The last days of the earthly life of the Savior. The Judgment of the Lord by the High Priests. The Verdict of the Sinhedrin. The Lord Jesus Christ on trial before Pilate. The Lord’s Way of the Cross. Crucifixion. The Death of Christ. The Burial of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Services of Passion Week. Conclusion. The Canon of the Great Saturday.
The central event in the history of mankind is the coming into the world of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the most important deed — His voluntary suffering and death on the cross, culminating in the glorious Resurrection from the dead.
The services of the Holy Week aim to revive the meaning of Christ’s martyrdom on the Cross in the consciousness of the devout, in order that we may feel the greatness of His love towards us more deeply and, in turn, try to love Him more. For this reason everything that is only pre-depicted in the Old Testament, and that which directly concerns the Saviour’s suffering on the Cross in the New Testament, the Holy Church reveals to the spiritual view of those praying in the touching services of the pre-Easter week, which is also called Passion Week because of the sufferings of the Saviour. Each service of this week is unique in its Gospel remembrances, in its melodies, prayers and holy rites. And here the Church initiates the faithful into great spiritual abundance, not only in its inner content, but also in its external form. These services were conceived and perfected in the course of centuries through the efforts of many talented church writers, poets and composers.
In this article, we will relate the events of the last days of the earthly life of the Lord Jesus Christ, explain the central moments of the Passion services and present the texts of several of the chants.
The last days of the earthly life of the Savior.
pon completing the Last Supper and having given communion to His disciples, the Lord Jesus Christ went with them into the garden of Gethsemane. This was on Thursday evening, the day before the Jewish holiday of Passover. The cozy garden of Gethsemane, thickly planted with olive trees, once belonged to the ancestor of the Lord, King David. Situated on the western side of the Mount of Olives, the garden rose above Jerusalem, and offered a picturesque view of the Temple and the surrounding splendid buildings. When the Lord visited Jerusalem, He invariably went to Gethsemane with his disciples. Knowing this, Judas, one of the apostles (the one who left the Last Supper in order to betray the Savior) decided to lead the soldiers here specifically, in order that they may arrest Christ.
Knowing of the soldiers’ approach, the Lord began to prepare for the upcoming judgment before the high priests and to His death on the cross. Feeling the necessity of prayer in this decisive moment, the Lord told His apostles: “Sit here, while I go and pray yonder.” Withdrawing a short distance, the Lord began to be sorrowful and very heavy. “ My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death,” He said to the Apostles Peter, James and John, who were near. “Tarry ye here, and watch with Me.” Then, stepping a little farther away, He fell on His face and began to pray: “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me: nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou wilt.” This prayer was so intense, according to the evangelists, that perspiration, like drops of blood, dripped from His face to the ground. At this moment of inconceivable inner conflict an Angel appeared to Jesus from Heaven and began to strengthen Him.
No one can comprehend the total weight of the Savior’s sorrow when He was preparing for His sufferings on the Cross for the salvation of sinful humanity. There is no need to deny the natural fear of death, because to Him as a human, all the habitual human sorrows and ills were known. It is natural for normal humans to die, but for Him, being completely without sin, death was an unnatural state.
Besides this, the internal sufferings for Christ were particularly unbearable because at this time the Lord was taking on Himself the backbreaking weight of humanity’s sins. World evil with all its backbreaking heaviness as if pressed down upon the Savior and filled His soul with unbearable sorrow. To Him, as One morally perfect, even the slightest evil was alien and loathsome. Taking human sins on himself, the Lord took the blame for them upon Himself as well. In this manner, that which each person should have suffered for his transgressions was now concentrated on Him alone. Evidently, Christ’s sorrow grew from the knowledge of how callous people had become. Many of them will not only appreciate His eternal love and greatest act, but will laugh at Him and maliciously deny the righteous path offered them. They will prefer sin to the righteous way of life, and they will pursue and kill those people who will hunger for salvation,.
