finally concluding with His glorious Resurrection on Sunday.
The Word “Pascha”
“He is the Pascha of our salvation.” -Melito of Sardis
The word Pascha has a complex and confusing historical interpretation. Pascha or Pesach in the Old Testament referred to the Jewish Feast of the Passover, the paschal lamb itself, and sometimes denotes both together. It also referred to the first night of the Unleavened Bread, or as a reference to the entire week of Unleavened Bread.
In the Christian tradition the use of the term Pascha varies, according to the theological focus. The early Latin Rite, which focused on the sufferings of Christ, used Pascha to refer to the “Passion” and thus related more closely to the day of our Lord’s Crucifixion. One example of this is Melito of Sardis, who writes, “What is the Pascha? It is taken from an accompanying circumstance paschein (to keep Pascha) comes from pathein (to suffer). Therefore, learn who the sufferer is and who is he who suffers along with the sufferer.
However, there is a second and more accurate understanding of Pascha, which was interpreted as “passage” instead of “passion.” This understanding was introduced by the Jewish writer Philo, and continued by the famous Alexandrian fathers, the Scholar Origen, St. Cyril of Alexandria, and St. Clement. Thus, our Church focused more on the glory and victory of the Resurrection rather than the sufferings.
This “passage” or “passing through” relates to the Lord’s explanation to His people in the book of Exodus, “It is the Lord’s Pascha. For I will pass through the land of Egypt on that night” (Exodus 12:11-12). The Lord then repeats this saying, “And when I see the blood, I will pass over you” (Exodus 12:13). The Hebrew word for “Passover” comes from the phrase “pass over.” In Hebrew pacach (pronounced paw-sakh), means to hop, to skip over, or to spare.
Therefore, we regard this entire week, not just as remembering the suffering of our Lord on the Cross, but as a gateway to eternal life. Our goal is not to weep for Him alone, but to pass over with Him from death to life. We look not only for the crucifixion of our bodies, but for the resurrection of the dead. This is the difference between the western understanding of Pascha, and the Orthodox understanding. Therefore, we refer to this period as the “Holy Pascha Week”, while avoiding the phrase, common in the western tradition, “Holy Passion Week.”
During the Pascha, our focus is not so much on the suffering of our Lord, but rather the victory and salvation that was accomplished through His death and resurrection. Christ Himself says “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again” (John 10: 17-18). We are reminded in our Lord’s words that He has the power to lay down His life and He willfully did so for our salvation. This is why the whole week we pray the paschal doxology: a praise to our Lord of His power and strength and how He accomplishes our salvation.
The Paschal Praise
“Thine is the power, the glory, the blessing, the majesty forever Amen. Immanuel our God and King.
Thine is the Power, the blessing, the majesty forever. Amen. My Lord Jesus Christ…
[my good Savior (added Tuesday 11th Hour).
The Lord is my strength and my praise; He has become to me a sacred Salvation (added Eve of Good Friday)].
Thine is the power, the glory, the blessing, the majesty forever. Amen.”
The full hymn in Coptic is as follows:
|Thok te ti-gom, nem pi-o-oo nem pi-esmo, nem pi-amahee sha eneh amen, Emmano-eel pen-nouti pen-oroo.|
|Thok te ti-gom, nem pi-o-oo nem pi-esmo, nem pi-amahee sha eneh amen, pa-Shois Esos Piekh-restos…|
|(Ta-gom, nem pa-esmo pi-epshois af-shobi nee, af-sotereia ef-owab).|
|Thok te ti-gom, nem pi-o-oo nem pi-esmo, nem pi-amahee sha eneh amen.|
The words are first found in King David’s praise to God in 1 Chronicles 28:10-11. “Blessed are You, Lord God of Israel, our Father, forever and ever. Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, the power and the glory, the victory and the majesty; for all that is in heaven and in earth is Yours…”
In the New Testament, Christ used these same words as the concluding doxology to Our Lord’s Prayer that He taught to the disciples: “And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” Matthew 6: 13
The praise is repeated three time. The first time it is said, it concludes with the church declaring collectively that our Lord is Emmanuel our God and King. The second time it is repeated, it concludes with a personal declaration that He is my Lord Jesus Christ. The Paschal Praise reminds us the importance of the Church declaring as one body that He is our God but also the importance of personal declaration that He is my Lord.
