LITURGY OF THE BLESSING OF THE WATER OF GREAT THURSDAY
This is the Paschal Day, the day of 'passage' from slavery under the power of sin, to that of belonging to God under His sovereignty. It is the exodus of the people of Israel from Egypt, the land of captivity and the crossing of the Red Sea. This is also the Paschal Day of the Sacred Body and Blood of the New Covenant. The passage is no longer a symbol, as it was when the Hebrews marked their doors with blood to spare themselves from death.
The prayers of the Liturgy of the Blessing of the Water is very similar to the funeral service that is prayed after the Liturgy of the Eucharist on Palm Sunday. However, the meaning and purpose of this liturgy differs. On Palm Sunday, the main purpose of the water is a precautionary measure of the church just in case one member of the church departs during Holy Week. It is a preparation of Holy Week instituted by the church. However, the Laka'an service on Holy Thursday is a specific tradition that follows the example of Christ, who washed the feet of His disciples before Passover. These prayers and readings of this liturgy are also very similar to those of Baptism.
When our Lord began to tell the disciples He would wash their feet, Simon Peter's attitude clearly indicated the temptations that can assail a sincere disciple. The impulsive Peter exaggerates in two opposite senses. First, he does not want Christ to wash him; then, he wants Jesus to wash not only his feet but his head also. We would often like to decide what the Master should do and how He should do it. What Jesus desires is that we let ourselves be directed. This is loving submission to His initiatives even though we do not understand them. If in imitating Jesus you kneel to wash another's feet, it is at this point that the towel with which you wiped them will become for your Veronica's town: on it the Savior's face will be impressed.
When Jesus washed the feet of His disciples, He was purifying their hearts from vanity, teaching them that the greatest should be the least. "Now there was also a dispute among them, as to which of them should be considered the greatest. And He said to them, 'The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and thosewho exercise authority over them are called 'benefactors.' But not so [among] you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves.'" (Luke 22:24-26). Jesus insisted that Peter let Him wash his feet, lest he should have no share with Jesus (John 13:8). One thing only was now required, that is the washing of the feet, because they were already clean " But the chief priests plotted to put Lazarus to death also." (John 12:10).
A series of prophesies are read that indicate the prophesies of the washing and cleansing of God's peoples. The first two are more in depth, while the latter are more of references. 8 specific prophecies are read, the symbol from Old Testament times of cleansing. On the eighth day children were brought to the temple to be cleansed. This is why the baptismal may have eight sides.
- Abraham serving the angels of the Lord at Mambre. He washed their feet, and then served them with bread, a calf, butter and milk. This is again a symbol of the coming of Christ, who shall wash the feet of His disciples in humility and servitude before partaking of this great meal.
- Also, the reading of Solomon regarding the seven pillars of wisdom denote the 7 sacraments of the church, as the official declaration that the first sacrament of Holy Week shall begin with the upcoming Divine Liturgy. For this we must have "sound mind." This passage also symbolizes the divine sacrifice of the New Covenant. Jesus added water to the wine. His side was pierced on the Cross and blood and water came out. The prophecy stresses the importance of the water that washes our dirt and is a symbol of the Holy Spirit.
- Israelites crossed the Red Sea as a symbol of washing their feet and entering into new land. The crossing of the Red Sea is a symbol of the water of baptism. Sin is being drowned and our salvation is being accomplished. Similarly, the water of the sea saved the people of Israel and drowned Pharaoh and his people. Moses' rod that separated the waters of the sea is a symbol of the Cross that abolished the bond. "Buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with [Him] through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the Cross." (Col. 2:12-14).
- Joshua crossed the Jordan river, immersed in water
- Isaiah explains how this water washes away the filth of our sins.
- Another passage from Isaiah explains God's ever-lasting covenant with His people that He will provide for those who follow His ways.
- Ezekiel's mentioning that the Lord will "sprinkle" clean water to purge us from all of our dirt and filth caused from our sins.
- Ezekiel's vision of a fountain of water flowing as a river from the altar of God into Galilee. This river contained the water of healing that would bring life and salvation to man.
Homily of St. Shenouda explaining the importance of the water of repentance.
Pauline Epistle: In explaining the virtues of elders, mothers, and widows, St. Paul emphasizes that if a good widow is one who has took in strangers, tended to the poor, and washed the feet of the saints.
Psalm 50: reading the passage of sprinkling of hyssop. Hyssop was used in the Old Testament purification ceremonies. It consisted of lustral water used for aspertions mixed with blood for the purification of lepers. Hyssop branches were used to sprinkle the door-posts with the blood of the Passover Lamb. Thus, as we commemorate the washing of the feet, we remember Christ as the Passover Lamb deeply connected to the hyssop.
