30 April 2011

The Panikhída: A Wake for the Souls of the Dead

A memorial service (Greek: μνημόσυνον, mnemósynon, "memorial", or παραστάς, parastás, "wake"; Church Slavonic: паннихида, panikhída) is a liturgical observance in honor of the departed which is served in the Eastern Orthodox and Greek-Catholic Churches.

In the Eastern Church, the various prayers for the departed have as their purpose: to pray for the repose of the departed; to comfort the living; and to remind those who remain behind of their own mortality, and the brevity of this earthly life. For this reason, memorial services have an air of penitence about them, and tend to be served more frequently during the four fasting seasons (Great Lent, Nativity Fast, Apostles' Fast and Dormition Fast).

If the service is for an individual, it will often take place at their graveside. If it is a general commemoration of all the departed, or if the individual's grave is not close by, the service will take place in a church, in front of a special "memorial table". The memorial table is a small, free-standing table to which has been attached an upright crucifix, sometimes including also icons of the Theotokos (the Virgin Mary) and the Apostle John. The table will also have a place for the faithful to put lighted candles.

The deacon (or, if there is no deacon the priest) will swing the censer throughout almost the entire service, and all will stand holding lighted candles. Near the end of the service, during the final Troparia, all will either put out their candles or will place them in candle holders on the memorial table. Each candle symbolizes the individual soul, which, as it were, each person holds in their own hand. The extinguishing (or giving up) of the candle at the end of the service symbolizes the fact that each person will have to surrender their soul at the end of their life.

The service is composed of Psalms, Ektenias (litanies), hymns and prayers. In its outline it follows the general outline of Matins, and is in effect a truncated funeral service. Some of the most notable portions of the service are the Kontakion of the Departed, and the final, slow and solemn singing of "Memory Eternal" (Slavonic: Vyechnaya Pamyat).

The memorial service is most frequently served after the Divine Liturgy; however, it may also be served after Vespers, Matins, or as a separate service by itself. If the service is held separately, the readings from the Pauline epistles and the gospel are assigned by day. No readings are however assigned to Sunday (because Sunday should emphasize the resurrection of Christ rather than the departed.

For the memorial service, koliva (a ritual food of boiled wheat) is often prepared and is placed in front of the memorial table or an icon of Christ. Afterwards, it is blessed by the priest, who sprinkles it with holy water (in the Bulgarian Church it is also customary for the priest to pour wine on the koliva and on the grave). The koliva is then taken to the trapeza or refectory and is served to all those who attended the service.

Orthodox Christians consider koliva to be the symbolic of death and resurrection, according to the words of the Gospel:
Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. (John 12:24)
Wheat which is planted in the earth and rises in new life is symbolic of those beloved departed who have died in the hope of resurrection, in accordance with the words of Saint Paul:
So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body....(I Corinthians 15:42-44)
This symbolism has its highest expression in the Saints, whose blessed state in heaven have been manifested to the world. For this reason, koliva is blessed not only at memorials for the departed, but also in commemoration of saints.

For the memorial service, koliva (a ritual food of boiled wheat) is often prepared and is placed in front of the memorial table or an icon of Christ. Afterwards, it is blessed by the priest, who sprinkles it with holy water (in the Bulgarian Church it is also customary for the priest to pour wine on the koliva and on the grave). The koliva is then taken to the trapeza or refectory and is served to all those who attended the service.

After an Orthodox (or Eastern Rite) Christian passes away, there are special "Prayers for the Departure of the Soul" that are said by the priest. Then the family or friends of the departed will wash and dress the body and it is placed in the casket. Then a special expanded memorial service called the First Panikhida is celebrated, after which the reading of the Psalter is begun, and continues uninterrupted until the funeral.
Traditionally, in addition to the service on the day of death, the memorial service is performed at the request of the relatives of an individual departed person on the following occasions:

  • Third day after death
  • Ninth day
  • Fortieth day
  • First anniversary of death
  • Third anniversary (some will request a memorial every year on the anniversary of death)
It is also served on the numerous Soul Saturdays throughout the year. On these days, not only is the memorial service served, but there are also special propers at Vespers, Matins, and the Divine Liturgy. These days of general memorials are:

  • Meatfare Saturday (two Saturdays before Great Lent begins)—in some traditions families and friends will offer Panikhidas for their loved ones during the preceding week, culminating in the general commemoration on Saturday
  • The second Saturday of Great Lent
  • The third Saturday of Great Lent
  • The fourth Saturday of Great Lent
  • Radonitsa—Tuesday following Thomas Sunday; i.e., the second Tuesday after Pascha (Easter)
  • The Saturday before Pentecost—in some traditions families and friends will offer Panikhidas for their loved ones during the preceding week, culminating in the general commemoration on Saturday
  • Demetrius Saturday (the Saturday closest to the feast of Saint Demetrius, October 26)
Because of the great solemnity of the days, the celebration of memorial services is forbidden from Holy Thursday through Bright Week, and on all Sundays throughout the year.

A very abbreviated form of the memorial service is called the Lity (or Litiy), which consists only of the concluding portion of the regular memorial service. This is often celebrated in the narthex of the church on ordinary weekdays (i.e., when there is no higher-ranking feast day), especially during Great Lent.

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29 April 2011

Prayer for the Dead

Prayers for the dead form part of the Jewish services. The prayers offered on behalf of the deceased consist of: Recitation of Psalms; Reciting a thrice daily communal prayer in Aramaic known as "Kaddish" which actually means "Sanctification" (or "[Prayer of] Making Holy") which is a prayer "In Praise of God"; or other special remembrances known as Yizkor; and also a Hazkara said either on the annual commemoration known as the Yahrzeit as well on Jewish holidays.

The form in use in England contains the following passage:
Have mercy upon him; pardon all his transgressions . . . Shelter his soul in the shadow of Thy wings. Make known to him the path of life.
El Molai Rachamim is the actual Jewish prayer for the dead although less well known than the Mourner's Kaddish. While the Kaddish does not mention death but rather affirms the steadfast faith of the mourners in God's goodness, El Molai Rachamim is a prayer for the rest of the departed. There are various translations for the original Hebrew which vary significantly. One version reads:
God filled with mercy, dwelling in the heavens' heights, bring proper rest beneath the wings of your Shehinah, amid the ranks of the holy and the pure, illuminating like the brilliance of the skies the souls of our beloved and our blameless who went to their eternal place of rest. May you who are the source of mercy shelter them beneath your wings eternally, and bind their souls among the living, that they may rest in peace. And let us say: Amen
A record of Jewish prayer and offering of sacrifice for the dead at the time of the Maccabees is seen being referred to in 2 Maccabees, a book written in Greek:
But under the tunic of each of the dead they found amulets sacred to the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbids the Jews to wear. So it was clear to all that this was why these men had been slain. They all therefore praised the ways of the Lord, the just judge who brings to light the things that are hidden. Turning to supplication, they prayed that the sinful deed might be fully blotted out. The noble Judas warned the soldiers to keep themselves free from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened because of the sin of those who had fallen. He then took up a collection among all his soldiers, amounting to two thousand silver drachmas, which he sent to Jerusalem to provide for an expiatory sacrifice. In doing this he acted in a very excellent and noble way, inasmuch as he had the resurrection of the dead in view; for if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been useless and foolish to pray for them in death. But if he did this with a view to the splendid reward that awaits those who had gone to rest in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be freed from this sin.
A passage in the New Testament which may refer to a prayer for the dead is found in 2 Timothy 1:16-18, which reads as follows:
"May the Lord grant mercy to the house of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain, but when he was in Rome, he sought me diligently, and found me (the Lord grant to him to find the Lord's mercy on that day); and in how many things he served at Ephesus, you know very well."
As with the verses from 2 Maccabees, these verses refer to prayers that will help the deceased "on that day" (perhaps Judgement Day). Onesiphorus, for whom Saint Paul prayed, was dead, based on the way Paul only refers to him in the past tense, and prays for present blessings on his household, but for him only "on that day". And towards the end of the same letter, in 2 Timothy 4:19, Paul sends greetings to "Prisca and Aquila, and the house of Onesiphorus", distinguishing the situation of Onesiphorus from that of the still living Prisca and Aquila.

