22 April 2011

Holy and Great (Good) Friday

Good Friday (from the now obsolete senses pious, holy of the word "good"), also known as Holy Friday, Great Friday, is a religious holiday observed primarily by Christians commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and his death at Calvary. The holiday is observed during Holy Week as part of the Paschal Triduum on the Friday preceding Easter Sunday, and may coincide with the Jewish observance of Passover.

Based on the details of the Canonical gospels, the Crucifixion of Jesus was most probably on a Friday (John 19:42). The estimated year of Good Friday is AD 33, by two different groups, and originally as AD 34 by Isaac Newton via the differences between the Biblical and Julian calendars and the crescent of the moon. A third method, using a completely different astronomical approach based on a lunar Crucifixion darkness and eclipse model (consistent with Apostle Peter's reference to a "moon of blood" in Acts 2:20) points to Friday, 3 April AD 33.

According to the accounts in the Gospels, the Temple Guards, guided by Jesus' disciple Judas Iscariot, arrested Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Judas received money (30 pieces of silver) (Matthew 26:14-16) for betraying Jesus and told the guards that whomever he kisses is the one they are to arrest. Following his arrest, Jesus is brought to the house of Annas, who is the father-in-law of the high priest, Caiaphas. There he is interrogated with little result and sent bound to Caiaphas the high priest where the Sanhedrin had assembled (John 18:1-24).

Conflicting testimony against Jesus is brought forth by many witnesses, to which Jesus answers nothing. Finally the high priest adjures Jesus to respond under solemn oath, saying "I adjure you, by the Living God, to tell us, are you the Anointed One, the Son of God?" Jesus testifies in the affirmative, "You have said it, and in time you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Almighty, coming on the clouds of Heaven." The high priest condemns Jesus for blasphemy, and the Sanhedrin Trial of Jesus concurs with a sentence of death (Matthew 26:57-66). Peter, waiting in the courtyard, also denies Jesus three times to bystanders while the interrogations were proceeding just as Jesus had predicted.

In the morning, the whole assembly brings Jesus to the Roman governor Pontius Pilate under charges of subverting the nation, opposing taxes to Caesar, and making himself a king (Luke 23:1-2). Pilate authorizes the Jewish leaders to judge Jesus according to their own law and execute sentencing; however, the Jewish leaders reply that they are not allowed by the Romans to carry out a sentence of death (John 18:31).

Pilate questions Jesus and tells the assembly that there is no basis for sentencing. Upon learning that Jesus is from Galilee, Pilate refers the case to the ruler of Galilee, King Herod, who was in Jerusalem for the Passover Feast. Herod questions Jesus but receives no answer; Herod sends Jesus back to Pilate. Pilate tells the assembly that neither he nor Herod have found guilt in Jesus; Pilate resolves to have Jesus whipped and released (Luke 23:3-16). Under the guidance of the chief priests, the crowd asks for Barabbas, who had been imprisoned for committing murder during an insurrection. Pilate asks what they would have him do with Jesus, and they demand, "Crucify him" (Mark 15:6-14). Pilate's wife had seen Jesus in a dream earlier that day, and she forewarns Pilate to "have nothing to do with this righteous man" (Matthew 27:19). Pilate has Jesus flogged and then brings him out to the crowd to release him. The chief priests inform Pilate of a new charge, demanding Jesus be sentenced to death "because he claimed to be God's son." This possibility filled Pilate with fear, and he brought Jesus back inside the palace and demanded to know from where he came (John 19:1-9).

Coming before the crowd one last time, Pilate declares Jesus innocent and washed his own hands in water to show he has no part in this condemnation. Nevertheless, Pilate hands Jesus over to be crucified in order to forestall a riot (Matthew 27:24-26) and ultimately to keep his job. The sentence written is "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews." Jesus carries his cross to the site of execution (assisted by Simon of Cyrene), called the place of the Skull, or "Golgotha" in Hebrew and in Latin "Calvary". There he is crucified along with two criminals (John 19:17-22).