Gospel: Judas departs; Christ girds himself with a towel and washes the disciples' feet.
Litanies and Prayers
7 Litanies for the sick, travelers, winds, rulers, departed, oblations, Catechumens.
16 short litanies
100 Lord Have Mercy's
3 long prayers: Litany of the Peace, of the fathers, of the assemblies,
Main liturgy: Meet and Right, Cherubim,
Prayers over the water
Psalm 150 is chanted by the congregation as the highest ranking priest washes the feet of the other clergy. Then the clergy wash the feet of the congregation.
Final Prayer and Thanksgiving Prayer
Homily of St. John Chrysostom
LITURGY OF THE EUCHARIST
At this point, the disciples have completed all the preparations needed. The Church has completed the washing of the feet, a symbol of the purification of the people and their readiness to partake in the rich gifts of the Holy Spirit for expiation of sins. It is time now to go to the altar to offer the sacrifice of the New Testament and become part of the true vine in which is the true life.
Following the Liturgy of the Water, we celebrate the Divine Liturgy of the Eucharist. Again, this is the first and only sacrament (outside of Confession) that is celebrated during the Holy Passion Week. The reason we celebrate the liturgy on Thursday is because in the evening, our Lord established the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist after the Last Supper, when He gave His pure Body and precious Blood to His disciples in the form of bread and wine.
Offering of the Lamb: the lamb is offered, again without any psalms or hymns. As explained earlier, the psalms are not prayed in the traditional way and are substituted by the Paschal prayers. Additionally, the hymn "Alleluia, this is the day the Lord has made" (Fai Pe Bi). This hymn is a joyous tune that is chanted only during the annual or festal days of the year, and not during the lenten or paschal days.
Raising of Incense The priest raises the incense of the Pauline Epistle without the chanting of 'Saved Indeed." (Sotees Amen.). This because the church is now focusing on the passion of our Lord, and does not openly proclaim salvation until Resurrection Sunday.
Pauline Epistle: The Church reads from St. Paul's famous passage of the importance of the Holy Eucharist in Corinthians 11. This is perhaps the one section in all of the Pauline Epistles that directly speaks of how to prepare and partake of the Holy Communion in a worthy and respectful manner.
The Catholic Epistle and Acts are not read
Litany of the Gospel
The Psalm and Gospel are read with annual tone and not the Paschal tone (of sadness). This annual tune and is read during any liturgy. The only exception throughout the year is on Bright Saturday.
Psalm: completes Psalm 23, which began to read in the 9th hour. This selected verse discusses how the "Table of the Lord is prepared." This table is the altar before us that is being prepared with Christ's Body and Blood.
Gospel reading is taken from the proclamation of Christ that "This is my body.this is my blood."
Creed is to be recited normally, as explained earlier.
Prayer of Reconciliation: is not prayed because the church has not yet been reconciled through the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. Because we are still waiting for the suffering and resurrection, the priest does not recite: "He descended through Hades through the Cross" or "He rose from the dead.", etc.
Liturgy of the Oblations is then said, without praying the Diptych of the saints or the Commemoration of the Departed. Because we have not celebrated the glory of the Resurrection, the church does not commemorate the resurrection of the departed or the lives of the saints.
Communion: Psalm 150 is not chanted. Instead the 11th hour prophesies are read. On Thursday evening, near sunset (near the eleventh hour), Christ ate the Passover meal with the disciples. Afterwards, He instituted the Eucharist. Communion should be either before or after sunset, in order for us not to participate at the time that the Jews celebrate Passover at sunset.
"With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer." (Luke 22:15) To which Passover does He refer? The last one which Jesus will celebrate before His death. The one in which He will reveal to His disciples the mystery of the true paschal Lamb. The Paschal meals which He longs to eat with me will enable me to discover the Lamb.
Intense preparation is required for us to partake of this blessed Sacrament. As St. John Chrysostom remarked, "Look, how the people of the Old Testament used to purify themselves to be able to eat the Passover. Moses told them, 'Anyone who is not pure, who proceeds to eat the Passover, is perished.' How about the one who proceeds to eat the hidden mystery without preparing himself? If you cannot touch the clothes of an earthly king with impure hands, how dare you proceed to that holy sacrament with a sinful heart and impure conscience?"
11th Hour: The Beginning of Suffering
The reading from Isaiah (52:13-53:12) is the fourth and final servant song mentioned in the second part of Isaiah that tells a personal message from the prophet. It is a remarkable passage that explains the suffering he endured, which suggests more clearly than anything in the Old Testament that God accepts one individual's suffering to atone for the sins of others. This reading becomes and introduction to Christ's suffering that He would endure for us. It prophesies about the Messiah as the Paschal lamb.
