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Holy [Easter] Friday - Orthodox Christian

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Fri, 06/04/2018 (All day)

6th April

Holy Friday - Orthodox Christian.

(Orthodox) Christian remembrance of the crucifixion of Jesus and related events. 

What do people do? 

On Good Friday, many Orthodox Christian churches hold special liturgies with readings from the Gospels of the events leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.  In countries such as the United States, some Orthodox churches hold evening liturgies throughout Holy Week, with some special afternoon liturgies for children on Good Friday.  Church activities may include: a family retreat with children’s activities; discussion groups; the wrapping of the red eggs to be distributed on Easter Sunday; and a Lenten lunch.  Many adult Orthodox Christians observe Good Friday with fasting, prayer, cleanliness, self-examination, confession and good works. 

The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America celebrates the Passion of Christ, or the last moments of his life according to the New Testament in the Bible, on Good Friday. This liturgy is long, but its content is dramatic. The liturgy also includes participation in prayers and the historical sequence of the events, as related in the Gospels and hymns.

In Greece, Good Friday is a day of mourning so many people may avoid household chores. A ritual lament called the “Procession of the Epitáphios of Christ”mourns the death of Christ on the cross with a symbolic decorated coffin carried through the streets by the faithful. Families attend their church to decorate the Epitaph (Bier of Christ) with flowers. In the morning of Good Friday, Christ’s burial is reenacted in many churches and in the evening the Epitaph procession takes place.

Public Life

Good Friday is officially observed in countries such as Cyprus, Greece, Lebanon and the Republic of Macedonia. Some embassies are closed in these countries on Good Friday but travelers and expats will need to check first with their own embassies. Many public offices, schools and banks will also be closed.

There are no federal Orthodox Easter public holidays in countries such as Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States. However, it is a time for families and friends of the Orthodox Christian faith to gather together and to celebrate the Orthodox Easter period.


In the early Church Good Friday was called “Pascha of the Cross”because it marked the beginning of that Passover. It is part of the Easter period which is observed by both Orthodox and western churches alike, although the Easter dates may differ.

The Council of Nicaea established the Easter date for churches around the world in 325CE but not all Christian churches observed Easter according the Gregorian calendar after it was first introduced in 1582. Many Orthodox churches still observe Easter in accordance with the Julian calendar. Therefore the Orthodox Easter period occurs later than the Easter period that falls around the time of the March equinox.

In the Orthodox circles, tensions exist between New Calendarists – those who use the revised Julian calendar for calculating the feasts of the ecclesiastical year – and Old Calendarists – those who continue to use the traditional Julian calendar. There have been a number of proposed Easter date reforms. In 1997 the World Council of Churches proposed a reform to solve the Easter date difference between churches that observe the Gregorian calendar and those that observe the Julian calendar. So far, this reform has not been implemented.


Good Friday commemorates the moments leading up to and including the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, as told in the New Testament of the Bible. The most common symbols in observing Good Friday are the cross and crucifix and traditions include the venerations of the cross and the preaching or singing of the Passion of Christ.

In Greece, many flags at homes and government buildings are set at half mast to mark the mournful day. The icon of Christ is taken off the cross in churches and is then wrapped in linen and placed in a great casket covered in flowers symbolizing the tomb of Christ. The bier is then taken through the town or village, with people lamenting the death of Christ.  


In Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Christianity [edit]. 

Icon of the Crucifixion, 16th century, by Theophanes the Cretan (Stavronikita Monastery, Mount Athos). 

Byzantine Christians (Eastern Christians who follow the Rite of Constantinople: Orthodox Christians and Greek-Catholics) call this day “Great and Holy Friday”, or simply “Great Friday”. 

Because the sacrifice of Jesus through his crucifixion is commemorated on this day, the Divine Liturgy (the sacrifice of bread and wine) is never celebrated on Great Friday, except when this day coincides with the Great Feast of the Annunciation, which falls on the fixed date of 25 March (for those churches which follow the traditional Julian Calendar, 25 March currently falls on 7 April of the modern Gregorian Calendar).  Also on Great Friday, the clergy no longer wear the purple or red that is customary throughout Great Lent, [12] but instead don black vestments.  There is no “stripping of the altar” on Holy and Great Thursday as in the West; instead, all of the church hangings are changed to black, and will remain so until the Divine Liturgy on Great Saturday. 