Jesus agonizes on the cross for six hours. During his last 3 hours on the cross, from noon to 3 p.m., darkness falls over the whole land. With a loud cry, Jesus gives up his spirit. There is an earthquake, tombs break open, and the curtain in the Temple is torn from top to bottom. The centurion on guard at the site of crucifixion declares, "Truly this was God's Son!" (Matthew 27:45-54)

Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin and secret follower of Jesus, who had not consented to his condemnation, goes to Pilate to request the body of Jesus (Luke 23:50-52). Another secret follower of Jesus and member of the Sanhedrin named Nicodemus brought about a hundred pound weight mixture of spices and helped wrap the body of Christ (John 19:39-40). Pilate asks confirmation from the centurion whether Jesus is dead (Mark 15:44). A soldier pierced the side of Jesus with a lance causing blood and water to flow out (John 19:34), and the centurion informs Pilate that Jesus is dead (Mark 15:45).

Joseph of Arimathea took Jesus' body, wrapped it in a clean linen shroud, and placed it in his own new tomb that had been carved in the rock (Matthew 27:59-60) in a garden near the site of crucifixion. Nicodemus (John 3:1) also brought 75 pounds of myrrh and aloes, and placed them in the linen with the body, in keeping with Jewish burial customs (John 19:39-40). They rolled a large rock over the entrance of the tomb (Matthew 27:60). Then they returned home and rested, because Shabbat had begun at sunset (Luke 23:54-56). On the third day, Sunday, which is now known as Easter Sunday (or Pascha), Jesus rose from the dead.

Byzantine Christians (Eastern Christians who follow the Rite of Constantinople: Orthodox Christians and Greek-Catholics) call this day "Holy and Great 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 March 25 (for those churches which follow the traditional Julian Calendar, March 25 currently falls on April 7 of the modern Gregorian Calendar). Also on Great Friday, the clergy no longer wear the purple or red that is customary throughout Great Lent, 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.
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.

Holy and Great 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."

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), with a two-dimensional painted icon of the body of Christ (Greek: soma) affixed to it. As the cross is being carried, the priest or a chanter chants a special antiphon, Simeron Kremate Epi Xilo:
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 heaven 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.
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.

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 service 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.

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. 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.

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). 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 most churches, the epitaphios is never left alone, but is accompanied 24 hours a day by a reader chanting from the Book of Psalms.
The Troparion (hymn of the day) of Good Friday is:

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.
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.
In many countries with a strong Christian tradition such as Bermuda, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Peru, the Philippines, Mexico, Venezuela, the countries of the Caribbean, Germany, Malta, Australia, Singapore, New Zealand, Sweden, Finland and the United Kingdom, the day is observed as a public or federal holiday.
In many English-speaking countries, such as Singapore, most shops are closed for the day and advertising from television and radio broadcasts is withdrawn to some degree.

In Hong Kong and Macau, all businesses and government offices are closed for a public holiday. Both SAR have a notable Christian population and have observed this holiday prior to their respective handover.

In the United States Good Friday is not a government holiday at the federal level; however individual states and municipalities may observe the holiday. Good Friday is a state holiday in Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky (half day), Louisiana, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Tennessee and Texas. State and local government offices and courts are closed, as well as some banks and postal offices in these states.

Some private businesses and certain other institutions are closed on Good Friday. The financial market and stock market is closed on Good Friday. However, the vast majority of businesses are open either full or half day on Good Friday. The postal service operates, and banks regulated by the federal government do not close for Good Friday.

In India, Good Friday is a Central or Federal Government as well as a State Government holiday. The Stock Markets and banks are closed as it is regarded as a Negotiable Instruments Holiday. Some other businesses are also closed in states where Christians are in considerable numbers viz. Assam, Goa, and Kerala. The majority of business establishments remain open all over the country. Generally, all schools and colleges are closed in India on Good Friday.

Good Friday is the Friday before Easter, which is calculated differently in Eastern Christianity and Western Christianity (see Computus for details). Easter falls on the first Sunday following the Paschal Full Moon, the full moon on or after 21 March, taken to be the date of the vernal equinox. The Western calculation uses the Gregorian calendar, while the Eastern calculation uses the Julian calendar, whose 21 March now corresponds to the Gregorian calendar's 3 April. The calculations for identifying the date of the full moon also differ. See Easter Dating Method (Astronomical Society of South Australia).

In Eastern Christianity, Easter can fall between March 22 and April 25 on Julian Calendar (thus between April 4 and May 8 in terms of the Gregorian calendar, during the period 1900 and 2099), so Good Friday can fall between March 20 and April 23, inclusive (or between April 2 and May 6 in terms of the Gregorian calendar).

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