Thus suffering, the Lord prayed thrice. The first time He asked the Father to let the cup of suffering pass from Him; the second time He declared His readiness to do the will of the Father; after the third prayer the Savior said: “Let thy will be done!”
From a theological point of view, the internal conflict which the Lord Jesus Christ suffered in the garden of Gethsemane, surely reveals the two independent and complete beings within Him: the Godly and the human. His Godly will was in complete accord with the will of His Heavenly Father, desiring to save people through His sufferings, but His human will naturally shunned death as the destiny of sinners and desired to find another path for human salvation. In the end, strengthened by diligent prayer, His human will submitted to His Godly will.
Arising from prayer, the Lord went to the apostles in order to warn them of the traitor’s approach. Finding them asleep, He meekly rebukes them: “Sleepest thou? Couldest not thou watch one hour? Behold, the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation. The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:38). How could the disciples fall asleep at such a decisive moment? This occurred, apparently, through overwhelming grief. They dimly comprehended that some horrible tragedy would occur at any time, and did not know how to avoid it. It is a known fact, that great emotions can so weaken the nervous system, that a person loses the will to combat it and tries to lose himself in sleep.
Still, the Lord tries to convince His pupils, and through them all Christians, not to despair no matter how difficult the situation, but to keep vigil and pray diligently. God, seeing the person’s faith, will not permit the one counting on Him to fall into temptations beyond his strength, but will surely help him.
At this time, the silence of the garden was shattered by the sound of the invading mob. A detachment of Roman soldiers arrived, headed by Judaic leaders and empowered by the high priests. Many different people were also with them, thirsting for spectacles. Judas, one of the twelve apostles, turning traitor, brought the mob. For his treachery the high priests gave him thirty silver pieces — a comparatively small sum: for this price one could purchase a slave at the market.
Although there was a full moon, the crowd brought torches, assuming that the Lord would try to hide in the darker parts of the garden. Expecting resistance, the soldiers brought sabers, and the servants — sticks. The high priests, fearing the indignation of the people, commanded Judas to show caution at Jesus’ arrest. The crowd accompanying Judas did not know exactly who would be arrested. They only knew there was a command to take Him, Who is pointed out by Judas. Judas, then, keeping his mission secret, limited himself to the following command: “Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is he; take him, and lead Him away safely” (Mark 14:44).
It can be supposed that Judas was planning to leave the division and run ahead, approach Jesus with the usual greeting, kiss Him, and them stand to the side and let it appear that he does not know what is happening. But his plan did not succeed. When he approached Jesus and babbled in bewilderment: “Master, master,” then Jesus asked him straight out: “Friend, wherefore art thou come?” Not knowing what to reply, Judas in confusion said: “Hail, master,” and kissed Him. The Lord rebuked Judas for this heinous kiss, saying, “Judas, betrayest thou the Son of man with a kiss?”
When the mob approached, the Lord asked: “Whom seek ye?” The Judaic leaders, who knew for Whom the division was sent, answered: “Jesus of Nazareth.” “I am He!” loudly answered Christ. Those coming to arrest Him were told to do so cautiously, because He has many followers who could defend Him. And suddenly He openly and fearlessly declares “I am He!” The Lord said this with such power, that His enemies stepped back and fell to the ground from stupefaction. When they had somewhat recovered and stood up, the Lord asked once again: “Whom seek ye?” They repeated, “Jesus of Nazareth.” The Lord told them again, tempering his Godly power, “I have told you that I am He: if therefore ye seek Me, let these (the apostles) go their way.” The Lord’s care for his disciples was touching. From the first day that they were called, the Saviour protected them from any danger, as is seen in His high-priest prayer to God the Father: “Of them which Thou gavest me have I lost none.”