On the 11th Hour of Tuesday, we add the words “my good Savior” to the second verse. The Church wishes to prepare us for the next ‘step’ that He is our Good Lord, our Bridegroom, from whom all good things come. Furthermore, it prepares us to think of the Lord as the “Savior” and Passover Lamb. Adding “our good Savior” from Wednesday night, as the plot to betray the Lord Christ was the practical step towards salvation. -Pope Shenouda III
To prepare us for this message of love, the Church adds the words “The Lord is my strength, my praise and has become my salvation” to the Paschal hymn “Thine is the power” on the Eve of Good Friday. This is another reminder that the Lord is preparing Himself and us for His Holy Crucifixion. This is first mentioned in the Song of Moses after crossing the Red Sea (Exodus 15:2). It is also quoted in Isaiah 12:2 and by David in Psalm 119:14. Thus, the same God who delivered Moses and the Israelites will deliver the prophet from time of trouble. In the psalms, this verse appears a few verses before the declaration of the Resurrection, which we use in the Resurrection Enactment, “Open to me the gates of righteousness, I will go through them…” (Psalm 119:19). Thus, the Church uses one to commemorate the crossing of the Red Sea, a type of the Crucifixion; and the salvation of the Lord through His Resurrection (Treasures of the Church Fathers).
History of the Hymn
“Although some mention that the entire Bible was read during the Holy Week, most scholars believe it is more probable that the entire New Testament was read, with a special focus on the gospels. The first official selection of readings seems to be made by H.H. Pope Gabriel, the 70th Pope of Alexandria, who selected some of the prophesies from the Old Testament, Psalms, and the New Testaments that memorialized these events in the last week of Christ’s ministry. He then distributed them among the daily hours and compiled it into the Holy Pascha. The work of Pope Gabriel was then reorganized and revisited by H.G. Bishop Peter, Bishop of Bahnasa. Bishop Peter added some of the sermons and homilies of the early Fathers of the Church and also adjusted some of the rites, such as the Blessing of the Water on Holy Thursday.
By the thirteenth century, Patriarch Gabriel III summoned a committee of scholars to formulate a more organized service of readings and Psalms. They included the signing of “Thok te ti-gom” “Thine is the power” as well. The result was something very similar to the Pascha book we use today in the Coptic Church, though it was much smaller. The text was written in both Coptic and Arabic, though the Arabic was probably only used as a reference, not in the prayers. In the thirteenth century, ibn al-Assal wrote expositions to the gospel readings for each hour. The above practices almost identically coincide with the practices of the Coptic Orthodox Church today. From the celebration of the Last Friday of the Great Fast to the Liturgy of the Eucharist for the Feast of Resurrection, the readings, celebrations, and prayers are in line with the Tradition which has been handed down from the Early Church.
Rites of the Hymn
From The treasures of the Father – The Holy Pascha
It has been said that the hymns of the Coptic Orthodox Church are among the oldest ecclesiastical hymns still chanted today in the entire world; many of these melodies evolved from Pharaonic times. The service of the ritual is interspersed with a number of hymns of great antiquity and amazing magnificence. The mournful tunes fill us with comfort and inner relief. They lead man into impalpability and transcendence over worldliness to rest in the serenity and peace of God.
In addition to these hymns, most parts of the Holy Week service are set to plain tunes; simple in their structure, but matchless in their penetration and their power to bring man into the depth of devotion, thereby filling him with celestial ecstasy. The Paschal doxology, Thine is the power, is perhaps the great hallmark of the entire week. Its repetition leads to one of great depth and internal reflection. The Church repeats this one hymn twelve times in each hour to replace the twelve Psalms for each prayer of the canonical hour. The words of this doxology can be found in the books of Chronicles I (29:11) & Jude (1:25). Its words are very simple, comprised of only twelve words in Coptic, thirteen in English. Not only is the Paschal hymn a psalm of prayer, it is a historical sermon. It is a simple introduction, not only to the prayer of our Heavenly Father, but into the life of our dear Lord.
From Pope Shenouda III “Thine is the Power and the Glory”
During this week, the holy Church concentrates on one subject: The Lord Christ’s suffering. For this reason, the Psalm readings and the Canonical Hours which cover various subjects relating to the Lord Jesus Christ including His birth, His ministry, His Resurrection, Ascension and sitting on the Father’s right hand and His Second Coming in His Glory, are replaced by a special hymn chosen by the Church especially for the Pascha Week in which we address the Lord suffering for us.
We sing this hymn for the Lord Christ all through the Passion Week, following all His movements. We chant this doxology instead of the Canonical Hours (Agpeya), the five ‘day’ prayers and the five ‘evening’ prayers (1st, 3rd, 6th, 9th, and 11th hours). We repeat the hymn twelve times in each prayer instead of the twelve psalms that are included in each prayer of the Canonical Hours.