The faithful revisit the events of the day through public reading of specific Psalms and the Gospels, and singing hymns about Christ's death.  Rich visual imagery and symbolism as well as stirring hymnody are remarkable elements of these observances.  In the Orthodox understanding, the events of Holy Week are not simply an annual commemoration of past events, but the faithful actually participate in the death and resurrection of Jesus. 

Each hour of this day is the new suffering and the new effort of the expiatory suffering of the Savior.  And the echo of this suffering is already heard in every word of our worship service – unique and incomparable both in the power of tenderness and feeling and in the depth of the boundless compassion for the suffering of the Savior.  The Holy Church opens before the eyes of believers a full picture of the redeeming suffering of the Lord beginning with the bloody sweat in the Garden of Gethsemane up to the crucifixion on Golgotha.  Taking us back through the past centuries in thought, the Holy Church brings us to the foot of the cross of Christ erected on Golgotha, and makes us present among the quivering spectators of all the torture of the Savior. [13]. 

Great and Holy Friday is observed as a strict fast, and adult Byzantine Christians are expected to abstain from all food and drink the entire day to the extent that their health permits.  “On this Holy day neither a meal is offered nor do we eat on this day of the crucifixion.  If someone is unable or has become very old  [or is] unable to fast, he may be given bread and water after sunset.  In this way we come to the holy commandment of the Holy Apostles not to eat on Great Friday.” [13]. 

Matins of Holy and Great Friday [edit]. 

The Byzantine Christian observance of Holy and Great Friday, which is formally known as The Order of Holy and Saving Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, begins on Thursday night with the Matins of the Twelve Passion Gospels.  Scattered throughout this Matins service are twelve readings from all four of the Gospels which recount the events of the Passion from the Last Supper through the Crucifixion and burial of Jesus.  Some churches have a candelabrum with twelve candles on it, and after each Gospel reading one of the candles is extinguished. 

The first of these twelve readings John 13:31–18:1 is the longest Gospel reading of the liturgical year, and is a concatenation from all four Gospels.  Just before the sixth Gospel reading, which recounts Jesus being nailed to the cross, a large cross is carried out of the sanctuary by the priest, accompanied by incense and candles, and is placed in the center of the nave (where the congregation gathers)Sēmeron Kremātai Epí Xýlou:. 

Today He who hung the earth upon the waters is hung upon the Cross (three times). 

He who is King of the angels is arrayed in a crown of thorns. 

He who wraps the Heavens in clouds is wrapped in the purple of mockery. 

He who in Jordan set Adam free receives blows upon His face. 

The Bridegroom of the Church is transfixed with nails. 

The Son of the Virgin is pierced with a spear. 

We venerate Thy Passion, O Christ (three times). 

Show us also Thy glorious Resurrection. [14] [15]. 

The readings are:. 

John 13:31–18:1-Christ's last sermon, Jesus prays for the apostles. 

John 18:1-18:28-The agony in the garden, the mockery and denial of Christ. 

Matthew 26:57-26:75-The mockery of Christ, Peter denies Christ. 

John 18:28-19:16-Pilate questions Jesus, Jesus is condemned, Jesus is mocked by the Romans. 

Matthew 27:3-27:32-Judas commits suicide, Jesus is condemned, Jesus mocked by the Romans, Simon of Cyrene compelled to carry the cross. 

Mark 15:16-15:32-Jesus dies. 

Matthew 27:33-27:54-Jesus dies. 

Luke 23:32-23:49-Jesus dies. 

John 19:25-19:37-Jesus dies. 

Mark 15:43-15:47-Joseph of Arimathea buries Christ. 

John 19:38-19:42-Joseph of Arimathea buries Christ. 

Matthew 27:62-27:66-The Jews set a guard. 

During the service, all come forward to kiss the feet of Christ on the cross.  After the Canon, a brief, moving hymn, The Wise Thief is chanted by singers who stand at the foot of the cross in the center of the nave.  The service does not end with the First Hour, as usual, but with a special dismissal by the priest:. 

May Christ our true God, Who for the salvation of the world endured spitting, and scourging, and buffeting, and the Cross, and death, through the intercessions of His most pure Mother, of our holy and God-bearing fathers, and of all the saints, have mercy on us and save us, for He is good and the Lover of mankind. 

Royal Hours [edit]. 

Vigil during the Service of the Royal Hours. 

Main article: Royal Hours. 