Prayer for the dead is well documented within early Christianity, both among prominent Church Fathers and the Christian community in general. In Eastern Orthodoxy Christians pray for "such souls as have departed with faith, but without having had time to bring forth fruits worthy of repentance".. While prayer for the dead continues in both these traditions and in those of Oriental Orthodoxy and of the Assyrian Church of the East, many of the newly invented Protestant groups reject the Christian practice.

The tomb of the Christian Abercius of Hieropolis in Phrygia (latter part of the 2nd century) bears the inscription: Let every friend who observes this pray for me, i.e. Abercius, who throughout speaks in the first person.

The inscriptions in the Roman catacombs bear similar witness to the practice, by the occurrence of such phrases as:

  • Mayst thou live among the saints (3rd century);
  • May God refresh the soul of . . . ;
  • Peace be with them.

Among Church writers Tertullian († 230)  mentions prayers for the dead, and not as a concession to natural sentiment, but as a duty: The widow who does not pray for her dead husband has as good as divorced him. This passage occurs in one of his later Montanist writings, dating from the beginning of the 3rd century. Subsequent writers similarly make incidental mention of the practice as prevalent, but not as unlawful or even disputed (until Arius challenged it towards the end of the 4th century). The most famous instance is Saint Augustine's prayer for his mother, Monica, at the end of the 9th book of his Confessions, written around 398.

An important element in the Christian liturgies both East and West consisted of the diptychs, or lists of names of living and dead commemorated at the Eucharist. To be inserted in these lists was a confirmation of one's orthodoxy, and out of the practice grew the official canonization of saints; on the other hand, removal of a name was a condemnation.

In the middle of the 3rd century we find St. Cyprian enjoining that there should be no oblation or public prayer made for a deceased layman who had broken the Church's rule by appointing a cleric trustee under his will: "He ought not to be named in the priests prayer who has done his best to detain the clergy from the altar."
The universal occurrence of these diptychs and of definite prayers for the dead in all parts of the Christian Church, East and West, in the 2nd and 3rd centuries shows how primitive such prayers were. We may cite the following from the so-called Liturgy of St James:
Remember, O Lord, the God of Spirits and of all Flesh, those whom we have remembered and those whom we have not remembered, men of the true faith, from righteous Abel unto to-day; do thou thyself give them rest there in the land of the living, in thy kingdom, in the delight of Paradise, in the bosom of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, our holy fathers, from whence pain and sorrow and sighing have fled away, where the light of thy countenance visiteth them and always shineth upon them.
Public prayers were only offered for those who were believed to have died as faithful members of the Church. But Saint Perpetua, who was martyred in 202, believed herself to have been encouraged in a vision to pray for her brother and a later vision assured her that her prayer was answered and he had been translated from punishment.

Among the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox, while there is no doctrine of purgatory, prayer for the dead is encouraged in the belief that it is helpful for them. Specifically how the prayers of the faithful help the departed is not elucidated; Eastern Orthodox simply believe that tradition teaches that prayers should be made for the dead.

Saint Basil the Great († 379), a saint of undivided Christianity, writes in his Third Kneeling Prayer at Pentecost O Christ our God...(who) on this all-perfect and saving Feast, art graciously pleased to accept propitiatory prayers for those who are imprisoned in hades, promising unto us who are held in bondage great hope of release from the vilenes that doth hinder us and did hinder them ... send down Thy consolation... and establish their souls in the mansions of the Just; and graciously vouchsafe unto them peace and pardon; for not the dead shall praise thee, O Lord, neither shall they who are in Hell make bold to offer unto thee confession. But we who are living will bless thee, and will pray, and offer unto thee propitiatory prayers and sacrifices for their souls.

Saint Gregory Dialogus († 604) in his famous Dialogues (written in 593) teaches that, "The Holy Sacrifice (Eucharist) of Christ, our saving Victim, brings great benefits to souls even after death, provided their sins (are such as) can be pardoned in the life to come."  However, St. Gregory goes on to say, the Church's practice of prayer for the dead must not be an excuse for not living a godly life on earth. "The safer course, naturally, is to do for ourselves during life what we hope others will do for us after death." Father Seraphim Rose († 1982) says, "the Church's prayer cannot save anyone who does not wish salvation, or who never offered any struggle (podvig) for it himself during his lifetime."

The various prayers for the departed have as their purpose to pray for the repose of the departed, to comfort the living, and to remind those who remain of their own mortality. For this reason, memorial services have an air of penitence about them.

The Church's prayers for the dead begin at the moment of death, when the priest leads the Prayers at the Departure of the Soul , consisting of a special Canon and prayers for the release of the soul. Then the body is washed, clothed and laid in the coffin, after which the priest begins the First Panikhida (prayer service for the departed). After the First Panikhida, the family and friends begin reading the Psalter aloud beside the casket. This reading continues until the funeral begins (usually on the third day after death), being interrupted only by more Panikhidas (at least one per day).

