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The Holy Fifty Days

The period of the Fifty Holy Days is a special period in the ecclesiastical cycle. The prominent feature of this period is joy. The Church prays with a festal tune in all Her liturgies and prayers, including the funerals. During this period, the Church lives the life of happiness, which was experienced by the holy disciples after Christ’s resurrection and His appearance to them. The Divine inspiration describes this joy as such, “Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.” (John 20:20) The Lord’s presence with the disciples led them to experience joy, which lasted with them for the rest of their lives. In the beginning, they saw the Lord with their eyes and touched Him, and they were happy. He continued to appear to them for forty days speaking to them about things pertaining to the Kingdom of God (Acts 1:3), until the time came for Him to leave them and ascend to heaven. However, after the forty days when Christ ceased to appear to them, the disciples’ happiness did not end. In fact, this joy stayed with them because they continued to see Christ, but in a different way. At first, they saw Him with their physical eyes. Afterwards, they saw Him with the eyes of faith, which don’t need the physical evidence of His presence. Christ promised His disciples before His ascension that He will remain with them for all days; He said, “I am with you always even to the end of the age.” (Matt 28: 20) The disciples realized that His presence does not have to be a physical one similar to the times before the crucifixion and during the forty days. Therefore, they did not feel that Christ’s ascension meant an end to His presence with them and an end to their joy. On the contrary, their happiness continued after Christ’s ascension. St. Luke mentioned in his gospel the following, “And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. Now it came to pass, while He blessed them, that He was parted from them and carried up into heaven. And they worshipped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.” (Luke 24:50-52) Our Church teaches us how to be happy in the Lord.

Since our true joy is in God’s presence with us, during the Fifty Holy Days we learn to be happy because of Christ’s presence amongst us, as well as our presence with Him.

Through Her liturgical services during the Fifty Days, our Church teaches us that happiness is in God’s presence. Consequently, we pray with the festal tune and praise God saying, “Christ is Risen” (Ikhristos Anecti). The Resurrection Procession during the Diving Liturgy allows us to feel the true happiness based on Christ’s presence in our midst. Even spiritual matters such as prostrations (metanoias) and fasting, which don’t agree with the festal rites, are halted during the Fifty Days since the friends of the bridegroom can not fast while the bridegroom is with them (Mark 2: 19-20).

The Church’s readings during the Fifty Holy Days revolve around the theme of our Heavenly Bridegroom, Who is present in our midst. Thus the readings of the Sundays of the Fifty Days present to us different aspects of our Heavenly Bridegroom.

The first Sunday, Thomas Sunday, affirms the resurrection of the Bridegroom, His victory over death by shattering the power of sin, and releasing the Church (the Bride) from bondage to sin. As the Bride, who is the Church or the human soul, gets acquainted with her Bridegroom, she sees in Him the following:

He is the Bread of Life, Who nourishes us. The Heavenly Bridegroom said, “He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6: 35) The Gospel reading of the second Sunday is from John 6: 35-45.

He is the giver of the living water and whoever drinks of Him will never thirst. During the Gospel reading of the third Sunday (John 4: 1-42), Christ presents to us, along with the Samaritan Woman, the living water. He told her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me to drink’, you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” (John 4: 10) When she inquired about the ability of Christ to give her living water, the Lord revealed to her the power of the living water in the person, who drinks of it, by saying, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” (John 4: 13-15)

He is the Light of the world, Who lights our lives. In the Gospel reading of the fourth Sunday (John 12:35-50), our Heavenly Bridegroom says, “I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness.” (John 12: 46)

He is the way, the truth, and the life. Through Christ we see the truth and know the way to God and eternal life. In the Gospel of the fifth Sunday (John 14: 1-11), our Heavenly Bridegroom says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Fr. except through Me.” (John 14:6)

He is our peace and the source of our victory in conquering the world and its troubles. In the Gospel of the sixth Sunday (John 16: 23-33), our Heavenly Bridegroom says, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulations, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16: 33)

We must share our joy with others:

During the Fifty Holy Days, we become acquainted with our Heavenly Bridegroom and discover the power of His divinity, His abundant mercy, His promise to us for eternal life, and sitting with Him in the heavenly places. As we reflect on His loving actions towards us, we become happy, and no one can take away our joy.

This period teaches us that our joy in our Heavenly Bridegroom increases when we invite others to share with us this joy. Those who saw the Resurrected Christ, e.g. St. Mary Magdalene, the Marys, the disciples at Emmaus, the disciples, and the others who witnessed the Resurrection all went and told others. After our Lord Jesus Christ revealed to His disciples the mysteries of the life of joy, He asked them to be His witnesses “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1: 8)

The everlasting joy in the Lord:

Our experience of joy due to God’s presence in our midst should not be limited to the Fifty Holy Days, but should extend to all the days of our life. The disciples were happy when they saw the Lord, but their joy continued after the Ascension, and they exhorted us to be happy in the Lord all the time. St. Paul experienced the joy of being with the Lord and invited us to rejoice in the Lord always saying, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice.” (Philp. 4:4)

Spiritual practices to express the joy of being in God’s presence:

We should train ourselves during the Fifty Holy Days to rejoice in the Lord. The following are some spiritual exercises to help us achieve that:

When we partake of the Eucharist, we are receiving Christ within us. Thus Christ is with us and we are with Him. Our Lord said, “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in Him.” (John 6: 56). Partaking the Body and Blood of Christ allows us to receive Christ inside us, thus leading us to rejoice in the Lord; no one can take away our happiness. Therefore, during communion, we praise the Lord by chanting Psalm 150. The Divine Liturgy is the celebration of our Lord’s death and resurrection. We meet the Lord like the disciples who met Him after the Resurrection, and we rejoice in Christ, Who is within us.

One of the beautiful spiritual practices during the Fifty Holy Days is to partake of the Eucharist often, especially during the early morning Liturgies, the time of Christ’s resurrection. We will then experience the joy of those who witnessed the Resurrection of the Lord.

Some pay a great deal of attention to partaking of the Eucharist during Lent, and then see the Fifty Holy Days as a time to lax spiritually. Therefore, they don’t pay much attention to attending the Divine Liturgy and receiving communion. However, this is a beautiful period to experience the joy of receiving the Lord in Holy Communion. Partaking of the Divine Mysteries transforms for us the joy, which the disciples experienced after Christ’s resurrection, from a historical event to an actual event, which we can experience along with them.

When we are happy, it is appropriate to praise God by chanting. St. James the Apostle said, “Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms.” (James 5: 13) We should take great interest in praising God and chanting during the Fifty Days by participating in the praises of the Church. Also, we should add to our personal prayers parts of the psalmody, e.g. the Doxology of the Resurrection, and memorize some of the hymns. This way we teach ourselves to express our joy in the Lord by praises and hymns.

We rejoice in the Lord and our joy increases as we know Him more and experience Him with more depth. Therefore, one of the beneficial exercises during the Fifty Days is to concentrate our readings on the Person of Christ. We should read books, which address His divinity, His qualities, and His love for us. Thus we come out of this period with deeper knowledge about the Person of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ.

Our joy in the Lord should not be limited to us only. One of the beneficial exercises also is to let others know about the Risen Christ, so they can share with us our joy in the Lord.

We should practice bringing joy to others by searching for the souls troubled by sin, certain problems, or incurable diseases and wipe their tears. We bring joy to their hearts by helping them know the Lord, Who said, “Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28)

May the Lord help us, by His presence amongst us, to experience the life of joy and always live happily with our living Christ, Who loved us and gave Himself up for us.

Posted by Fr. Moses Samaan

April 9, 2009