So the guard, leaving the Apostles alone, arrested the Lord Jesus. Here the fervent Apostle Peter, not awaiting the answer to the question: “Shall we smite with the sword?” pulled out a knife and, hitting the servant of the High Priest, Malchus, cut off his right ear. The Lord healed him immediately with one touch, saying to Peter, “Put again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.” This, of course, is not a prophecy, but only a general law of God’s truth: he who wants to fight with an evil weapon should expect a like reply. A similar idea is expressed in the Old Testament law: “Whose sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed” (Gen. 9:6). The Lord added to this: “Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and He shall presently give more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matt. 26:53). The Romans called a legion a detachment consisting of 10,000 soldiers. The entire Angelic host would arise in defense of the Son of God, if He did not voluntarily give Himself up to suffering. The Lord as if contrasts the 12 legions to His 12 disciples.
Turning to the Judaic leaders, Christ said: “Be ye come out, as against a thief, with swords and staves? … But this is your hour, and the power of darkness” (Luke 22:53). After this the disciples ran, abandoning Him. Only the apostles Peter and John remained and followed the departing detachment leading Jesus from afar. Thus they arrived at Jerusalem.
The Judgment of the Lord by the High Priests.
he bound Savior was led in the house of the high priests, who were found in Zion, a rich neighborhood in upper Jerusalem. (Zion is southeast of the Temple, where the palace of King David once stood. During the time of the Savior, the Judaic leaders and aristocracy lived in Zion. Here also was located the house with the large room, where the Lord held the Last Supper. The house was spacious, with many buildings, placed on the periphery of a large courtyard). The leading high priest was Caiaphas, and Annas was his father-in-law. (Caiaphas was a nickname. His real name was Joseph. He held the position of high priest from the 18th to the 35th year AD. In 1993, in the family mausoleum of the high priests, at a distance of half a kilometer to the south of the temple, archaeologists found a beautifully carved sarcophagus with the bones of a person called Caiaphas, written on the outside of the sarcophagus. It is presumed that this is that Caiaphas who is mentioned by the Evangelists). Although Annas was removed from his post, he continued to live in the high priests’ house, and his opinion, as the opinion of an older and more experienced high priest, was respected. Annas questioned the Lord initially, after which Caiaphas led the formal suit.
The sly Annas began to ask Christ, what He taught and who were His disciples. With this he meant to give a criminal tone to the judicial suit that followed, casting doubt on Jesus as the leader of some conspiracy, with secret teachings and secret goals. The Lord immediately deflected the possibility of such an accusation, pointing out to Annas: “I spake openly to the world; I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort; and in secret have I said nothing,” — and as proof of this He suggested asking witnesses who consistently listened to Him. Although there was nothing offensive in this reply, one of the servants, apparently desiring to please the high priest, slapped the Lord on the cheek, saying: “Answerest the high priest so?” In order to bring the servant to his senses, the Lord meekly counseled him: “If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil: but if well, why smitest thou me?” — that is, if you can prove, that I taught the people something bad, then prove it, but do not hit without reason.
Completing the preliminary questioning, Annas sent the bound Jesus to the high priest Caiaphas. By this time elders, scribes, noted Pharisees and almost the entire Sinhedrin had gathered at Caiaphas’. Notwithstanding the late hour, they hurried to gather evidence against Jesus, in order to prepare all that was necessary for the other, full gathering of the Sinhedrin in the morning, at which they could officially pronounce His death sentence. They invited false witnesses for gathering accusations, who began to accuse Christ of different breaches of the law (for example, not observing the Sabbath). Finally, two witnesses came, who pointed out the words, pronounced by the Lord when he chased out the sellers from the Temple. In doing so, they modified the words of Christ with ill intent, giving them a different meaning. The Lord said: “Destroy this temple (my Body), and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). He did not say the He would destroy the Temple in order to raise it later — as was asserted at the trial by the false witnesses.
