By far, the one day of the entire church year in which the church prays together is Good Friday. More prayers are prayed, more readings read, more hymns chanted than any other time. All because of the perfect sacrifice; all focused on God and on the Cross.
The prophecies read on this day far outweigh those read throughout any other day of the week. In the first hour, 11 prophecies are read; in the 3rd hour, 6 are read and one final prophecy is read in the evening.
On Friday, Jesus began to be judged in front of a series of councils. The chief priests convened together and condemned the Savior so that they might deliver Him to Pilate to kill him. (Exposition) False witnesses came forth to falsely accuse Him. The "fierce witnesses" mentioned in Psalm 35:11 specifically refers to these false witnesses at the trial of Christ.
The prophecies mostly condemn the priests for this atrocity. Jeremiah says, "Woe to the shepherds that destroy and scatter the sheep of their pasture!" The Wisdom of Solomon shows how the Jews will spitefully examine and torture Him. Because of their wickedness, they are blind and will not receive the reward of forgiveness as the rest of the world.
But in each prophesy, the Lord promises to save His people. This one glimmer of hope shined forth through the Cross on this Great Friday. As Micah the prophet proclaims, "for I have fallen yet shall arise; for though I should sit in darkness, the Lord shall be a light to me."
When Judas saw that He was condemned, he brought the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders to avoid the responsibility for innocent blood (Matthew 23:34-35; Deuteronomy 21:9, 27:25). His love of money led to his demise, as explained in the homily of St. John Chrysostom. Ironically, Judas has the same name as Judah, one of the twelve sons of Jacob, who rather than shedding his brother Joseph's blood, sold him for twenty (or thirty) pieces of silver. (Genesis 37:26-28).
The chief priests took the silver and bought a potter's field with it to bury strangers in. This itself was the fulfillment of two prophesies (Zechariah 11:12-13; Jeremiah 19:1-13, 32:9). Judas hung himself, unable to acknowledge the forgiveness of God, and unwilling to depend on Christ. Instead of repentance, Judas turned a transgression into another transgression
Then, they had bound Jesus and delivered Him to Pontuis Pilate, the governor. A set of charges is presented to Pilate. When Pilate discovers that our Lord was from Galilee, he sent Him to Herod, who questioned and mocked Him. Then the Accused is then returned back to Pilate to without being found guilty. When Christ is returned to Pilate, he tries twice to release Him, even offering a lesser penalty of whipping. Finally, Pilate gives in to the "will" of the Jews. It was a custom to release one of the prisoners at the time of the feast, but the people chose to release Barabbas instead of Jesus. Then Pilate washed his hands in front of them, denying any responsibility for the Innocent One.
At the end of this hour, the Icon of the crucifixion is placed on an icon holder in the chorus of deacons.
Candles, lamps, crosses, gospels, and censor(s) and rose petals are placed before the icon of Crucifixion.
THIRD HOUR: VIA DOLOROSA
The third hour begins the painful torment of Lamb. After Pilate washes his hands, the soldiers took Him into the common hall, paraded around Him, stripped Him and divided his garments. All of this was prophesied about in Psalm 22:17, "They look and stare at Me. They divide My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots." They dressed Him in a scarlet robe, platted a crown of thorns, and placed a reed in His hand.
"He was wounded for our transgressions., He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him and with His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 5:6).
This is the day of pain, the day of sorrows. It is the commandment for us, "not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake" (Philippians 1:29). By actively participating in the Holy Passion Week, through fasting, prayer and repentance we suffer for His sake. Suffering is a gift from God, so that we can experience His satisfaction and capture the quiet endurance of the saints. Through meditation of the Cross, we witness His Divine Love for us. "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."
My Lord and Savior, Your body is torn by whips and I wear nice clothes, living lavishly and carelessly. You are given the myrrh to drink, and I enjoy the desires of life. You comfort my pains and sufferings and I refuse to repent. I ask You to have mercy upon me, for I know how tender is Your overflowing mercy.