The next day, in the forenoon on Friday, all gather again to pray the Royal Hours, a special expanded celebration of the Little Hours (including the First Hour, Third Hour, Sixth Hour, Ninth Hour and Typica) with the addition of scripture readings (Old Testament, Epistle and Gospel) and hymns about the Crucifixion at each of the Hours (some of the material from the previous night is repeated).  This is somewhat more festive in character, and derives its name of “Royal” from both the fact that the Hours are served with more solemnity than normal, commemorating Christ the King who humbled himself for the salvation of mankind, and also from the fact that this service was in the past attended by the Emperor and his court. 

Vespers of Holy and Great Friday [edit]. 

The crucified Christ, just before the Deposition from the Cross and the placing of the Epitaphios in the Sepulcher. 

In the afternoon, around 3 pm, all gather for the Vespers of the Taking-Down from the Cross, commemorating the Deposition from the Cross.  The Gospel reading is a concatenation taken from all four of the Gospels.  During the service, the body of Christ (the soma) is removed from the cross, as the words in the Gospel reading mention Joseph of Arimathea, wrapped in a linen shroud, and taken to the altar in the sanctuary. 

The epitaphios (“winding sheet”), depicting the preparation of the body of Jesus for burial. 

Near the end of the service an epitaphios or “winding sheet” (a cloth embroidered with the image of Christ prepared for burial) is carried in procession to a low table in the nave which represents the Tomb of Christ; it is often decorated with an abundance of flowers.  The epitaphios itself represents the body of Jesus wrapped in a burial shroud, and is a roughly full-size cloth icon of the body of Christ.  Then the priest may deliver a homily and everyone comes forward to venerate the epitaphios.  In the Slavic practice, at the end of Vespers, Compline is immediately served, featuring a special Canon of the Crucifixion of our Lord and the Lamentation of the Most Holy Theotokos by Symeon the Logothete. 

Matins of Holy and Great Saturday [edit]. 

The Epitaphios being carried in procession in a church in Greece. 

On Friday night, the Matins of Holy and Great Saturday, a unique service known as The Lamentation at the Tomb (Epitáphios Thrēnos) is celebrated.  This service is also sometimes called Jerusalem Matins.  Much of the service takes place around the tomb of Christ in the center of the nave. 

A unique feature of the service is the chanting of the Lamentations or Praises (Enkōmia), which consist of verses chanted by the clergy interspersed between the verses of Psalm 119 (which is, by far, the longest psalm in the Bible). 

The Enkōmia are the best-loved hymns of Byzantine hymnography, both their poetry and their music being uniquely suited to each other and to the spirit of the day.  They consist of 185 tercet antiphons arranged in three parts (stáseis or “stops”), which are interjected with the verses of Psalm 119, and nine short doxastiká (“Gloriae”) and Theotókia (invocations to the Virgin Mary). 

The three stáseis are each set to its own music, and are commonly known by their initial antiphons: Ἡ ζωὴ ἐν τάφῳ, “Life in a grave”, Ἄξιον ἐστί, “Worthy it is”, and Αἱ γενεαὶ πᾶσαι, “All the generations”.  Musically they can be classified as strophic, with 75, 62, and 48 tercet stanzas each, respectively. 

The climax of the Enkōmia comes during the third stásis, with the antiphon “Ō glyký mou Éar”, a lamentation of the Virgin for her dead Child (“O, my sweet spring, my sweetest child, where has your beauty gone?”).  The author(s) and date of the Enkōmia are unknown.  Their High Attic linguistic style suggests a dating around the 6th century, possibly before the time of St.  Romanos the Melodist. 

At the end of the Great Doxology, while the Trisagion is sung, the epitaphios is taken in procession around the outside the church, and is then returned to the tomb.  Some churches observe the practice of holding the epitaphios at the door, above waist level, so the faithful most bow down under it as they come back into the church, symbolizing their entering into the death and resurrection of Christ.  The epitaphios will lay in the tomb until the Paschal Service early Sunday morning.  In some churches, the epitaphios is never left alone, but is accompanied 24 hours a day by a reader chanting from the Psalter. [citation needed]. 

The Troparion (hymn of the day) of Good Friday is: 

1.    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. 

2.    Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto ages of ages.  Amen. 

The angel came to the myrrh-bearing women at the tomb and said:. 


Myrrh is fitting for the dead, but Christ has shown Himself a stranger to corruption.  

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