By Fr. John Sakellariou
As we make our journey into Holy Week, we are often grabbed emotionally by the strong hymnology of the Orthodox Church. This hymnology in its beauty and starkness serves as an engine to allow our minds and hearts to sync up and focus on the ultimate sacrifice that Christ made for us.
With this in mind, I would like to briefly focus on a verse from the Second Stanza of the Burial Lamentations which is often overlooked or even left out of most Holy Friday services. The verse reads: Like the pelican, you gave life, O Word, to your dead children, wounded in your side, you let life-blood flow, letting fall life-giving drops of blood on all.
On first hearing this, I was confused as to what connection the verse was trying to make between this animal and Christ. We all know that Christ was pierced with a lance while on the Cross but what does this have to do with a pelican? To my amazement, the Church in the past has used this forgotten symbol of the pelican as a type of Christ because of the sacrifice it is willing to take. The diet of pelicans usually consists of fish, but poisonous amphibians are also consumed for a special reason. Interestingly enough, the blood of a pelican becomes an amazing antidote to poison and can cure its young when bitten by poisonous creatures like the snake. When a pelican realizes that its young chicks are in danger of dying from the bite of a poisonous snake, it proceeds to do something that reveals its great love. It stands over its weak chicks and begins to peck at its side until blood begins to drip upon the mouths of the little pelicans. As they receive the blood bearing the poison antidote, they are revived and saved, thanks to the voluntary wound of their parent who bore them in the first place and now gives them new birth. As we read this beautiful hymn or pray along with other hymns during the Holy Week services, let them paint pictures in our minds and hearts of the saving Passion of Christ which was made for all of us.
Fr. John Sakellariou is the Assistant Priest at the Annunciation Church in Buffalo, New York. This article was originally published in the Shepherd's Staff Newsletter of April-May 2016.