What the Byzantine Church Can Teach Us About the Triduum
Even though my family heritage contained many good strong Irish Catholics and a fair amount of French Canadian faithful, it is sadly not these beautiful traditions that preserved the faith in my family. My parents fell away from the Church in the sixties because, for all intents and purposes, their faith had drifted into a meaningless shell of religious do’s and don’ts. All semblance of intimacy with Christ had long been glossed over and their deep human longing for an encounter with God, was not nurtured in their experience of the mid-century Catholic Church in America. The Church wasn’t strong enough or personal enough to hold them with the onslaught of the temptations of the sixties culture.
However, thankfully, like the good monks of old, the Byzantine Catholic Church (in full communion with Rome of course), was there, amid their tumultuous experimentation and the upheaval following Vatican II, as a rock, helping to preserve our deep mystical patrimony. In its very nature, the Byzantine life oozes the theology of transformation, divinization and recapitulation in Christ that my parents had unknowingly been longing for. Through Gods providence, they found their way home through the Byzantine Church. This accounts for my faith today and the fact that I am a technically a member of the Ukranian Byzantine Church even though I don’t have an ounce of Eastern European blood in me.
But what does any of this have to do with living the Triduum – this Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday – with a deeper and more authentic spirit? For me, it has everything to do with it. You see, as a young girl, I was baptized in the Byzantine Church, but outside of visits back to the monastery where I was dunked in Holy Water, I had no real contact with this tradition. I was raised in the same small, liberal-leaning, Roman parish, that my mother grew up in. It was still caught in the hangover of bad theology and even poorer liturgical expression of the sixties and seventies. Thankfully, with the vibrancy of my parents’ conversion and the Pascha journeys they took us on back to the monastery, I was given a rich environment in which my union with Christ could take shape. This has shaped every single one of my Triduum encounters.
I have vivid memories of the long liturgies, the foot washing, the liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts. I remember the great fast of Holy and Great Friday, which even as kids we lived, while at the same time carving butter lamb sculptures and delicately decorating eggs, braiding bread and attending liturgies multiple times throughout the day. Above all I remember the immense sense that I was not just remembering events of old, but that I was being invited to live them in my own being. I was at Calvary. I was being asked to offer my life. I was suffering, letting myself die with Christ. I was in the tomb with him. Of course, as children and even later in my adult life, I complained about the ridiculously long services, the often redundant refrains, “Again and again and again let us pray to the Lord.”
But as we somberly marched around the monastery in the dark of the midnight mist, with the icon of “Christ Buried,” slowly marching . . . steadily growing our hope that our resurrection was near . . . I remember a profound realization. Christ is not asking me just to observe this religious moment, but embrace it as my moment of salvation, my moment of truly entering into his life. As the Alleluias began to resound and the chandeliers were swinging in the rafters and rose petals drifted through the air, I knew I had arrived at heaven’s gate and I had passed through darkness of death to new life. Christ had come and lived his Paschal mystery in me.
This Triduum we are called to participate in the trampling down of death and the restoration of life. We are called to mystically journey into Chirst and in him, into the mystery of our salvation that he wants us to participate in bringing about.
The God who created us without our care, will not redeem us without our “yes.” It’s the way it is. It’s the way he wants it. And beautifully, the more we are grafted into his life, living his life in our life, as our life, the more fruit we can bear as his hands and feet to the world. This means this is how we love our kids better, our husbands more, our wayward friend more authentically and how we overcome the enemies of ourselves, the world and the devil.
Of course the Roman Church has many powerful ways that these same mysteries are expressed and can be equally riveting. It is more important that we take the hints from the East to live this moment as if we were entering an alternate time and space where we are able to relive the life of Christ in our very selves. The east Engages all our senses in such rich and beautiful ways. With its deep bows, prostrations, repeated signing of the cross, the kissing of icons, the constant chant with rich harmonies and tons that reach deep into the soul, etc., we cannot but help encounter the Divine Nature into which we are called to enter. It becomes etched into our being just as the pain in our cramping legs from all the standing amid the liturgies. You don’t have to love everything in the Byzantine tradition to get the point. In fact, a few years back, my theologian, Marian-loving husband, who truly appreciates the Byzantine tradition, gently whispered in my ear during hour 2-and-half of the Holy Thursday Liturgy, “You might be Byzantine, but thank God I’m Roman!”
As moms it is our role in our homes to be the heart of our homes. This is the moment of moments for us. The climax of our yearly role as “domestic liturgist.” How can we learn from the east, the other lung of the Church (as St. John Paul II referenced the Eastern Communions) ways in which we can enrich our families’ experience? Here are a few suggestions for you to consider:
Consider adopting some of the unique terms of the east into your home to reinvigorate the significance of this season if you feel as if your devotion is a bit stale. “Great Lent,” “Holy and Great Friday,” “Bright Week.”
Consider visiting this orthodox website to print out a new icon for each day of the Triduum and placed it in a space of honor in your home with candles and even incense to help you enter in. We love essential oils, much due to my love for incense. Consider a blend for each day to help enliven our senses to the deeper realities at play and help us become the aroma of Christ to each other. Send me a message to learn what oils to blend and why.
Take your kids out school. No excuse could be better and don’t let sports, recitals, or concerts dominate this time. Stand up for your families faith culture and insist that its the first priority for these days. Attend the liturgies no matter where you. The Vigil especially if you have the opportunity.
Try entering into the fast from Good Friday till the Vigil on Holy Saturday and invite your kids to make a heroic act of penance during that time as well. No screens for everyone. Maybe you have a designated time of true silence with no earbuds in to mask it. Chant the rosary in a simple tone rather than just saying. Or perhaps gather for a spiritual reading. I love reading (as my mother always did) the later part of “A Woman Wrapped in Silence,” by John Lynch.
Take a pilgrimage to a monastery or Byzantine Liturgy and allow yourself to encounter the Triduum in a new light.
Avoid at all costs the commercialization of the season and instead focus on a basket of Easter foods. Bake Pasha bread. Google what goes into a traditional Easter basket.
A most powerful tradition you could implement is after Holy Thursday Mass and Adoration, live your own feet-washing in your home.
Plan on these days to be long, late nights and early mornings. Stream chat and sacred music and seek to help the kids take their roughhousing outside or all together to a park for nature walks rather than Ninjago fighting or pop music time.
Prepare to have the greatest feast of the year. Even if it is simple and inexpensive, make a point to mark the Resurrection in your home with greater embellishment than any other feast days. If there’s a time to splurge, now is the moment.
Greet one another with the Eastern tradition, “Christ is Risen.” “He is truly Risen!” And live Bright Week with intentionality. Each day is supposed to be treated as Easter itself.
What a gift this time is! Despite our greatest efforts, kids will whine, we may falter in our resolve and quite possibly even have to do serious battle to keep peace during these days. Don’t be disillusioned. Lean on the traditions that have been built over centuries and be thankful that we have two lungs to breathe with in the Church. If you haven’t tapped into the Eastern lung, I invite you to this year in small ways and work to live this time as St. Peter reminds us, as “partakers of the divine nature.” (2 Peter 1:4).
Consider inviting my husband and me to your parish or event this year to speak and we will unpack other special ways you can live a richer, more vibrant Catholic family life.