The Paschal praise is repeated 12 times in every Hour of Pascha. At the same time, the Prayer of Our Father is also repeated 12 times inaudibly. The chanting of the hymn alternates between the north and south choruses and as one side is chanting, the other side is praying the Lord’s Prayer inaudibly.
Spirituality of the Hymn
From Pope Shenouda III “Thine is the Power and the Glory”
“The Lord Christ left Jerusalem to Bethany, where we follow Him, saying “Thine is the Power, the Glory, the Blessing…” The Chief Priests were annoyed when the Lord cleared the temple, and said “By what authority are you doing these things?” But we say “Thine is the Power, the Glory, the Blessing, and the Majesty…Immanuel our God and our King”…They planned to kill Him, while we defend Him saying, “Thine is the Power, the Glory, the Blessing.” The Lord, in humility, bent to wash the Disciples’ feet, and we praise Him saying, “Thine is the Power, the Glory, the Blessing, and the Majesty…” The Lord prayed at Gethsemane in such agony that His sweat became as drops of blood and we proclaim, “Thine is the Power, the Glory, the Blessing, and the Majesty…” We follow Him hour by hour; when arrested, put under trial in the presence of His enemies, crowned with thorns, flogged, falling under the cross, nailed, till He commended His Spirit into the hands of the Father and when He took the robber on His right with Him into Paradise, and we continually chant unto Him the hymn, “Thine is the Power, the Glory, the Blessing, and the Majesty, forever Amen.”
Thine is the Power
- The praise we attribute to Christ is of His great power, as St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Corinthians: “Christ the Power of God” (1 Cor 1:24)
- This is important because many saw Christ as week on the cross, but we the believers see His true power on the cross.
- He was powerful in His Miracles and in His Holiness: His power over nature. His power over sickness and health. His power over creation as He created food for the multitude. And His power over death.
- We remember with this hymn the Lord’s New Concept of Power
- The world sees power as violence and the ability to defend oneself and to subject others, but the Lord set us an example of power which loves, sacrifices, endures all and gives without limits.
- We remember that He has the power to destroy, but He allows Himself to rule with love. His love was more powerful than death and destruction.
- We glorify the Lord’s endurance during Holy Week and understand the power in endurance.
And the Glory
- During Holy Week we see Christ despised for our sake as said in Isaiah 53:3 “He is despised and rejected by men…and we esteemed Him not.” And acknowledge that Christ did not abandon His glory during the passion week events.
- He sat with tax-collectors and sinners and was thus called a glutton and winebibber.
- He healed the sick and was accused of breaking the Sabbath.
- He taught us the depth of Scripture and was accused of violating the Law
- We see Him being humiliated for our sakes, and yet we glorify Him because we know Him to be
- In the bosom of the Father since the beginning as said in John 1:18
- “with Your Father before the world was.” John 17:5
- Given all authority in Heaven and on earth. Matthew 28:18
- We follow what was said that for Christ “every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth.” Phil 2:10
- We chant “Thine is the Blessing” despite the fact that He accepted the curse of the Cross for us as it says: “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.” (Gal. 3:13)
- For this curse, they crucified Him outside the camp, so that He would not defile it, and we follow Him in His Passion Week, as St. Paul said, “Accordingly, let us go forth to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach” (Heb. 13:13)
- For this reason, we stay outside the sanctuary during the Holy Week.
- When Man was created, God blessed him, and when he fell, a curse came unto earth, as God said to Adam, “Cursed is the ground because of you” (Gen. 3:17).
- Amidst the curses of the Law, mankind dreamt of God fulfilling His promise to Abraham, “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen. 22:18)
- Our Lord came and took away the curse of the Law and instead became a source of Blessing to us.
- Although Our Lord chose humiliation, He is still to be glorified and revered.
- Lord, You have been mighty, respected and feared all Your life.
- The story of the Cross is just a reaction of the fear of Your enemies. They felt You are more powerful and closer to the hearts than them. You were more convincing with people, so they feared for their authority.
During the blessed Week of Holy Pascha, let us contemplate on the Lord’s power, glory, blessing, and majesty. Let us raise our hearts in oneness as we chant the hymn “Thok te ti-gom.” Let us be removed of all distractions that deviate our thoughts and focus on the victory of our Lord through His crucifixion on the Cross. As we journey through the ‘Pascha’, we ask the Lord to prepare our thoughts and minds to seek His Salvation, as we jubilantly proclaim, ‘The Lord is my strength and my praise; He has become to me a sacred Salvation.’
Source and where to go to learn more:
- “Behind the Hymns” Aired on March 6, 2015. SAT7 Production. Retrieved from: https://youtu.be/CIBJOqCoF3A