Great and Holy Friday

Today we hold a funeral service for God. Holy Friday is all about “God is dead, we have killed Him!” It goes up as a common lamentation. Perfect Man and perfect God, the second person of the Trinity, who took on our nature that He might redeem us. “God Man that man might become God,” as the saying goes. And we crucified Him as a heretic.

“Today is hung upon the Tree, He Who did hang the land in the midst of the waters. A Crown of thorns crowns Him Who is King of Angels. He is wrapped about with the purple of mockery Who wrapped the Heavens with clouds. He received buffetings Who freed Adam in Jordan. He was transfixed with nails Who is the Bridegroom of the Church. He was pierced with a spear Who is the Son of the Virgin. We worship Thy Passion, O Christ. Show also unto us thy glorious Resurrection.”

From the Greek Archdiocese:

The Vespers of Friday afternoon are a continuation of the Royal Hours. During this service, the removal of the Body of Christ from the Cross is commemorated with a sense of mourning. Once more, excerpts from the Old Testament are read together with hymns, and again the entire story is related, followed by the removal of Christ from the Cross and the wrapping of His body with a white sheet as did Joseph of Arimathea.

As the priest reads the Gospel, “and taking the body, Joseph wrapped it in a white cloth,” he removes the Body of Christ from the Cross, wraps it in a white cloth and takes it to the altar. The priest then chants a mourning hymn: “When Joseph of Arimathea took Thee, the life of all, down from the Tree dead, he buried Thee with myrrh and fine linen . . . rejoicing. Glory to Thy humiliation, O Master, who clothest Thyself with light as it were with a garment.” The priest then carries the cloth on which the Body of Christ is painted or embroidered around the church before placing it inside the Sepulcher, a carved bier which symbolizes the Tomb of Christ. We are reminded that during Christ’s entombment He descends into Hades to free the dead of the ages before His Resurrection.

Friday night is the service of Lamentations. I don’t remember it well enough to describe it in any detail, but I do remember it being beautiful and poetic. So there is a bier at the front of the church, in front of the iconostasis, that was put up after the morning service. It has on it an icon of Christ’s body, and is covered all over in flowers – probably carnations and baby’s breath. Everyone enters the church quietly before the service starts and venerates the bier. I can’t remember how the service starts, but after a while we light candles and process around the outside of the church, each person holding a candle, singing “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us!” as a funeral dirge. Then there’s something with myrrh-bearers. Girls dress in white, with baskets of rose petals. We sing the lamentations, a kind of chanted poem, while the priest shakes holy water on everyone and the girls follow, scattering petals. Some churches don’t have the girls (like in the video below), I’m not sure why.  The hymn already anticipates Pascha in that it’s about the women coming to the tomb carrying myrrh, and is a bit more joyful than sorrowful. At one point the priest exclaims to each person as he or she walks under something (I think it’s an icon) “joyous resurrection” or something to that effect.

This is actually a Saturday Matins service because of what I mentioned before, about everything being shifted forward by about 12 hours.

If you want to visit a service, this is an excellent one to go to: I can’t describe it accurately – you have to be there. So be there!

From the end of the service until Liturgy on Saturday morning we hold a vigil over the bier. Some churches make it a youth sleep-over, while others ask people to sign up for shifts. There are a variety of ways to organize things, but the most important part is that somebody is always reading Psalms at the front of the nave, preferably while holding a candle. It’s a beautiful experience: time sort of melts, and everything is anticipation of His rising.

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