Because of us, we who have been uncovered because of sin, the God of Glory, Jesus, was stripped of His clothes, was tied to the post, and was whipped with ropes and rods in which there was a chain of bones.Until this innocent body is scattered and its flesh dispersed in compensation; and His blood is shed to protect our wounds and to cure them. May we praise Him, for it is He who has killed death by death with His crown of thorns! (St. Ephram the Syrian)
This day of sufferings for God is at the same time a day of rejoicing for all humankind, who obtained Salvation through the Cross, achieving what was unthinkable -- Salvation and eternal life at the price of Jesus' blood. "For whom He foreknew, He also predestined [to be] conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren." (Rom. 8:29).
The sign of the Cross appears for the first time in Genesis 48:1-9. When Joseph presented his two sons, Ephraim and Manassah to be blessed by his father Jacob, Joseph placed Ephraim on the left side of Jacob, and Manassah on his right side. Jacob put his right hand on Ephraim, although he was the youngest, and his left hand on Manassah, thus crossing his hands. Joseph protested telling his father that his right hand should be on the eldest but Jacob replied: "I know my son, I know."
All the prophecies that are read during the Third Hour describe Jesus' sufferings in words similar to the words used in the Gospels.
SIXTH HOUR: THE CRUCIFIXION
There is only one theme for this entire hour: the Cross. The first prophecy introduces the Moses' the brazen serpent-a symbol of the powerful cross crushing Satan and all death. We remember the events of this hour each day throughout the year during the Agpeya prayers of the sixth hour.
The second prophecy is a powerful sign of Christ as the Lamb, brought to the slaughter. In the Jewish times, the lambs that were used for the temple sacrifices were born in Nazareth, grazed throughout Jerusalem, and then slaughtered on Golgotha outside of the temple. This practice becomes an amazing foreshadow of Christ, the true and perfect Lamb of God. Isaiah 53 is one of the most powerful selections read in the entire week. It tells of the crucifixion, the burial, and the inheritance of salvation in a deeply prophetic manner.
Following these great prophecies, the Epistle of St. Paul to the Galatians is read. Its simple and essential theme: Glory in the Cross. Afterwards, six litanies are said by the priest, along with responses from the congregation. These prayers are patterned after those that follow the gospel readings in the Agpeya prayers.
Following this, the hymn of Omonogenis (O Only Begotten) is chanted. The initial part of the hymn discus the incarnation and crucifixion, and is accompanied by a somber paschal tune. Yet, near the end, there is a glimpse of hope when discussing the promise of the resurrection. Once the congregation chants "tramped down death." (Thanato Thanaton.), the hymn regains life in a lively tempo and lighter beat. The Trisagion (Agios) is then chanted twice, in two separate tunes.
When Christ breathed His last, darkness came over all the land from the sixth to the ninth hour. The church recreates this eclipse by turning off all of the lights in the church after this one verse is read.
After the reading of the exposition, which sufficiently memorializes the events of this distressing hour, the church chants the hymn Ari pa mevi (Remember Me). This hymn is based on the words spoken by Didymus, the Thief on the Right. This hymn has 11 verses said by the reader, followed by repetitions of the thief's petition.
This Hour is one of rejoicing for all the humankind, from the Prophets of the Old Testament to the believers who recognized the Cross of our Lord in the New testament. St. Paul says " I pride myself only in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Galatians 6:14). The Cross is a crown of victory. It has brought light tot hose blinded by ignorance. It has released those enslaved by sin. Indeed, it has redeemed the whole of mankind. Do not, then be ashamed of the Cross of Christ; rather, glory in it. Although it is a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the Gentiles, the message of the Cross is our salvation. Of course, it is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God. For it was not a mere man who died for us, but the Son of God, God made man. (St. Cyril of Jerusalem)
NINTH HOUR: DEATH
"O Thou Who surrendered Your soul into the hands of the Father when Thou were crucified on the Cross on the Ninth hour and lead the thief into Paradise, do not forsake me." After He tasted the vinegar, Jesus said, "All is accomplished", then He inclined His head and commended His soul to the Father (John 19:30). Then Jesus cried out loudly "O Father, in Thine hands I surrender my soul" (Luke 23:46) and (Matt. 27:46).
