Holy Week is one of the reasons I became Orthodox. Seriously. The beauty, the intensity, the sheer joy of it immediately drew me in. As a Protestant, I had always believed that Good Friday and Easter should be, well….more. And, thanks be to God, I found that more in Orthodox Holy Week.
As a young, engaged woman, my first Holy Week and Pascha was nothing short of awe-inspiring.
Now, fourteen years, one husband, and three kids later, I still experience the awe. However, I also experience another emotion: stress.
Recently I’ve been noticing this same trend in various Orthodox social media groups I am part of as well as among my real-life friends. Don’t get me wrong, we all love Holy Week and Pascha. But, there’s just so much to do!
We need to: bake the kulich (or tsoureki), get the candles, remember how to fold Palm leaves, dye eggs, make the cheese Pascha, find outfits for the kids. Oh, and don’t forget to find the other traditional items for the Pascha basket, remember where you put that Pascha basket from last year, prepare the flowers for the services, and make sure that you have something appropriate to wear (what are those traditional colors again?).
And there was that blog that gave all of those really cute craft and lesson ideas for each day of Holy Week. Didn’t you see a site awhile back that had free printable coloring pages?
Not to mention that the family will still need to eat regular meals while going to many late services. And laundry. Yup, there’s laundry and cleaning like usual. All of this on top of the normal work week, school week, or homeschooling week.
It’s no wonder that we’re stressed! The danger is that in the midst of all of this busyness, we will rush right by the peace, solemnity, and joy that Christ is inviting us into as we walk with him to his holy death and resurrection.
Now, I don’t have all of the answers. As a full-time teacher, clergy wife, and mother of three, I understand busy. Instead I’ll just share some thoughts and ideas–ways to help reduce the stress and simplify Holy Week. Take what works for you and leave the rest.
A Simple Holy Week: Tips for Reducing Stress
As you seek to create a simple Holy Week, take a few minutes to consider your priorities. If you had to choose only 3 things to focus on this Holy Week, what would they be? Maybe you want to attend every service, or maybe you wish to select just a few and be completely present at those. Maybe you would like to have a beautiful and exciting Pascha basket. Maybe you want to sing in the choir or help with flowers.
Your priorities might be different from another woman’s, and that’s ok. No judgement. Just love and support for each other.
My priorities are:
-attending all services
-talking with my kids before and after each service to help them understand what is going on
-supporting my husband as he goes through his first Holy Week as a priest.
That’s it. If the other things–the egg-dyeing, the food-making, etc.–don’t happen, I’m ok with it.
Another way to reduce your stress is to delegate tasks. Do YOU really need to be the one who does all of the Holy Week prep? Or, can you ask others to help?
-Perhaps your husband can read Orthodox children’s books with the kids that help teach them about Holy Week.
-Maybe your older children can help the younger dye eggs.
-Could you swap baking with a friend? Maybe she makes two loaves of kulich and you make all of the cheese Pascha?
-Are you the only one at church who can decorate the kouvouklion? Can you train others?
I am happy that my kids are getting older and able to do more around the house. This Holy Week, my kids will be responsible for their own laundry and cleaning. They also get their own outfits ready for services. These are little things that add up to less stress for me.
As women, we often things that we need to do everything ourselves. However, outsourcing certain tasks can be extremely helpful and time-saving.
-Allow yourself to get take out some evenings before or after a service. I am already excited about the Chipotle burrito that I am going to have on Friday evening…..
-Order the kulich, cheese Pascha, or other item for your basket. For years our family has picked up BBQ from a local hole-in-the-wall BBQ joint to have in our basket. Traditional? No. Delicious? Yes.
-If you want to go to a service but don’t want to take the children, can you hire a babysitter? My husband and I swapped evenings for several years when our children were younger.
-If you can afford it, there’s no shame in hiring someone to clean your house, mow your yard, or do your laundry. This will take those daily tasks off of your plate and bless someone else financially.
This year I plan to outsource by ordering my groceries online and picking them up curbside to save time and energy. We will also go out for two meals during the week.
4. Lower Your Standards
As the saying goes, it costs nothing to lower your standards. If your house isn’t cleaned for one week, it will not fall apart. Even if your meals aren’t masterpieces, your children will still be fed. Don’t expect perfection from yourself during Holy Week.
Maybe that means:
-eating PB&J, hummus and veggies, or frozen shrimp for dinner
-letting the laundry or housecleaning go
-allowing your children to bring books or paper and pencil to help them make it through the long services
-not bringing a homemade dish to the Agape Vespers potluck dinner (fried chicken from the grocery store for the win!)
-not showering or bathing your kids each night (or, is that just me….)
Finally, the biggest tip for having a simple Holy Week: Focus on the “one thing needful.” Remember the story of Martha and Mary?
Martha was working her hardest in the kitchen to prepare for her Lord. She had cleaned her house, prepared dinner for over 13 guests, and was generally running herself ragged. Her intentions were good–she wanted to serve the Lord. But, ironically, her service kept her out of the presence of the Lord.
Mary, on the other hand, and much to Martha’s annoyance, was oblivious to all of the bustle in the kitchen. She hadn’t thought of the meal or worried about the dirt on the floor. She knew what she wanted: to spend time listening to Jesus.
Which sister does Jesus praise? Mary. Because she knew that, while there were many things that could be done, only one thing was necessary. Only one thing was important. Only one thing was needful–being in the presence of Christ.
My dear sisters, this Holy Week, let us remember that, while there are many things that could be done, Christ calls us to the one thing, the most important thing. Let us sit quietly in his presence and listen to Him.
Let us walk beside him on the road to Golgotha. Let us weep beneath his Cross. Let us hold vigil at his tomb. And let us overflow with joy as the angels tell us the good news, “He is not here. He is risen.”