Orthodox Christians offer particularly fervent prayers for the departed on the first 40 days after death. Traditionally, in addition to the service on the day of death, the memorial service is performed at the request of the relatives of an individual departed person on the following occasions:

  • Third day after death
  • Ninth day
  • Fortieth day
  • First anniversary of death
  • Third anniversary (some will request a memorial every year on the anniversary of death)

In addition to Panikhidas for individuals, there are also several days during the year that are set aside as special general commemorations of the dead, when all departed Orthodox Christians will be prayed for together (this is especially to benefit those who have no one on earth to pray for them). The majority of these general commemorations fall on the various "Soul Saturdays" throughout the year (mostly during Great Lent). On these days, in addition to the normal Panikhida, there are special additions to Vespers and Matins, and there will be propers for the departed added to the Divine Liturgy. These days of general memorial are:

  • Meatfare Saturday (two Saturdays before Great Lent begins)—in some traditions families and friends will offer Panikhidas for their loved ones during the week, culminating in the general commemoration on Saturday
  • The second Saturday of Great Lent
  • The third Saturday of Great Lent
  • The fourth Saturday of Great Lent
  • Radonitsa (the second Tuesday after Pascha (Easter)
  • The Saturday before Pentecost—in some traditions families and friends will offer Panikhidas for their loved ones during the week, culminating in the general commemoration on Saturday
  • Demetrius Saturday (the Saturday closest to the feast of Saint Demetrius, October 26)

The most important form of prayer for the dead occurs in the Divine Liturgy. Particles are cut from the prosphoron during the Proskomedie at the beginning of the Liturgy. These particles are placed beneath the Lamb (Host) on the diskos, where they remain throughout the Liturgy. After the Communion of the faithful, the deacon brushes these particles into the chalice, saying, "Wash away, O Lord, the sins of all those here commemorated, by Thy Precious Blood, through the prayers of all thy saints." Of this action, Saint Mark of Ephesus says, "We can do nothing better or greater for the dead than to pray for them, offering commemoration for them at the Liturgy. Of this they are always in need... The body feels nothing then: it does not see its close ones who have assembled, does not smell the fragrance of the flowers, does not hear the funeral orations. But the soul senses the prayers offered for it and is grateful to those who make them and is spiritually close to them."

Normally, candidates for sainthood, prior to their Glorification (Canonization) as a saint, will be commemorated by serving Panikhidas. Then, on the eve of their Glorification will be served an especially solemn Requiem, known as the "Last Panikhida."

In the West there is ample evidence of the custom of praying for the dead in the inscriptions of the catacombs, with their constant prayers for the peace and refreshment of the souls of the departed and in the early liturgies, which commonly contain commemorations of the dead; and Tertullian, Cyprian and other early Western Fathers witness to the regular practice of praying for the dead.

The sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation continued at first the traditional custom of praying for the dead, but before long, as they began to reject much of traditional Christian Theology, including Books of the Bible, they came to denounce it.

In Islam, there is a prayer called Salat al-Janazah. In Hinduism there are funeral speeches with prayers for the dead. Along reading Buddhist sutras such as Sutra of The Great Vows of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva, Amitabha Sutra or Diamond Sutra, Ritsu offer refuge, Pure Land Buddhists nianfo and Tibetan Buddhists chant Om mani padme hum repeatedly. Taoists chant Qinghuahao (青華誥) or Jiukujing (救苦經). Zoroastrians chant prayers in funeral ceremonies. In Bahá'í Faith a prayer is required only when the deceased is over the age of fifteen. There are prayers in other religions as well.

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28 April 2011


Radonitsa (Радоница, "Day of Rejoicing") is a holiday in the Eastern Orthodox Church which falls on the Monday or (more commonly) Tuesday of Saint Thomas Week—eight or nine days, respectively, after Easter (Paskha, Пасха). The day is a general memorial for the departed.

Because of the importance of the last few days of Holy Week, and because of the joy of the Resurrection, the Typikon (Ustav) forbids the celebration of the Panikhida (memorial service) from Great and Holy Thursday through Thomas Sunday (a period of eleven days). Therefore, the first opportunity after Pascha to remember the dead is on the second Monday of Pascha. However, because in Orthodox countries, a number of monasteries follow the custom of fasting on Mondays, the feast is often celebrated on Tuesday, so that all may partake of the paschal foods (which are intentionally non-fasting).

The practice of greeting the dead with the Resurrection is not merely a "baptism" of pagan practices, but has antecedents in the ancient Church. S. V. Bulgakov records the following:
The commemoration of the departed after Pascha was also done in extreme antiquity. St. Ambrose of Milan (340 – 397) says in one of his sermons: "It is truly meet and right, brethren, that after the celebration of Pascha, which we have celebrated, to share our joy with the holy martyrs and by them as participants in the suffering of the Lord, to announce the glory of the resurrection of the Lord". Although these words of St. Ambrose relate to martyrs, they may be an indication of our custom to commemorate the departed after Pascha on Monday or Tuesday of Thomas Week because the beginning of the solemn commemorations in the faith of those who died is established in the New Testament Church as a pious custom to the memory of the martyrs, [both] among the martyrs buried in antiquity and the others who have died.
St. John Chrysostom (349 - 407) also bears testimony that in his day they celebrated a joyful commemoration of the departed on Tuesday of Saint Thomas Week in his Homily on the Cemetery and the Cross.

Although the Typikon does not prescribe any special prayers for the departed on these days, the memorial is kept as a pious custom. Unlike the various Soul Saturdays throughout the year, there are no changes made to Vespers, Matins or the Divine Liturgy, to reflect this being a day of the dead.

On this day, after Divine Liturgy, the priest will celebrate a Panikhida in the church, after which he will bless the paschal foods that the faithful have brought with them. The clergy, with incense and candles, will then go in procession with the cross, followed by the faithful, to visit the graves of departed believers either in churchyards or in cemeteries. At the graves, paschal hymns are chanted together with the usual litanies for the departed, concluding with the moving "Memory Eternal" (Вѣчнаѧ памѧть,Viechnaia pamiat).

The paschal foods will then be consumed with joy by the friends and relatives of the deceased. It is common to place an Easter egg, a symbol of Christ's coming forth from the Tomb, on the graves of the departed, saluting them with the traditional paschal greeting: "Christ is Risen!" This practice is both to remind the faithful of the General Resurrection of the dead, and to "announce the Resurrection" of Christ to the departed.

Among the traditions that have grown up around Radonitsa, the following are noteworthy:
  • Foods traditionally eaten at Radonitsa are: funeral kutia, painted eggs, kulichi, pancakes, dracheni, honey prianiki, and cookies.
  • Radonitsa begins the marriage season. Since weddings are forbidden during the Great Lenten Fast (because that time should be devoted to penance and self-examination, rather than merrymaking), as well as during Bright Week (because at that time we commemorate nothing else except the Resurrection), with Radonitsa comes the time for weddings.
  • Men and women traditionally give gifts to their in-laws (more kindly known as "God-given" family members), at Radonitsa, so that joy may be in every house.

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27 April 2011


The Pentecostarion (Greek: Πεντηκοστάριον, Pentekostárion; Slavonic: Цвѣтнаѧ Трїωдь, Tsvyetnaya Triod' , literally "Flowery Triodon"; Romanian: Penticostar) is the liturgical book used by the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches which follow the Byzantine Rite during the Paschal Season which extends from Pascha (Easter) to the Sunday following All Saints Sunday (i.e., the Second Sunday After Pentecost).

The name means the Book of the "Fifty Days", referring to the period of time from Pascha to Pentecost. In Greek, it is also sometimes called the Joyful Pentecostarion (Πεντηκοστάριον χαρμόσυνον, Pentekostárion Charmósynon). In English, it is sometimes called the Paschal Triodion. The name "Pentecostarion" is also applied to the liturgical season covered by the book.

