Uploaded by dlucs on Apr 27, 2011
The male choir of Holy Trinity Orthodox Church, East Meadow, NY sings the troparion “The noble Joseph, when he had taken down Thy most pure Body from the tree, wrapped it in fine linen, and anointed it with spices, and placed it in a new tomb.” at the conclusion of vespers for Holy Friday, April 22, 2011.
Rev. George Mastrantonis
A Daily Account of the Solemn Services During Holy Week in the Eastern Orthodox Church.
“For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures; and that He was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve; after that, He was seen of above five thousand brethren at once.”
(1 Cor. 15:3-6)
Approach to Holy Week
Holy Week in the Eastern Orthodox Church institutes the sanctity of the whole calendar year of the Church. Its center of commemorations and inspiration is Easter, wherein the glorified Resurrection of Jesus Christ is celebrated. Every Sunday is dedicated in the Eastern Orthodox Church to the Resurrection of the Lord. One hundred days also are dedicated to Easter, 50 before it for preparation, and another 50 after it for commemorating the glorification of the Lord. Easter is considered the “Feast of Feasts.”
The 50 days before Easter, known as a part of the period of Triodion1 (“three” + “odes”), are the period for strengthening faith in the Lord. The means are well-known to people of spiritual experience. They are repentance, which means to change from indifference to full devotion; prayer, which is considered the soul of faith, and through which faith emerges from theory into life; and self-control, which governs our relationships with our fellowman. These means are practical indicators of our vivid faith in God. With this preparation, we are invited to enter the sanctuary of Holy Week, not as spectators, but as participants in the commemoration and enactment of the divine Acts that changed the world. A Christian must always be well-trained and well-armed to fight against those who try to corrupt his spirit and take away his freedom. The Christian must keep his own spiritual kingdom intact and his freedom of religion and uprightness vivid in order to be a part of the Kingdom of God, where the compassion of the Lord and His Resurrection will be experienced. There is no other place where the Kingdom of God can be expanded except the heart of man; and there is no other gate whereby we can enter the Kingdom but that of “repentance.” This was the proclamation of the new era of Jesus Christ, who said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matthew 3:2)
The 50 days which follow Easter are signified by the Pentecostarion2 Gr. Pentikonta 50). They are dedicated to the spiritual enjoyment of the participants in the deep belief that Almighty God is our Companion in our everyday life and thoughts. It starts with the celebration of the Lord’s Resurrection. During this period, the Church of Christ, which is His Mystical Body, was instituted and strengthened. His disciples and Apostles were the witnesses of the appearances of the Risen Lord; they were the recipients of the Holy Spirit, Who changed completely their attitude of fear, Who made the Apostles into piercing heralds and ambassadors of the New Message of salvation in the name of Christ, the Savior. This was an experience, teaching, and inspiration they handed down as the treasure of the Christian Faith. Christians are called to commemorate the same divine Events and to enact them in their hearts and minds, based on the realization that “Christ is Risen.”
The entire Christian confession is contained in the words “Christ is Risen.” St. Paul, referring to this fact, clearly and emphatically says: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” (I Corinthians 15:14) This is the reason why, from the beginning, the Church of Christ set forth as the center of its worship and faith the Resurrection of its Lord. From the earliest days after Pentecost, the Apostles designated “the first of the Sabbath” of each week for the remembrance of the Resurrection of our Lord. This day was called the “Lord’s Day” in the Revelation of John, who said: “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day…” (1:10) It was this tradition which the writers and hymnologists of the Orthodox Church had in mind when they wrote hymns and odes for eight consecutive Sundays (Lord’s days) having for their subject the Resurrection of Christ as the basic belief of redemption and of worship. The fifth article of the Ecumenical Creed of Faith, the Nicene Creed, refers to this belief as well.
The Resurrection of Christ, in relation to the Crucifixion, constitutes the essence of the Christian Easter, which is the center of the celebrations of worship of God in the Orthodox Church. Herein will be presented the events and services of the Passion Week, recorded in the New Testament, as they exist in the Eastern Orthodox Church today. The Passion Week, from the triumphant entrance of our Lord into Jerusalem until His Resurrection, contains a series of events in the life of Christ the Savior that link prophecy with its fulfillment.
“They cast lots upon my vesture…”
Good Friday Morning
According to the Hebrew custom, the “Royal Hours,” four in number, are read at this time. These services consist of hymns, psalms, and readings from the Old and New Testaments, all related prophetically and ethically to the Person of Christ. In some churches, the “Hours” are read in the afternoon, before the Vesper services.
“Father, forgive them for they know not what they do…”
Good Friday Morning
(The service is Vespers sung on Friday afternoon.)
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 for the terrible events which took place. Once more, excerpts from the Old Testament are read together with hymns, and again the entire story is related, followed by the removal from the Cross and the wrapping of the Body of Christ with a white sheet as did Joseph of Arimathea. Apostle Paul, interpreting the dreadful event, exhorts the Church: “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God…we preach Christ crucified…the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Cor. 1: 18f.)
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 Incarnation.
The Gospel readings which relate these events are: Matt. 27:1-38; Luke 23:29-43; Matt. 27:29-54; John 19:31-37; Matt. 27:55-61. Good Friday is the only day in the year on which the Divine Liturgy is not officiated.
Today, the devoted Christian ponders in his heart the deep meaning of the Seven Last Words of Christ uttered on the Cross, the first Divine Pulpit of Christianity.
“Do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves…”
Good Friday Evening – The Lamentation
(The service is Matins of Saturday morning sung by anticipation, on Friday evening.)
It consists of psalms, hymns, and readings dealing with the death of Christ, in contrast to His divinity, and in expectation of His Resurrection. One of the hymns relates: “He who holds all things is raised up on the Cross and all creation laments to see Him hang naked on the Tree.” The thoughtful and well-written Odes, sung by the choir, compare the Compassion of God and the cruelty of man, the Might of God and the moral weakness of man. The Odes picture all Creation trembling when witnessing its Creator hung by His own creatures: “Creation was moved…with intense astonishment when it beheld Thee hung in Golgotha.” The Odes remind us of the vision of Isaiah, who saw Christ, “the unwaning light of the manifestation,” and cried aloud, “The dead indeed shall arise and all those on earth shall rejoice.” During this service, the Body of Christ is carried in procession around the church. In some parishes, the entire flower-bedecked Sepulcher, symbolizing the Tomb, is carried in the procession.
The entire congregation joins in singing the three parts of the “Hymns of Praise” (there are approximately 300 hymns, but only a few are sung). After these hymns are sung, the priest sprinkles the Sepulcher and the whole congregation with fragrant water. There is a simultaneous praise of both the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ with their purpose of the redemption of man. We no longer lament the sufferings of the Crucified One; we now lament chiefly for our own sins because we are far from God. So these services should have a rather personal meaning of repentance and of strong faith in God.
Christians observe Good Friday with fasting, prayer, cleanliness, self-examination, confession, and good works, in humility and repentance so that the Grace of the Cross might descend upon them.
The Gospel reading is Matthew 27:62-66.