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Orthodox Good Friday

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That’s our Father Matthew reading the Passion Gospels last night in the three-hour service of Holy Thursday. See all those kids? They were there for the entire service, and behaved like champs. It’s a long service, but a very powerful one. The priest reads ceremonially from the Passion accounts in all the Gospels, and there are Psalms and hymns throughout. There is nothing in my experience like Orthodox worship to draw you fully into the drama of Pascha. At the end, everyone in the church, even the little ones, approaches the crucifix and makes three prostrations — head to the floor — in front of it, then kisses the figure of Jesus.

It is nearly overwhelming, this worship. Tomorrow at 3pm, we will have the Good Friday service in which we symbolically lay the Body of Christ in the tomb. It’s one of my favorite services of the year, because it’s so moving and transcendent. Tomorrow night, we keep vigil at the tomb all through the night, reading Psalms aloud. It’s exhausting, but it’s a good kind of exhausting.

I will not be blogging on Good Friday, or approving comments. You will see a couple of blogs appear in this space on Friday, because I have written them in advance. Please don’t be upset when you don’t see your comments appear. I will get to them tomorrow night, probably.

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7 Comments To "Orthodox Good Friday"

#1 Comment By Mark Citadel On April 10, 2015 @ 10:31 am

Hope you have a blessed Easter Rod

#2 Comment By Bernie On April 10, 2015 @ 10:37 am

Rod, the ceremony sounds incredibly beautiful. I am curious as to a difference between the Orthodox and the Catholic observance of Holy Week. For Catholics, Holy Thursday Mass focuses on the institution of the Eucharist. It is actually my favorite liturgical event of the year. The priest washes the feet of 12 parishioners, in imitation of Christ at the Last Supper, and there is the Eucharistic procession at the end of Mass during which “Pange Lingua” is sung.

Catholics have a reading of the Passion from the Gospel during the Good Friday Service, as well as each of our going forward to kiss and venerate the cross. Why do the Orthodox not commemorate the institution of the Eucharist on Holy Thursday, or do they?

[NFR: I’m not sure how to answer that question. We read the Passion Gospels in which the Eucharist is instituted, but I don’t know that there is the particular focus that Catholics have on the Eucharist itself. We don’t have foot-washing. — RD]

#3 Comment By Nikolas Gvosdev On April 11, 2015 @ 12:24 am

Bernie …

One of the “peculiarities” of Orthodox practice during Holy Week is the celebration of events “by anticipation” as well as the fact that the Orthodox liturgical day starts at sunset. Holy Thursday evening is thus Holy Friday morning, and technically the service of the Twelve Gospels, while celebrated on Thursday evening, is in fact the Matins of Holy Friday.

The institution of the Eucharist is celebrated in the Vesperal Liturgy of Holy Thursday, which many Orthodox parishes celebrate “by anticipation” in the early morning on Holy Thursday. At this Liturgy both the Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians about the institution of the Eucharist is read, as well as a long Gospel compiled from all four evangelists detailing the Last Supper and the events all the way up to Christ’s arrest. The communion hymn “Of Your Mystical Supper” is sung at several spots, and the celebrant also consecrates the Reserve Sacrament that day (in addition to the Lamb used for Communion) which is then dried and placed in the Tabernacle. A number of parishes in the United States also hold a communion breakfast, with children in particular encouraged to attend.

Orthodox parishes that trace their origins to communities from the Mediterranean basin sometimes hold a “washing of the feet” ceremony; certainly I’ve seen it done in Antiochian and Greek parishes. It is not usually done in Slavic communities, and there may be a climactic explanation for that given the much colder weather in that part of Europe.

#4 Comment By heartright On April 11, 2015 @ 8:42 am

2 words: visually stunning!

2 words in advance: Χριστός ἀνέστη!

#5 Comment By Anne On April 11, 2015 @ 10:37 am

Could the omission of foot washing during Holy Thursday services just be something left up to local churches? I ask because I’ve seen it in Greek Orthodox churches, although way back when Catholic parish churches rarely included it.

#6 Comment By Bernie On April 11, 2015 @ 1:22 pm

Nikolas,

Thanks very much for your explanation. It’s very interesting!

#7 Comment By RIchard Parker On April 13, 2015 @ 12:52 am

How do the Orthodox handle (accommodate?) those with foot problems?

From a badly healed broken ankle, I can stand 20 to 30 minutes tops.

I’m impressed to see your congregation’s children so well behaved.

[NFR: There are chairs and benches along the side of the church. The Orthodox tradition is to stand during the liturgy (it was once like this in all churches), but many Orthodox churches in the US have pews. I’ve worshiped in both pewless and pewful (?) Orthodox parishes, and I must say that pews make it very hard to perform the frequent bows that are standard in Orthodox worship. — RD]