Thursday, 21 April 2011


“He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” – New Testament: 1 Peter 2:24

The day today was spent quietly and at home although we did go out on a couple of occasions. First to visit an elderly friend and take her some Easter eggs, flowers and cookies, and then later in the afternoon when we went to church. Our local Greek Orthodox church is St George and it’s located very close to our house on top of the hill. It is a lovely church, once upon a time it was an Anglican one, St David, but as it was not used it was taken over by the Greeks.

The liturgy of Good Friday is grave and extremely melancholy, as befits the most solemn and sorrowful day in the Christian calendar.  No work should be done on this day of prayer and reflection when one should mourn for Christ’s death on the cross.  No iron tools should be handled and hammers and nails are to be avoided especially, lest you crucify Christ anew.  If clothes are washed on this day, a member of the family will die. As the clothes hang out to dry they will be spotted with blood.  This belief is from the apocryphal story that relates of a washerwoman mockingly throwing dirty washing water on Christ on his way to Calvary.  Parsley seed can be planted on this day, provided a wooden spade is used.

The Greek Orthodox religion is particularly rich in tradition on this day.  Fasting is mandatory and only fruit, vegetables and boiled pulses are to be eaten without any trace of oil. Of course, no eggs, no dairy, no meat or fish can be consumed either. It is customary to drink some vinegar on this day to remember the vinegar Christ was given to drink on the cross when he was athirst.

The Vespers of Good Friday are particularly sombre in the Orthodox faith. There is a re-enactment of the Deposition from the Cross, with a holy embroidered icon called the “Epitaphios”, which depicts the dead Christ. On the afternoon of Good Friday, the priest and deacon place the Epitaphios on the Altar. The priest anoints the Epitaphios with perfumed oil, with a chalice, veil and the Gospel Book placed on top of the Epitaphios. During the reading of the Gospel lesson (compiled from selections of all four Gospels), which recounts the death of Christ, an icon depicting the Soma (body) of Christ is taken down from a cross which has been set up in the middle of the church. The Soma is wrapped in a white cloth and taken into the sanctuary. Near the end of the service, the priest and deacon, accompanied by acolytes with candles and incense, bring the Epitaphios icon in procession, from the Altar into the centre of the church and place it in a richly carved wooden bier which is decorated with flowers.

This bier or catafalque represents the Tomb of Christ. The Tomb is often sprinkled with flower petals and rosewater, decorated with candles, and ceremonially censed as a mark of respect. The bells of the church are tolled, and in traditionally Orthodox countries, flags are lowered to half-mast. Then the priest and faithful venerate the Epitaphios as the choir chants hymns. In Slavic churches, the service of Compline will be served next, during which a special Canon will be chanted which recalls the lamentations of the Virgin Mary.  The faithful continue to visit the tomb and venerate the Epitaphios throughout the afternoon and evening, until Matins, which is usually served in the evening during Holy Week, so that the largest number of people can attend.

The form which the veneration of the Epitaphios takes will vary between ethnic traditions. Some will make three prostrations, then kiss the image of Christ on the Epitaphios and the Gospel Book, and then make three more prostrations. Sometimes, the faithful will crawl under the table on which the Epitaphios has been placed, as though entering into death with Christ. Others may simply light a candle and/or say a short prayer with bowed head.  The priest may hear confessions at the Epitaphios, and he may anoint people who were not able to be present for the Holy Unction service earlier in the week.

After Matins, the bier containing the Epitaphios is carried in procession by the faithful around the church and neighbourhood. The parishioners follow holding lighted candles, to eventually return to the church. The Bier is held high above the entrance and all pass under it, symbolically entering the tomb of Christ.

Here is another of the great hymns of the Orthodox liturgy that is sung these days. It the “Axion Esti” meaning “It is truly worthy” and is an Encomium for Christ. It is sung by Petros Gaïtanos.


  1. Hello:
    For us, it is the great contrast between the sadness of Good Friday and the joy of Easter Sunday which makes Easter such a very special occasion. The anticipation, throughout the long days and nights of Lent, of Easter with all its associated treats and celebrations makes such a direct contrast, we feel, with the increasingly instant gratification that seems such a part of modern living.

  2. This is fascinating! I have often seen these processions and wondered what they were all about. thanks for the explanation.
    The hymn is heart-rending! Very melismatic and melancholy.
    Have a good Easter!

  3. Great blog! We are losing the meaning of these religious holidays and our year is becoming the same day after day: Shop, consume, watch TV, shop, consume!
    Thank you for reminding us of history, religion, traditions, observances, rituals and culture...