Holy Friday

The pain felt during the service of Thursday night will be followed by the solemnity of the next day. On Friday afternoon we witness the service of the apokathilosis, the taking down from the cross of the body of Christ: wrapped in a white sheet He is taken down and brought to the sanctuary. Then the gold embroidered ceremonial cloth, called the epitaphios, bearing the depiction of the dead Christ, is brought out in solemn procession and placed to rest on a wooden sepulcher, the kouvouklion. This becomes the setting for the evening liturgy, considered by many as the most beautiful service in the Orthodox Church.

Each congregant, regarded as the living icon of God, experiences Christ's death personally, as she or he will experience His resurrection. As the hymns of the lamentation are sung this night, we will feel the piercing grief and hope, mingling within each individual, and rising with the smoke and incense in a prayer for a new beginning. The hymns of lamentation, as they are sung in the original Greek, rank with the most beautiful ever written in any language. They commence with the singing of the hymn

``Η Ζωή εν τάφω...'' Life In The Tomb...
``Who will give me water
and a fountain of tears
to weep for my sweet Lord...''.
Then, at the height of the service a triumphant hymn is sung:

``Αι γενεαί πάσαι...
ύμνον τη ταφή σου
προσφέρουσιν Χριστέ μου''
``All Generations offer adoration to thy entombment ...
Let all creation bring triumphal hymns to its Creator ...
Do thou, thrice blessed Joseph of Arimathea
take charge of the body of Christ, the life giver''

The loveliest part of this hymn is a tender couplet of maternal love ...

``'Ω! γλυκύν μου έαρ
γλυκύτατον μου τέκνον
πού έδοιν σοι το κάλλος;''
``O my sweet springtime
my most beloved child
whither has thy beauty sunk down ...''
On the same day Marie's Magdalene's lamentation before Christ's Grave is chanted. It is performed here by Theodore's Vassilikos ensemble, on the original 18-th century composition by Iakovos Protopsaltis.

Following the lamentations, the procession of the epitaphios begins. In most churches around the world, the entire tomb of Christ is carried in a solemn procession around the church or through the city... In many areas of rural Greece, three or more epitaphios wind through the streets of the town, and converge in common liturgy in the town square, competing in visual and aural splendor.


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