At the Cross, the Church contemplates the great love manifest on the Cross while our Savior went through the unknown, the terror of humankind -- death. How blessed is this unique moment of death! It is the moment the devil was terrified and tied, the moment those who had slept in hope rejoiced. The dead were considered dead in their bodies, but their souls considered alive in God. (II Peter 4:6). This is also the moment the thief entered Paradise, opening the door to the humankind. Once our Savior had gone through the terror of death, this terror vanished. No longer would those who die in Christ, be enslaved by death.
The first prophesy is from Jeremiah 11:18. "Like a perfect lamb taken to be slaughtered.they conspired against me saying: 'let us eradicate him from the living beings'". How could they think, O our Lord and God, of suppressing from life the Origin and Giver of life! From now on, death has acquired a new meaning: death in Jesus Christ, being Life and eternal life.
The next prophesy is from Zechariah 14: "On that day, living waters will flow Jerusalem.and God shall be King over the whole world." Even, though His death on the Cross was real, He remains alive as we chant with the Angels: "Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal". The Spirit that inspired this prophecy reveals how far the outreach of His Kingdom, like the overflowing waters from Jerusalem for all who come to drink, be it the Jews or the nations. God shall be King over the whole world.
The spear has supposedly entered from the right side, diagonally, ending in the heart. This was a prophesy mentioned in the Psalms: "My heart is wounded" (literally, pierced) (Psalm 109:21, 22). The soldier who thrust this spear was named Longinus. After witnessing this majestic event, he confessed Christianity and became himself a martyr.
During the 9th hour, candles are lit before the Icon of the Crucifixion. The presbyters, with their heads uncovered and wearing their liturgical robes, cense the icon. In the presence of the bishop, they cense and bow before him without kissing his hand nor the cross.
ELEVENTH HOUR: TAKING DOWN FROM THE CROSS
At this hour, the Scriptures have been fulfilled as our Savior had said (John 19:30). Moses struck the rock in the desert, and water poured out that saved the life of the people of Israel. When the soldier pierced the side of our Savior on the Cross, blood and water came out. It is now up to us to satisfy our thirst from the waters of life.
The prophecy from Exodus 12:1-14 gives the details of God's order to the sons of Israel. They were to immolate the lamb and put marks of his blood on their threshold and doors. no bones were to be broken. The blood was a sign to be recognized by the angel of death to spare them from death. We find the same words in John, when the soldiers came to Him "they did not break His legs" (John 19:23) as was their habit. From His pierced side, came out "blood and water" (John 19: 33, 34). The water is the symbol of humility, peace and love, the fruits of the Holy Spirit through the waters of the baptism. The blood of Jesus will dye our hearts as a recognizable sign of our salvation when we share the Cross with Him.
TWELFTH HOUR: BURIAL
Although the Lord Christ was taken off of the Cross during the Eleventh Hour and although the rest of the Pascha days all include an eleventh hour, Good Friday ends with the Twelfth Hour. We again remember the events of this hour each day throughout the year during the Agpeya prayers of the twelfth hour.
The Romans' conduct was to leave the crucified bodies on the crosses for the birds to prey. The Jewish people used to throw the bodies in a pit where garbage and sewerage were to be burnt. Joseph of Arimathea requested Pilate to let him take Jesus' holy body. Nicodemus, who disagreed with the Assembly on their condemnation of Jesus (John 7: 50-52), helped Joseph for the inhumation with perfumes and pure linen, as predicted by Isaiah.
The Prophesy for the twelfth hour comes from the Lamentations of Jeremiah on the sufferings of the Cross and of the grave are depicted. The Gospels show us the similarity between Jesus and Jonah. Like the prophet Jonah remained inside the whale three days and three nights, "the Son of Man shall be inside the earth for three days and three nights" (Matthew 12:40). A psalm of praise follows the Gospel. "Your throne O God is for ever and ever".
The priest covers the icon with a white linen cloth and places the cross over it. He then covers them with rose petals and spices, and places two candles on each side of it-representing the two angels at the tomb of Christ. The priests, according to their ranks, start reading the Psalms 1, 2, and 3 until they reach " I lay down and slept" (Psalm 3:5). Then the curtain of the altar is closed and the 150 psalms are read in their entirety.
The sufferings of our Lord are the price of our salvation for which we are rejoicing. No words can be spoken! We contemplate Your sufferings and Your pierced side while we stand at the Cross, the source of our rejoicing.