These powerful verses are also used during the Divine Liturgy According to Saint Gregory to explain the great ordeal suffered by our Lord. It begins to predict that the disciples would betray Him, how we leave Him in the midst of our sin. All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, very one to his own way (53:6).
It prophesies of His silent sorrow amidst the painful beatings. It explains in vivid detail His stripes and bruises. But why such suffering? Why such brutal torment? The Holy Spirit has explained to us hundreds of years before the Crucifixion why.
God had prepared the Israelites with Five different offerings: the burnt offering, the Grain Offering, the Peace Offering, and the Trespass Offering (Leviticus 1-5). This passage of Isaiah connects this Old Testament Law to explain how Christ became the final Offering to represent each of these offerings. On Holy Thursday, we taste each of these offerings.
- The Burnt Offering (Leviticus 1) The first offering mentioned was the burnt offering. It required an unblemished lamb offered out of free will. Whether it was of the herd, or of the flocks, or of birds it must be without blemish (Lev. 1:3, 10) Christ had become this pure lamb, and Isaiah tells us that no deceit was found in His mouth (53:9). He was perfect. The priest would symbolically transfer the sins of the person onto the animal, and kill the animal-teaching us that the punishment of our sins are death. Once a pure creature dies for our behalf, we are saved. But this was an imperfect sacrifice, that was only completed when Christ had come. Although an animal had been offered in the Old Testament, it really required the death of a human being. But because no perfect man had been found, this sacrifice could not be accomplished or accepted. That is why complete atonement was not possible until the coming of Christ. This is the hidden beauty of the Cross.
- The Grain Offering (Leviticus 2) This offering was made by baking unleavened cakes of flour, oil, and incense. A part of this was cooked on the fire and offered to the Lord. Christ becomes a symbol of this offering when He offers His Body through Bread. The other offerings are of blood, in which the animal's blood would be sprinkled around the altar to wash away our sins. But this is the only offering of the Body in the form of bread. In the New Testament, yeast is added to the offering as a representation of the Resurrection.
- The Peace Offering (Leviticus 3) This, too, was offered without blemish Christ offered Himself as this Peace offering as well. But this offering was not one of forgiveness or atonement, but was one of thanksgiving and peace. Before Christ breaks the bread, He offers thanksgiving to God and after the meal, He repeatedly blesses His disciples with this peace from on high (John 14:27; 16:6, 22).
- The Sin Offering (Leviticus 4) If a person had sinned unintentionally against any of the Lord's commandments (including the anointed priest) he was to bring a special offering to the temple (4:1-3). Again, these animals were all innocent of any sin; they were unblemished.
- The Trespass Offering (Leviticus 5) This offering is very similar to the burnt offering and was offered for the atonement of touching any unclean thing or swearing. If he could not bring a lamb, he would bring two turtledoves or two young pigeons (one for burnt offering, and one for a sin offering).
Thus, each sacrifice fulfills the sacrifice of Christ as the Lamb of God (John 1:29) who takes away the sins of the world yet remains sinless. As St. Jacob of Serga said, "the Lamb wanted to eat a lamb with His disciples and take its place and become a Sacrifice instead of all other sacrifices."
The gospel of the 11th hour is the only one of the five during the morning prayers that does not concern the preparation of the Passover by the Disciples. It is the special Laka'an Gospel and is the only one of the five that is read from the Gospel According to St. John. It speaks of how the Lord, despite all of this suffering, was prepared to offer Himself as this acceptable sacrifice out of His will. He offered willfully, submitting to the Father His life, exactly as the burnt offering must be offered out of free will. (Leviticus 1:3)
As we approach the crucifixion, the number and intensity of the events steadily increase. This evening's events include the Last Supper, the Eucharist, the Final Message to the Apostles, prayer at Gethsemane, Judas' Betrayal, and the round of trials. In the first hour, we read three gospels from the same evangelist. For the remainder of the Evening of Friday and Great Friday, every hour contains four gospel readings, one from each evangelist.
1st HOUR: CHRIST SPEAKS WITH US AND PRAYS FOR US
On Thursday evening, after eating of the Last Supper and the Body and Blood, Christ gives His last Discourse to his people (John 14-17). This passage is so powerful that many Christians in the early church and in the church today have memorized these three chapters. This message is a very special one, for it is only spoken to the disciples and it is only mentioned in the Gospel of John. In plain language, He speaks to them and announces His departure, recalls His ministry full of deeds, words, and miracles. He urges them to keep the commandments and to preserve unity among themselves. And at last, He prays for them.
