Friday, April 06, 2007

Great and Holy Friday, parts 1, 2, 3, 4 . . .

Last Saturday, Bp. THOMAS suggested that we just plan to stay at church all through Holy Week, with the reminder that, "If you don't like church, you gonna hate heaven!" (I think everyone needs a bishop from New Jersey.) He doesn't have to tell me twice, but I'm still trying to convince my family :-) The point is well taken, though, when you think about services for Great and Holy Friday ("Good Friday" in the West). Start with three or four hours of Matins Thursday night (remember the liturgical day starts in the evening), reading all the Gospel passages from the teachings following the Last Supper until the burial, kneeling for each reading, and don't forget the procession with the cross and waiting for everyone to come forward on their knees and venerate. This was my first time at that service. I really have no idea how to convey in words what it was like. "Strenuous" only captures part of it. "Sad, but in a good way" is fumbling. During the veneration I had a vision of this scene, multiplied to virtual infinity with all the congregations all over the world that have done this same thing each year, down through the centuries, all overlaid on the original event. The disciples ran away in that dark hour, but could he look down from the cross and see billions of Christians to come, who would creep reverently and quietly to the foot of the cross and kiss those scarred feet? It seems like he must have.

Then there's the service of the Royal Hours, at which First, Third, Sixth, and Ninth Hour prayers are done in a row, one right after the other. I missed that one this year, but I attended last year. It takes another couple of hours Friday morning.

This afternoon is Vespers, at which the body will be taken down from the cross and placed in the "tomb" (actually the bottom of a flower-covered bier). We'll have a chance to venerate then, and many will be back later in the evening for Lamentations--a beautiful service in which the bier is processed outside (looks like clear weather this year) to the mournful chanting of the Trisagion. That was actually my first service at Holy Cross, and I haven't been able to make it back since. This year it coincides with the Good Friday service at Bethany, so I'll be with my family instead. After the Lamentations service, there will be a vigil through the night, with folks reading over the body as they do when anyone dies (although I think they read the Gospels instead of the Psalms).

Indeed, it would be much easier (and much better) just to stay there all day.

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