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Holy Monday, The First Day of Orthodox Holy Week

Holy Monday Greece
A monastery on Mount Athos. Credit: Michalis Famelis,  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0/Wikipedia

The first of the seven days leading up to Easter, called Great and Holy Week in the Greek Orthodox Church, is Holy Monday. The Church has dedicated this day to the memory of Saint Joseph Pangalos, the 11th son of the great Hebrew patriarch Jacob.

Joseph was a virtuous man who chose to live his life as such—something which bothered his older brothers, who decided to sell him as a slave.

He was sold to Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s guard in Egypt.

Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph, but he refused her advances. This enraged the rejected woman, who then made false claims that Joseph tried to rape her. Joseph was then thrown into prison.

Joseph was able to leave prison after interpreting one of Pharaoh’s dreams in which he predicted seven years of abundance followed by seven years of famine.

St. Joseph is honored on Holy Monday in Greek Orthodox Church

Greek Orthodox Easter Saint Joseph Holy Monday
“St. Joseph Explaining his Dream,” Wurzinger, 1845. Credit: Public Domain

Joseph advised the Pharaoh to store surplus grain against the coming famine, and by doing so, he saved the people of Egypt.

Following the fulfillment of the prediction, Joseph became Vizier and took the name of Zaphnath-Paaneah.

The man who was once sold into slavery by his brothers was now one of the most powerful men in Egypt, responsible for food distribution in the kingdom.

As Joseph’s brothers were on the verge of starving to death, they traveled to Egypt and presented themselves to him, begging for his help.

Although the brothers did not recognize Joseph, he realized who they were and helped them, showing the greatness of his soul.

Holy Monday sets the stage for Greek Orthodox Easter

For Christians, Joseph is seen as a prototype of Jesus, one who endures great hardships yet perseveres and goes on to save his people.

For the Greek Orthodox Church, Holy Monday is also known as the day which commemorates the withering of the fruitless fig tree, a symbol of judgment which befalls those who do not bring forth the fruits of repentance.

In addition, for Greeks, Holy Monday marks the beginning of the preparations for the celebration of Easter in villages across the country. People paint flower pots red and use paint to outline their yards in white.

About Easter in the Greek Orthodox Church

Greek Orthodox Easter, or Pascha, is the most important religious feast of the year with customs and traditions that have been part of Christianity for over two thousand years.

The 40-day period of Lent before Easter (Πάσχα-Pascha), the solemnity of Holy Week, the rich symbolism, and the unique traditions of Orthodox Easter make it a very different experience from the Easter celebrated by Western Christians.

The way Greek Orthodox Easter is observed by the faithful is very unlike the way it is commemorated by Western Christians; different symbols are used to symbolize the Resurrection, and Easter is often observed on different dates.

Every Easter, Greeks thank and honor Jesus Christ who died on the cross for our sins, and we celebrate the miracle of the Resurrection, the rise of Jesus Christ from the dead and the promise of an afterlife.

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