In the first hour prophesy (Jeremiah 8:17-9:6), the Lord explains how the sins of His people has saddened and perplexed Him. He is to the point of tears. This revelation of His saddened love for us continues throughout the readings of the gospels. The Psalm of the first hour also whispers in our ears the distress of the Lord, where we hear the Lord cry through David the Prophet, "My enemies have approached me all day long, those who deride me swear an oath against me" (Psalm 108:8).
Through this wonderful first hour of the evening of Good Friday, the church reads from John 13:33- 17:26. This is the only time in the entire year that three gospel readings are read consecutively from the same evangelist! It is perhaps the longest continuous message of Christ mentioned in all of the gospels-even longer than the Sermon on the Mount. For this was not just a sermon, but a private lesson to His disciples. Even more, these passages contain the longest and most personal prayer from Blessed Son to the Heavenly Father. Here, He prays for us personally that we my not fall into sin and that we stay strong in the coming time of trouble and danger. We read the only instance where He refers to Himself as "Jesus Christ" (John 17:3). The final three words of the gospel reading are "I in them." His life for us. His prayer for us. The offering of His Body and Blood on our behalf. Eucharist is intertwined with this one verse. Let us remember this as our focus.
The exposition, as well, is wholly dedicated on this passage, and even begins by repeating part of Christ's prayer for us. Truly, this passage is one of the very special moments of the entire week. May we listen carefully and swim in the sea of His love during these readings.
To prepare us for this message of love, the church adds the words 'The Lord is my Strength, my Praise and has be come my Salvation" to the Paschal hymn 'Thine is the Power" (Thok te ti gom). This is another reminder that the Lord is preparing Himself and us for the Crucifixion.
3rd HOUR: THE GARDEN OF GETHSEMANE
Gethsemane is the Aramaic word for "oil press." It is a garden east of Jerusalem beyond the Kidron valley and near the Mount of Olives (Matthew 26:30). Christ often retreated with His disciples in the garden. It was the place where Christ met the Father, where man betrays God.
In the first garden, the Garden of Eden, Adam fell to temptation. But in the Second Garden (of Gethsemane), the Second Adam prevailed over temptation. Such power is only given through prayer and submission to God's will. The First Adam was cast out of the Garden and kept out by an Angel; God sent an angel to strengthen and comfort the Second Adam (Luke 22:43-44)
"Just as He, in us, became sin although He remained utterly sinless, so we, in Him have become utterly without sin, although we are sinful human beings." As we chant in the Friday Theotokia of the Holy Psalmody, 'He took what is ours and gave us what is His."
As Christ and the disciples did not journey to Gethsemane before "singing a hymn," so too the Church does not progress without chanting the paschal hymns. Christ had warned the disciples they would betray Him and take offense to Him. Around the same time, Judas plotted with the Jews seeking to capture and kill Christ. In remembrance of such talk, a prophetic psalm is read: "They have surrounded me with words of hatred, and fought against me without a cause" (Psalm 109: 1, 3). This psalm is the most violent of the "cursing" psalms which explains the cruelty of the Lord's adversaries.
6th HOUR: CONTINUOUS PRAYER
During this hour, Christ asks the disciples to sit with Him and stay awake. He urges them three times to stay awake and pray, for His betrayers are at hand. Through such persistence, the Lord teaches us the importance of vigil in times of trouble.
The Psalm of the hour conjoins two prophetic psalms regarding the betrayal and capture of Christ by His enemies. When King Saul sent men to watch over David in order to kill him, David cries out to the Lord saying, "Deliver me from my enemies, O my God; Defend me from those who rise up against me" (Psalm 59:1). This verse is part of a long prayer for comfort and deliverance from evildoers. The church reads this psalm as a prayer for the deliverance of God from the hands of these evil men.
9th HOUR: SEIZING CHRIST
The first part of the psalm prophesies the nature Judas who spoke in peace and even kissed the Savior, but had evil in his heart to betray his Master (Psalm 28:3,4). In the second, David declares the punishment of those who seek to kill him, "Let those bet put to shame and brought to dishonor who seek after my life, let those be turned back and brought to confusion who plot my hurt" (Psalm 35:4). A later verse from Psalm 35 is read during the first hour of Good Friday. Thus, Psalm 35 is known as a Passion psalm for it introduces the persecutors who speedily seek destruction.
11th HOUR: TRIALS BEGIN
We read during this hour four verses from the messianic Psalm 2. In other orthodox services, this chapter is read during Christmas Eve, as the refrain for one of the hymns; and on Good Friday, where the entire psalm is sung in the First Hour prayers. The exposition of the hour explains further how this psalm is a prophecy that the kings of the earth would condemn Him with false testimony.