The Pentecostarion is part of the Paschal cycle or "Moveable Cycle" of the ecclesiastical year. This cycle is dependent upon the date of Pascha and continued throughout the coming year until the next Pascha.
Pascha (Easter) is the most important feast of the entire year, outranking by far all others. Each week of the Pentecostarion is named after the Gospel lesson which is read on the Sunday which begins it; for instance, the week that follows Thomas Sunday is referred to as Thomas Week. During the liturgical season of the Pentecostarion, the Gospel of John is read in full, as is the Acts of the Apostles. Both of these books were chosen because of their instructive content. Pascha (Easter) is the traditional time for baptizing new converts to the faith. So, just as Great Lent, with its liturgical book, the Triodion, was the final period of preparation for the catechumens before their baptism, so the time of the Pentecostarion is the time of initiation into the Sacred Mysteries of the Christian religion for the "Newly-Illumined" (i.e., the newly-baptized).

The two Sacred Mysteries of baptism and chrismation are reflected in the two feasts which mark the beginning and ending points of the Pentecostarion: Pascha and Pentecost. Baptism is naturally tied to the Resurrection, according to the Apostle Paul (Romans 6:, 1 Corinthians 15:4, Colossians 2:12). Chrismation, the reception of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit is naturally reflected in Pentecost. Because of this, the imagery of water figures prominently in the hymns of the Pentecostarion.

The services of the Pentecostarion begin during the Paschal Vigil starting at the stroke of midnight on Easter Sunday. The service for Pascha is radically different from the services of any other time of the year. Throughout the course of the Pentecostarion, they gradually return to normal (see Canonical hours and Divine Liturgy).

The Afterfeast of Pascha lasts for 40 days, beginning on the Sunday of Pascha and concluding with the Apodosis ("leave-taking") of Pascha on the day before the Ascension of the Lord.

The Third Sunday of Pascha is dedicated to the 'Myrrhbearing Women' (the Theotokos, Mary Magdalene, and the other women who brought spices to the Tomb of Jesus) and also to Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, who cared for the burial of Jesus after his crucifixion.

The placement of this feast is based upon the idea of the synaxis, wherein secondary persons directly involved in the events celebrated in one of the feasts are celebrated on the day after. However, since Bright Week is devoted exclusively to the celebration of the Resurrection, and Thomas Sunday falls logically on the eighth day of the Resurrection (according to its biblical source), this day becomes the first Sunday on which these persons can be commemorated.

The Sunday of the Paralytic is the Fourth Sunday of Pascha, and recalls Jesus' healing of the Paralytic, as recounted in the Gospel reading for the day: John 5:1-15. The theme for this Sunday is the man who lay by the Sheep's Pool in Jerusalem for thirty-eight years. The first one to enter the pool after an angel troubled the water would be healed of his infirmities; but because the man was paralyzed, someone else always entered the pool before him. According to the Gospel account, Jesus had pity on the man, seeing he had no one to put him into the pool, and healed him.

The Kontakion for this day asks Christ to raise up the souls of the faithful, "paralyzed by sins and thoughtless acts." The underlying symbolism of the feast is that mankind, being unable to raise itself from the fall by its own will or power, needed "some man" (i.e., the Son of Man, the Messiah) to come and raise it up.

The feast of the Paralytic is unusual in the Pentecostarion in that it does not last a full week, but ends on the day before Mid-Pentecost.

The Wednesday following the Sunday of the Paralytic is the Feast of Mid-Pentecost This is a "feast within a feast", and propers of the Resurrection are combined with propers for Mid-Pentecost. The hymns of the feast speak of it drawing together the themes of Pascha and Ascension. The Apodosis (leave-taking) of Mid-Pentecost comes one week later, on the following Wednesday.

The Sunday of the Samaritan Woman is the Fifth Sunday of Pascha, commemorating the Woman by the well, (traditionally known as Photina in Greek or Svetlana in Russian), as recounted in the Gospel reading for the day: John 4:5-42. Like the Paralytic, the Samaritan Woman is commemorated only on Sunday and half the week (in this case, the second half), the first half of the week being dedicated to the afterfeast of Mid-Pentecost.

The Sixth Sunday of Pascha is the Sunday of the Blind Man, commemorating Jesus' healing of the man born blind (John 9:1-38), recounted in the Gospel lesson for this day's Divine Liturgy.

The Pentecostarion's theme of water is continued by the fact that Jesus sent the man to wash the clay from his eyes in the Pool of Siloam (the name 'Siloam' is interpreted as "sent", implying that the blind man's cure was bestowed for his obedience to Jesus).

The miracle of the blind man (traditionally named Celidonius) is remarkable in two respects: firstly, that although there are other accounts in both the Old Testament and the New of the blind having their sight restored, this is the only time someone born blind was given sight for the first time. Although the biblical text does not explicitly say so, the hymns in the Pentecostarion follow the traditional interpretation that not only was this man born without sight, he was born even without eyes. Jesus' act of making clay is an act of creation (creating eyes where none were before), a repetition of the first act of the creation of man in Genesis 2:7. This indicates the traditional Christian teaching that in the act of salvation Jesus makes his disciples a "new creation" (2 Corinthians 5:17).

The second remarkable aspect of the miracle is that not only did Jesus give the man physical sight, but he bestowed upon him spiritual sight as well. In the blind man's dialogue with the Pharisees, he holds his own in the dispute, engaging in reasoned theological discourse as though he were educated.

These three Sundays of the Paralytic, of the Samaritian Woman and of the Blind Man are characterized by their reference to the Sacrament of Baptism, each illustrating a different dimension or aspect of the Sacrament.

The Week of the Blindman is the last week in the Afterfeast of Pascha, and the Apodosis of Pascha is the final day of the Paschal celebration. There are currently two different practices with regard to the celebration of the Apodosis of Pascha. According to the older practice, hymns of the Resurrection are chanted together with those for the Aposdosis of the Blind Man on Wednesday. According to the more modern practice in the Greek Orthodox Church (those following the "Typicon of the Great Church") the Apodosis of the Blind Man is chanted on Tuesday, while all of the services of Wednesday (Vespers on Tuesday evening; Matins, Little Hours and Divine Liturgy on Wednesday morning) are chanted in the special Paschal form that was used during Bright Week.

The Great Feast of the Ascension falls on the 40th day after Pascha (inclusive), always on a Thursday. The feast is celebrated with an All-Night Vigil starting on Wednesday evening. The Epitaphion (shroud), which had been on the Holy Table since the Paschal Vigil, is removed before the beginning of this service as an indication that the Ascension marked the end of Jesus' physical presence with his disciples after the Resurrection. The Afterfeast of Ascension lasts for eight days until the Apodosis on the following Friday.

The Seventh Sunday of Pascha commemorates the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council (325 AD). This Sunday falls during the Afterfeast of the Ascension. In addition to defending Christianity against Arianism, the Council also passed a number of canons concerning church discipline, including setting the date for the celebration of Pascha. By decision of the Council, Pascha should not be celebrated by Christians on the same day with the Jewish Passover, but on the first Sunday after the first full moon of the vernal equinox (which occurred on March 22 in 325). The First Ecumenical Council is also commemorated on May 29 (for those churches which follow the traditional Julian Calendar, May 29 currently falls on June 11 of the modern Gregorian Calendar).