But even this boast as assigned to Christ was not enough for a serious punishment. Jesus did not even try to refute these absurd and confused accusations. Christ’s silence irritated Caiaphas, and he decided to extract an admission from the Lord which would give a reason for giving him the death sentence as a blasphemer. According to the trial habits of the time, he turned to the Lord with the formally worded question: “I adjure Thee by the Living God, that Thou tell us whether Thou be the Christ, the Son of God.” This trial-formula entreaty demanded that the accused definitively answer the absolute truth, calling God as his witness. To such a directly placed question, under oath, the Lord could not not answer. No longer concealing His Messianic and Godly dignity, Chirst answered: “Thou hast said!,” that is: “Yes, you truly said, that I — am the promised Messiah, and added: “Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.” This is a reference to the 110th psalm and to the vision of the prophet Daniel. In the aforementioned psalm, the Messiah is pictured sitting on the right hand of God. The Prophet Daniel saw the Messiah in the image of the “Son of man,” coming on heavenly clouds. (In the 110th psalm it is written: “The Lord (God the Father) said unto my Lord (the Messiah), Sit Thou at My right hand, until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool… in the beauties of holiness from the womb of the morning: Thou has the dew of Thy youth.” The description of the prophet Daniel: “I saw in the night visions, and behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought Him near before Him. And there was given Him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages should serve Him: His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom that which shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:13-14).
With these references to the Holy Scriptures the Lord confirmed that He is the promised Messiah and Son of God. Then the high priest rent his clothing and exclaimed: “He hath spoken blasphemy.” The tearing of clothing by the Jews expressed great sadness or indignation. High priests were forbidden to tear their clothing. Such a dramatic gesture was designed to underline that Caiaphas was so outraged by Christ’s declaration that he even forgot the existing ban.
“What think ye?” — asks Caiaphas those present, and receives the desired answer: “He is guilty of death.” Upon declaring this verdict, the heretofore decorously seated judges turned into a ferocious mob and attacked Christ. No longer hiding their hatred, they began to mock Him and spit in His face. Others hit Him on the face and head, asking mockingly: “Prophesy unto us, thou Christ, who is he that smote Thee?” They revealed through their behavior, that the entire trial was only a crude farce, under which was hidden their personal hatred against Christ. They are no longer the guardians of the Law of God, but a rabble blinded by envy.
The Apostle John, as a fisherman, was known to the family of the high priest, and he was freely permitted to enter the courtyard. John also took Peter with him. As it was cold, a campfire was lit in the courtyard, around which were seated soldiers and servants. Apparently, the Apostle Peter also approached the fire from time to time, in order to warm himself. At this point several of the servants recognized Peter and began to accuse him of being one of Christ’s disciples, but Peter began to assure them that he never knew “the man.” Later, someone else again accused Peter of being Christ’s disciple. A third time, already in the wee hours of the morning, when several servants with greater persistence again began to accuse Peter of being Christ’s disciple, he became greatly frightened and began to swear that he never knew Him. At this time the rooster crowed. Then Peter remembered the prophecy of the Savior about the rooster and, ashamed of his cowardice, went out on the street and cried bitterly.
he first session of the Sinhedrin, begun in the house of Caiaphas Thursday night, was concluded early morning Friday. The second session was called several hours later in the grand building of the Sinhedrin, located somewhat south of the Temple. In the Talmud, where the ancient Jewish laws are collected, it is said that in criminal cases the final declaration of the verdict must be made no earlier than the day after the beginning of the trial. But neither Caiaphas nor the members of the Sinhedrin wanted to delay the process. In order to at least give the appearance of a second trial, the Sinhedrin gathered the next morning — already in full attendance. Soldiers brought the bound Jesus Christ to this second meeting, who passed these hours between trials in the courtyard of the high priest, undergoing humiliation at the hands of the guard and servants.
The Lord Jesus Christ was led into the meeting of the Sinhedrin and was again asked: “Art Thou the Christ?” It was important to have the new members of the Sinhedrin to hear the admission of Jesus personally, that He considers Himself the promised by the prophets Messiah. Knowing that the trial was called only as a formality and that His fate was already pre-decided, the Lord answered: “If I tell you, ye will not believe: and if I also ask you, ye will not answer me, nor let me go.” — “Art thou then the Son of God?” — reiterated the judges, and the Lord as if unwillingly confirmed: “Ye say that I am.” This was the formal expression of the accused’s assent — specifically that, which the accusers desired to hear. Pleased with the answer, the members of the Sinhedrin declare unnecessary further examination of the case and pronounce their verdict of committing the Lord Jesus Christ to Roman rule — Pontius Pilate — for carrying out the death sentence.