The hymns and readings in the Pentecostarion are very rich in drawing out relevant symbolism from biblical texts. The Epistle for the Divine Liturgy is from Acts 20:16-18 and 20:28-36. The Gospel is from John 17:1-13.

The Seventh Saturday of Pascha, the day before Pentecost, is a Saturday of the Dead, on which the church commemorates all of the faithful departed "who in ages past have reposed in a godly manner, in hope of the resurrection of eternal life."[4] Two Epistles (Acts 28:1-31, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17) and two Gospels (John 21:14-25, John 5:24-30) are appointed to be read at the Divine Liturgy. On this day, the readings from Acts and the Gospel of St. John, which began on Pascha, are concluded. Traditionally, St. John Chrysostom's homily "On Patience and Gratitude" is appointed to be read in church (the same homily is also appointed for funerals).

Since the Apodosis of the Ascension fell on the previous day, there are no hymns appointed for this day which speak of either the Ascension or of Pentecost. Instead, the hymns are devoted to prayer for the dead. The prokeimenon at Vespers and God is the Lord at Matins are replaced by Alleluia, and a number of structural changes are made to the services following the pattern of the Saturdays of the Dead which fall during Great Lent. A general Panikhida (memorial service) is served either after Vespers or after the Divine Liturgy, and the Ektenia (litany) for the Departed is chanted at the Liturgy.

Pentecost is the second most important feast of the church year, second in importance only to Pascha itself. The Great Feast lasts for seven days, with its Apodosis falling on the following Saturday.

It is celebrated with an All-Night Vigil on the Eve of the Feast and Divine Liturgy on the day of the Feast. An extraordinary service called the Kneeling Prayer, is served on the night of Pentecost. This is a Vespers service to which are added three sets of long poetical prayers, the composition of Saint Basil the Great, during which everyone makes a full prostration, touching their foreheads to the floor (prostrations in church having been forbidden from the day of Pascha up to this point).

The churches are decorated with greenery, and among the Russians the clergy and faithful carry flowers and green branches in their hands during the services. Pentecost is a traditional time for baptisms. The week prior to the feast is known as "green week", during which all manner of plants and herbs are gathered. The Sunday of Pentecost is called "Trinity Sunday," the next day is called "Monday of the Holy Spirit," and Tuesday of Pentecost week is called the "Third Day of the Trinity." The whole week following Pentecost is an important ecclesiastical feast, and is a fast-free week, during which meat and dairy products may be eaten, even on Wednesday and Friday.

Theologically, the Orthodox do not consider Pentecost to be the "birthday" of the Church; they see the Church as having existed before the creation of the world (cf. The Shepherd of Hermas). The Orthodox icon of the feast depicts the Twelve Apostles seated in a semicircle (sometimes the Theotokos (Virgin Mary) is shown sitting in the center of them). At the top of the icon, the Holy Spirit, in the form of tongues of fire, is descending upon them. At the bottom is an allegorical figure, called Kosmos, which symbolizes the world. Although Kosmos is crowned with glory he sits in the darkness caused by the ignorance of God. He is holding a towel on which have been placed 12 scrolls, representing the teaching of the Twelve Apostles.

The First Sunday After Pentecost is dedicated to the commemoration of All Saints.

The next day (Monday) is the beginning of the Apostles' Fast. This is a unique fast in that it is of variable duration, beginning on the moveable calendar, but ending on the fixed calendar feast day of the Apostles Peter and Paul on June 29 (for those churches which follow the Julian Calendar June 29 falls on July 12 of the modern Gregorian Calendar). While all of the Orthodox Churches celebrate Pascha on the same day (with the exception of the Finnish Orthodox Church, which follows the Western Paschalion), some churches follow the traditional Julian Calendar ("Old Calendar") and some follow the Revised Julian Calendar ("New Calendar") which uses the modern Gregorian Calendar to calculate their fixed feasts. Since there is currently a difference of thirteen days between the two calendars, the Apostles' Fast will be almost two weeks shorter for New Calendar churches, or in some years non-existent.

All-Saints of Local Commemoration. This will differ from one national church to another. For instance, in Romania, the commemoration will be "All Saints of Romania", on Mount Athos the commemoration will be "All Saints of the Holy Mountain", etc. In the Orthodox Church of America, the commemoration is "All Saints of America".

In the edition of the Pentecostarion used by the Old Believers and those who follow the Ruthenian recension, the contents of the Pentecostarion begin with the service of Palm Sunday and contain the services of Holy Week.

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26 April 2011

AntiPascha: Saint Thomas (Quasimodo) Sunday

The term Octave of Easter may refer either to the eight day period (Octave) from Easter Sunday until the Sunday following Easter, inclusive; or it may refer only to that Sunday after Easter, the Octave Day of Easter (sometimes known as Low Sunday). That Sunday is also known historically as St. Thomas Sunday (especially among Eastern Christians) and Quasimodo Sunday. Since 1970 Low Sunday has been officially known as the Second Sunday of Easter (referring to the Easter season) in the Roman Catholic Church.

The name Quasimodo came from the Latin text of the traditional Introit for this day, which begins "Quasi modo geniti infantes..." ("As newborn babies...", from 1 Peter 2:2). Literally, quasi modo means "as if in [this] manner".

St. Thomas Sunday is so called because the Gospel reading always relates the story of "Doubting Thomas," in which Thomas the Apostle comes to believe in the Resurrection of Jesus only after being told by the resurrected Christ to place his finger in the nail marks and his hand in His side. In the Gospel accounts, this event takes place on the eighth day after the Resurrection, hence their significance for this Sunday (John 20:19-29).

Traditionally, the newly-baptised would receive baptismal gowns that would be worn until this day, and the official Latin name is Dominica in Albis [Depositis], "Sunday in [Setting Aside the] White Garments". Hence "White" and "Alb" Sunday—which is also the etymology of Whitsunday (Pentecost).

In the Eastern Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox and certain Eastern Catholic churches, the first Sunday after Pascha (Easter) is known as Thomas Sunday, after the Gospel passage read that day (John 20:19-31) which recounts the story of Christ appearing to the Apostle Thomas in order to dispel his doubt about the Resurrection. Among Eastern Christians Thomas is not so much remembered as "doubting Thomas," but is rather remembered for his confession of faith: "My Lord and my God," thus being the first to publicly proclaim the two natures of Christ: human and divine.

The entire week from Pascha to Thomas Sunday, known as Bright Week or Renewal Week, is considered to be one continuous day. The hymns chanted every day are identical to those chanted on the Sunday of Pascha, with the exception of a few parts that are taken from the Octoechos (the "Book of the Eight Tones"). Each day has a different tone: Easter Sunday is Tone One, Bright Monday is Tone Two, and so on through the eight tones (skipping Tone Seven, the "Grave Tone"). On Bright Friday, in addition to the normal Paschal hymns, special stichera and a canon in honor of the Theotokos (Mother of God) are chanted in commemoration of her Icon of the "Life-giving Spring." During all of Bright Week the Royal Doors on the Iconostasis are kept open—the only time of the year when this occurs. The doors are closed before the Ninth Hour on the eve of Thomas Sunday. However, the Afterfeast of Pascha will continue until the eve of the Ascension.

Thomas Sunday is also called Antipascha (literally, "in the place of Pascha") because those who for honorable reason were not able to attend the Paschal Vigil, may attend services on this day instead. Pascha is a unique feast in the church year; being the "Feast of Feasts" it follows a format unlike any other day. Those liturgical elements normal to a Great Feast of the Lord which were displaced by Pascha's unique elements are instead chanted on Thomas Sunday.

All Sundays of the year are determined by the date of Pascha. Thomas Sunday is the first Sunday of the liturgical year that takes its character and naming from the current Pascha (all earlier Sundays having depended on the previous Pascha).

The days following Thomas Sunday are traditional days for visiting the cemeteries to greet departed loved ones with the joyous good news of the Resurrection. In Russia this normally takes place on the Tuesday following Thomas Sunday and is called Radonitsa ("Day of Rejoicing"). The week that follows Thomas Sunday is called Thomas Week, and a number of the hymns from Thomas Sunday are repeated throughout the week, as well as new ones from the Pentecostarion developing the theme of Thomas Sunday.

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25 April 2011

Bright (Renewal) Monday

Easter Monday is the day after Easter Sunday and is celebrated as a holiday in some largely Christian cultures, especially Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox cultures. Easter Monday in the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar is the second day of the octave of Easter Week.

Formerly, the post-Easter festivities involved a week of secular celebration, but this was reduced to one day in the 19th century. Events include egg rolling competitions and, in predominantly Roman Catholic countries, dousing other people with water which traditionally had been blessed with holy water the day before at Easter Sunday Mass and carried home to bless the house and food. For Roman Catholics, Easter Monday is also a Holy Day of Obligation in Germany.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church and those Eastern Catholic Churches which follow the Byzantine Rite, Easter Monday is known as Bright Monday or Renewal Monday, and is the second day of Bright Week. The services are exactly the same as on Pascha (Easter Sunday), except that the hymns from the Octoechos are in Tone Two. It is customary to have a Crucession (procession headed by a cross) either after Paschal Matins or after the Paschal Divine Liturgy. It is customarily a day for visiting family and friends. Easter Monday is also the day when the feast day of St. George is celebrated, in years when St George's Day (April 23) falls during Holy Week or on Easter Sunday.

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24 April 2011

The Last Seven Sayings of Jesus the Christ on the Cross

There are seven expressions traditionally attributed to Jesus during his crucifixion, gathered from the four Canonical Gospels. Three of the sayings appear exclusively in the Gospel of Luke and three appear exclusively in the Gospel of John. The other saying appears both in the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of Matthew. In Mark and Matthew, Jesus cries out to God. In Luke, he forgives his killers, reassures the good thief, and commends his spirit to the Father. In John, he speaks to his mother, says he thirsts, and declares the end of his earthly life.

Since the 16th century these sayings have been widely used in the preachings on Good Friday and entire books have been written on the theological analysis, and the devotional elements of the seven sayings.

Physicians and scientists who have studied the medical aspects of the crucifixion concluded that the sayings had to be short because crucifixion causes asphyxia. This makes inhaling air to speak difficult and painful, especially as death approaches.

The seven sayings form part of a Christian meditation that is often used during Lent, Holy Week and Good Friday. The traditional order of the sayings is:

  1. Father forgive them, for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34).
  2. Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise (Luke 23:43).
  3. Woman, behold your son: behold your mother (John 19:26-27).
  4. My God, My God, why have you forsaken me, (Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34).
  5. I thirst (John 19:28).
  6. It is finished (John 19:30).
  7. Father, into your hands I commit my spirit (Luke 23:46).
Traditionally, these seven sayings are called words of 1. Forgiveness, 2. Salvation, 3. Relationship, 4. Abandonment, 5. Distress, 6. Triumph and 7. Reunion.

As can be seen from the above list, not all seven sayings can be found in any one account of Jesus' crucifixion. The ordering is a harmonisation of the texts from each of the four canonical gospels. In the gospels of Matthew and Mark, Jesus is quoted in Aramaic, shouting the fourth phrase only, and cries out wordlessly before dying. In Luke's Gospel, the first, second, and seventh sayings occur. The third, fifth and sixth sayings can only be found in John's Gospel. In other words:

In Matthew and Mark :
  • My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?
In Luke:
  • Father forgive them, for they know not what they do
  • Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise (in response to one of the two thieves crucified next to him)
  • Father, into your hands I commit my spirit (last words)
In John:
  • Woman, behold your son: behold your mother (directed at Mary, the mother of Jesus, either as a self reference, or as a reference to the beloved disciple and an instruction to the disciple himself)
  • I thirst (just before a wetted sponge, mentioned by all the Canonical Gospels, is offered)
  • It is finished (last words)
Father forgive them, for they know not what they do
Luke 23:34
Then Jesus said, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do".
This first saying of Jesus on the cross is traditionally called "The Word of Forgiveness". It is theologically interpreted as Jesus' prayer for forgiveness for those who were crucifying him: the Roman soldiers, and apparently for all others who were involved in his crucifixion.

Today you will be with me in paradise
Luke 23:43
And he said to him, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise".
This saying is traditionally called "The Word of Salvation". According to Luke's Gospel, Jesus was crucified between two thieves, one of whom supports Jesus' innocence and asks him to remember him when he comes into his kingdom. Jesus replies, "Truly, I say to you..." (ἀμήν λέγω σοί, amēn legō soi), followed with the only appearance of the word "paradise" in the Gospels (παραδείσω, paradeisō, from the Persian pairidaeza "paradise garden").

Behold your son: behold your mother
John 19:26-27
Jesus saw his own mother, and the disciple standing near whom he loved, he said to his mother, "Woman, behold your son". Then he said to the disciple, "Behold your mother". And from that hour, he took his mother into his family.
This statement is traditionally called "The Word of Relationship" and in it Jesus entrusts Mary, his mother, into the care of a disciple.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me
Matthew 27:46
Around the ninth hour, Jesus shouted in a loud voice, saying "Eli Eli lama sabachthani?" which is, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
Mark 15:34
And at the ninth hour, Jesus shouted in a loud voice, "Eloi Eloi lama sabachthani?" which is translated, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
This saying is traditionally called "The Word of Abandonment" and is the only saying that appears in more than one Gospel. This saying is given in Aramaic with a translation (originally in Greek) after it. This phrase is the opening line of Psalm 22. It was common for people at this time to reference songs by quoting their first lines. In the verses immediately following this saying, in both Gospels, the onlookers who hear Jesus' cry understand him to be calling for help from Elijah (Eliyyâ). The slight differences between the two gospel accounts are most probably due to dialect. Matthew's version seems to have been more influenced by Hebrew, whereas Mark's is perhaps more colloquial.
The phrase could be either:
  • אלי אלי למה עזבתני [ēlî ēlî lamâ azavtanî]; or
  • אלי אלי למא שבקתני [ēlî ēlî lamâ šabaqtanî]; or
  • אלהי אלהי למא שבקתני [ēlâhî ēlâhî lamâ šabaqtanî]
The Aramaic word šabaqtanî is based on the verb šabaq, 'to allow, to permit, to forgive, and to forsake', with the perfect tense ending -t (2nd person singular: 'you'), and the object suffix -anî (1st person singular: 'me').