The Lord Jesus Christ on trial before Pilate.
fter the verdict, the Judaic leaders hurried to lead the Lord Jesus Christ to Pontius Pilate. From the time of Judea’s subjugation by the Romans, the right of the Sinhedrin to execute criminals was taken away. For this reason, it was necessary that the Roman leader carry out the pronounced sentence.
Pontius, also called Pilate, was the fifth leader (procurator) of Judea. He was assigned to this post in 26 AD by order of the Roman emperor Tiberius. Arrogant and cruel, though cowardly as well, he despised the Jews and, in turn, was despised by them. The procurators’ residence was located in Caesaria (on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea, 80 km. to the north of Jerusalem). Procurators came to Jerusalem only during great holidays to keep order.
The Jews led Jesus into the Praetorium, that is, the judgment hall of the Roman leader, which was found in Antonius’ Fortress, adjoined to the Temple on the northwest side. The Roman garrison resided here. Contact with anything heathen was considered defiling, so the Jewish leaders did not enter the fortress courtyard so that they would not lose the right to celebrate Passover, which was to begin the evening of that same day.
Pilate, conceding to Jewish custom (for the Romans spared the rituals of their conquered nations, in order not to raise them up against them), came out to them personally to the lithostroton (from the Greek lithos — rock), an open platform made of rock before the house of the procurator, and asked: “What accusation bring ye against this man?” — “If he were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered him up unto thee,” — answered the leaders. They did not want a new investigation of the Savior’s deeds and hoped that Pilate would immediately confirm their pronounced sentence. But Pilate, sensing the infringement on his power, immediately put them in their place in relation to him as the representative of the emperor: “Take ye him, and judge him according to your law.” Seeing that their position was hopeless, the Jews quickly switched their proud tone to a submissive one: “It is not lawful for us to put any man to death.”
Then the leaders were forced to produce their accusations against Christ: “We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, saying, that he himself is Christ a King” (Luke 23:2). The evil hypocrites that themselves hated the Romans came up with this slanderous accusation of a purely political nature, in order to obtain the confirmation of the death sentence. Pilate privately inside the Praetorium asked Jesus: “Art thou the King of the Jews?” — “Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me?” — the Lord asks Pilate. It is necessary to know the source of this question. If Pilate himself came to him, then “no” should have been the answer, because Christ never declared himself an earthly king. If Pilate’s question was the reiteration of something the Jews said, then it was necessary to admit that He is truly the King as the Son of God.
Pilate’s answer shows contempt towards Judaism: “Am I a Jew? Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered thee unto me: what hast thou done?” He does not assume any kingly merit in Christ, he only wants to know what is His crime. Jesus comforts Pilate that he need fear that He desires earthly power, because “My kingdom is not of this world.” Expressing doubt in the possibility of the existence of some other unearthly kingdom, Pilate reiterates: “Art thou a king then?” Then the Lord explains that He is the King of a spiritual Kingdom and came to earth in order to witness Truth — to reveal higher spiritual principles to people. His servants are those who listen to this heavenly teaching. Pilate, as a crude heathen, did not believe in the existence of objective truths or absolute values. “What is truth?” — he asks scornfully and left, not wishing to continue what he considered a pointless discussion. But Pilate did understand that Jesus was not a threat to Roman power, and thus, on coming to the Jews, announced that he found Him not guilty.