I thirst
John 19:28
He said, "I thirst".
This statement is traditionally called "The Word of Distress" and is compared and contrasted with the encounter of Jesus with the Samaritan Woman at the Well in John 4:4-26.

It is finished
John 19:30
Jesus said, "It is finished".
This statement is traditionally called "The Word of Triumph" and is theologically interpreted as the announcement of the end of the earthly life of Jesus, in anticipation for the Resurrection.

Father, into your hands I commit my spirit
Luke 23:46
And speaking in a loud voice, Jesus said, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit".
This saying, which is an announcement and not a request, is traditionally called "The Word of Reunion" and is theologically interpreted as the proclamation of Jesus joining the God the Father in Heaven.s

The last words of Jesus have been the subject of a wide range of Christian teachings and sermons, and a number of authors have written books specifically devoted to the last sayings of Christ.

Priest and author Timothy Radcliffe states that in the Bible, seven is the number of perfection, and he views the seven last words as God's completion of the circle of creation and performs analysis of the structure of the seven last words to obtain further insight.

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23 April 2011

Holy and Great (Sabbath) Saturday

Holy Saturday (Latin: Sabbatum Sanctum) is the day after Good Friday. It is the day before Easter and the last day of Holy Week, in which Christians prepare for Easter. This day commemorates the day that Jesus Christ's body laid in the tomb.

In Roman Catholic churches, the sanctuary remains stripped completely bare (following the Mass on Holy Thursday) while the administration of the sacraments is severely limited. Holy Communion after the Good Friday service is given only as Viaticum to the dying. Baptism, Penance, and Anointing of the Sick may be administered because they, like Viaticum, are helpful to ensuring salvation for the dying.

All Masses are severely limited. No Mass at all appears in the normal liturgy for this day, although Mass can be said on Good Friday and on Holy Saturday for an extremely grave or solemn situation with a dispensation from the Vatican or the local bishop. Many of the churches of the Anglican Communion as well as Lutheran, Methodist, and some other Churches observe most of the same; however, their altars may be covered in black instead of being stripped.

In some Anglican churches, including the Episcopal Church in the United States, provision is made for a simple Liturgy of the Word on this day, with readings commemorating the burial of Christ, but no Eucharist.

Liturgically speaking, Holy Saturday lasts until dusk, after which the Easter Vigil is celebrated, marking the official start of the Easter season. In Roman Catholic observance, during the "Gloria" of the Mass (which is the first Mass since that of Holy Thursday), the church statues and icons, in places where they are covered with purple veils during Passiontide, are dramatically unveiled.

In Eastern Orthodoxy this day, known as Holy and Great Saturday, is also called The Great Sabbath since it is on this day that Christ "rested" physically in the tomb. But it is also believed that it was on this day he performed in spirit the Harrowing of Hades and raised up to Paradise those who had been held captive there. In the Coptic, Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox Churches, this day is known as Joyous Saturday.

Matins of Holy and Great Saturday (usually held on Friday evening as per ancient church tradition based on Jewish practices) takes the form of a funeral service for Christ. The entire service takes place around the Epitaphios (Slavonic: Plashchanitza), an icon in the form of a cloth embroidered with the image of Christ being prepared for burial. The first part of the service consists of chanting Psalm 118 with hymns (enkomia) interspersed between the psalm verses. The predominant theme of the service is not so much one of mourning, but of watchful expectation:
Today Thou dost keep holy the seventh day,
Which Thou has blessed of old by resting from Thy works.
Thou bringest all things into being and Thou makest all things new,
Observing the Sabbath rest, my Saviour, and restoring strength.
Near the end of Matins, following the Lauds, at the end of the Great Doxology, the Epitaphios is taken up and carried in procession around the outside of the church, while all sing the Trisagion, exactly as is done in an Orthodox funeral service.

On Saturday afternoon, a vesperal Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great, is celebrated. This is the longest Divine Liturgy of the entire year and, traditionally, the latest. After the Little Entrance there are 15 Old Testament readings which recall the history of salvation. Just before the Gospel reading (Matthew 28:1-20) the hangings, altar cloths, and vestments are changed from black to white and the deacon performs a censing of the church. In the Greek tradition the clergy strew laurel leaves and flower petals all over the church to symbolize the shattered gates and broken chains of hell and Jesus' victory over death. While the liturgical atmosphere changes from sorrow to joy at this service, the Paschal greeting, "Christ is risen!" is not exchanged until after the Paschal Vigil later that night, and the faithful continue to fast. The reason for this is that the Divine Liturgy on Holy and Great Saturday represents the proclamation of Jesus' victory over death to those in Hades, but the Resurrection has not yet been announced to those on earth (this will take place during the Paschal Vigil).

Great Lent was originally the period of catechesis for new converts in order to prepare them for baptism and chrismation on Pascha (Easter). Prior to the composition of the current Paschal Vigil of St John of Damascus this day's vesperal Liturgy was the main Easter celebration, and the traditional time to receive converts is still after the Vesperal Divine Liturgy.

In the afternoon, the faithful traditionally gather in church for the reading of the Acts of the Apostles in its entirety. Later that night (around 11.30 pm), the Paschal Vigil begins with the Midnight Office, during which the Canon of Holy Saturday is repeated. Then, all of the candles and lights in the church are extinguished, and all wait in darkness and silence for the proclamation of the Resurrection of Christ.

Święconka (Polish pronunciation: [ɕvʲɛnˈtsɔnka]), meaning "the blessing of the Easter baskets" on Holy Saturday is one of the most enduring and beloved Polish traditions.

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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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21 April 2011

Great and Holy (Maundy/Covenant) Thursday (of the Mysteries)

Maundy Thursday, also known as Holy Thursday, Covenant Thursday, Great & Holy Thursday, and Thursday of Mysteries, is the Christian feast or holy day falling on the Thursday before Easter that commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus Christ with the Apostles as described in the Canonical gospels. It is the fifth day of Holy Week, and is preceded by Holy Wednesday and followed by Good Friday.

The date is always between 19 March and 22 April inclusive. These dates in the Julian calendar, on which Eastern churches in general base their calculations of the date of Easter, correspond throughout the 21st century to 1 April and 5 May in the secularly used Gregorian calendar. The Mass of the Lord's Supper initiates the Easter Triduum, the three days of Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday that commemorate the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus. It is normally celebrated in the evening, when according to Jewish tradition Friday begins.

Use of the names "Maundy Thursday", "Holy Thursday" and the others is not evenly distributed. What is considered the normal name for the day varies according to geographical area and religious allegiance. Thus, while in England "Maundy Thursday" is the normal term, this term is rarely used in Ireland or Scotland in religious contexts. The same person may use one term in a religious context and another in the context of the civil calendar of the country in which he lives.

The Anglican Church uses the name "Maundy Thursday" in the Book of Common Prayer, whereas it treats "Holy Thursday" as an alternative name for Ascension Day. But outside of the official texts of the liturgy, Anglicans sometimes apply the name "Holy Thursday" to the day before Good Friday.

The Roman Catholic Church, even in countries where "Maundy Thursday" is the name in civil legislation, uses the name "Holy Thursday" in its official English-language liturgical books; but, except in these texts, Roman Catholics will sometimes use "Maundy Thursday", especially in England.
In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the name for the holy day is, in the Byzantine Rite, "Great and Holy Thursday" or "Holy Thursday", and in Western Rite Orthodoxy "Maundy Thursday", "Holy Thursday" or both. The Coptic Orthodox Church uses both the terms "Maundy Thursday" and "Covenant Thursday" for the holy day.

In the Maronite Church and the Syriac Orthodox Church, the name is "Thursday of Mysteries".
The Washing of the Feet is a traditional component of the celebration in many Christian Churches, including the Armenian, Ethiopian, Eastern Orthodox, Eastern Catholic, Schwarzenau Brethren/German Baptist groups, Mennonites, and Roman Catholic Churches, and is becoming increasingly popular as a part of the Maundy Thursday liturgy in the Anglican/Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, and Presbyterian Churches, as well as in other Protestant denominations. In the Roman Catholic Church, the Mass of the Lord's Supper begins as usual, but the Gloria is accompanied by the ringing of bells, which are then silent until the Easter Vigil. After the homily the washing of feet may be performed. The service concludes with a procession taking the Blessed Sacrament to the place of reposition. The altar is later stripped bare, as are all other altars in the church except the Altar of Repose. In pre-1970 editions, the Roman Missal envisages this being done ceremonially, to the accompaniment of Psalm 21/22, a practice which continues in many Anglican churches.
In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Lenten character of the services is for the most part set aside, and they follow a format closer to normal. The liturgical colours are changed from the somber Lenten hues to more festive colours (red is common in the Slavic practice). The primary service of this day is Vespers combined with the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great. At this service is read the first Passion Gospel (John 13:31-18:1), known as the "Gospel of the Testament", and many of the normal hymns of the Divine Liturgy are substituted with the following troparion:
Of Thy Mystical Supper, O Son of God, accept me today as a communicant; for I will not speak of Thy Mystery to Thine enemies, neither will I give Thee a kiss like Judas. But like the Thief will I confess Thee: Remember me, O Lord, in Thy Kingdom.
In addition to the usual Preparation for Holy Communion, the Orthodox faithful will often receive the Mystery of Unction on Great Wednesday as preparation for the reception of Holy Communion on Great Thursday. It is customary to cover the Altar table with a simple, white linen cloth on this day, as a reminder of the Last Supper. On Great Thursday, the Reserved Sacrament is customarily renewed, a new Lamb (Host) being consecrated for the coming liturgical year, and the remainder from the previous year is consumed. The ceremony of the Washing of Feet will normally be performed in monasteries and cathedrals. Because of the joy of the Institution of the Eucharist, on this day alone during Holy Week wine and oil are permitted at meals. Whenever there is need to consecrate more chrysm it will be done on this day by the heads of the various autocephalous churches. In the evening, after the Liturgy, all of the hangings and vestments are changed to black or some other Lenten colour, to signify the beginning of the Passion.

Beginning on Holy and Great Thursday, the celebration of the Lity (memorial service) is forbidden until Thomas Sunday (the Sunday after Easter).

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20 April 2011

Holy and Great (Spy) Wednesday

In Christianity, Holy Wednesday (also called Spy Wednesday, and in the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches, Holy and Great Wednesday) is the Wednesday of the Holy Week, the week before Easter. It is followed by Maundy Thursday (Holy Thursday).

In Western Christianity, the Wednesday before Easter is sometimes known as "Spy Wednesday", indicating that it is the day that Judas Iscariot first conspired with the Sanhedrin to betray Jesus for thirty silver coins.

This event is described in the three Synoptic Gospels: Matthew 26:14-16, Mark 14:10-12, Luke 22:3-6.

The Sanhedrin was gathered together and it decided to kill Jesus, even before Pesach if possible. In the meantime, Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper. Here he was anointed on his head by Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, with very expensive ointment of spikenard. Some of the disciples were indignant about this; the oil could have been sold to support the poor. Judas went to the Sanhedrin and offered them his support in exchange for money. From this moment on Judas was looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus.

Although it is frequently celebrated on Maundy Thursday or Good Friday, the Tenebrae is a liturgy that is often celebrated on this day. The word tenebrae comes from the Latin meaning darkness. In this service, all of the candles on the altar table are gradually extinguished until the sanctuary is in complete darkness. At the moment of darkness, a loud clash occurs symbolizing the death of Jesus. The 'strepitus', as it is known more probably symbolizes the earthquake that followed Jesus' death:
"And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent" Matthew 27:51.
In the Orthodox Church, the theme of Holy and Great Wednesday is the commemoration of the sinful woman who anointed Jesus before his Crucifixion and Burial; a second theme is the agreement to betray Jesus made by Judas Iscariot.

The day begins with the celebration of the Presanctified Liturgy on Tuesday afternoon. Later that evening, the Orthros (Matins) follows the special Holy Week format known as the Bridegroom Prayer. Towards the end of Orthros, the Hymn of Kassiani is sung. The hymn, (written in the 9th century by Kassiani the Nun) tells of the woman who washed Christ's feet in the house of Simon the Pharisee. (Luke 7:36-50) Much of the hymn is written from the perspective of the sinful woman:
O Lord, the woman who had fallen into many sins, sensing Your Divinity, takes upon herself the duty of a myrrh-bearer. With lamentations she brings you myrrh in anticipation of your entombment. "Woe to me!" she cries, "for me night has become a frenzy of licentiousness, a dark and moonless love of sin. Receive the fountain of my tears, O You who gathers into clouds the waters of the sea. Incline unto me, unto the sighings of my heart, O You who bowed the heavens by your ineffable condescension. I will wash your immaculate feet with kisses and dry them again with the tresses of my hair; those very feet at whose sound Eve hid herself from in fear when she heard You walking in Paradise in the twilight of the day. As for the multitude of my sins and the depths of Your judgments, who can search them out, O Savior of souls, my Savior? Do not disdain me Your handmaiden, O You who are boundless in mercy."
The Byzantine musical composition expresses the poetry so strongly that it often leaves many people in a state of prayerful tears. The Hymn can last upwards of 25 minutes and is liturgically and musically a highpoint of the entire year.

On this day members of the church receive Holy Unction after receiving Holy Communion at the Presanctified Liturgy on Wednesday evening.

It is on account of the agreement made by Judas to betray Jesus on this day that Orthodox Christians fast on Wednesdays (as well as Fridays) throughout the year.

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