This announcement deeply stung the pride of the Sinhedrin members and they, interrupting each other, began to accuse the Lord of much, desiring at whatever cost to obtain His death sentence. At this time the Lord was totally silent, “insomuch that the governor marvelled greatly.” Finally the Jews began to accuse Jesus of stirring up the people, teaching throughout the country. Hearing that Christ came from Galilee, Pilate sent Jesus to King Herod, who by reason of the holiday was also in Jerusalem. It was the same Herod, also called Antipas, who beheaded the prophet John the Baptist. It is possible that Pilate hoped to receive more precise information from Herod about the Accused. Most likely he wanted to lay this unpleasant judicial matter at Herod’s feet. Herod, flattered by Pilate’s acknowldgement of his kingly power, became friends with him from that day forth.
Knowing of Christ’s miracles, and thinking that He is the resurrected John the Baptist, Herod hoped to see from some miracle the Lord, to amuse himself these festive days. Upon seeing Jesus, Herod rejoiced and began to ply Christ with many questions. He hoped to hear something interesting from Christ, but Christ remained silent to all his questions. At the same time, the high priests and scribes continually accused the Lord, claiming that His sermon is dangerous to Herod as well as the Roman emperor. Herod did not seriously accept the accusations of the Jewish leaders and, committing outrages against Christ, dressed Him in white clothing and sent Him back to Pilate. According to Roman rituals, those dressed in white were candidates to some leadership or important position (the word candidate, from the Latin candidus, means white, light). Herod in this manner wanted to show that he sees Jesus only as a pitiful fanatic, not as a threat to anyone.
So understood Pilate. Referring to the fact that Herod did not find anything in Jesus deserving of death, Pilate offers to punish Christ, then release Him. With this Pilate wishes to satisfy their hatred. They decisively decline his offer. Then Pilate remembered that the Jews had a custom before Passover of asking the ruler to grant freedom to one of the condemned. Understanding that the leaders betrayed Christ from envy, and counting on support from the common people, Pilate asks the people surrounding the lithostroton: “Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus which is called Christ?”
While the people began to consult with each other whom to ask for, one more event occurred which influenced Pilate in a positive manner towards the Lord Jesus Christ. While he sat in his judgment seat, a messenger arrived from his wife who asked to tell him: “Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him.” Ancient Christian writers call her Claudia Proscula and assert that she professed the Jewish faith, and then became a Christian. Apparently, she saw Jesus Christ in a dream as an innocent righteous man being tortured, and was tormented with the thought that her own husband would become his assassin.
But while the messenger was relating his message to Pilate from his wife, the Jewish leaders hurried to convince the populace to ask for Barabbas. When Pilate asked for the second time: “Whether of the twain will ye that I release unto you?” — the people with one voice proclaimed: “Barabbas.” “What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ?” — then asked Pilate. To this they cried: “Let him be crucified.” Then Pilate, defending Christ, became interested: ” Why, what evil hath he done?” But the mob, having no reply, just cried out the more, saying, “Let him be crucified!”
So did the people, corrupted by their religious leaders, prefer the robber Barabbas to its Savior, who taught love and performed countless healings among them. Barabbas was a notable robber, who with his band had committed many thefts and murders in the city.
Deafened by the tumult, Pilate became flustered. He did not want to allow a public disturbance which would have to be suppressed by armed forces. He feared that the embittered high priests would tell Caesar that Pilate himself stirred up the disturbance while defending a government criminal, which was how they were portraying the Lord. Pilate tried to calm this thirst for blood, giving up the Innocent to be scourged. The soldiers led Jesus into the Praetorium for scourging (the judgment hall inside the courtyard), where there was much room, and gathered against him the entire regiment. They undressed Jesus and began to scourge Him. Such a scourging was usually administered by the Romans for severe crimes and, besides, for slaves. The lash was made of straps, and into the ends of them were embedded sharp bony and metal sticks. The one to be scourged was tied to a pillar in an inclined position, and then the soldiers scourged him on the bare back. The body from the very first strikes split and blood flowed freely from the wounds. This torture was so agonizing that some died from the scourging. Pilate subjected Him in Whom he found no fault to such a fearful punishment, but did this in order to placate the blood-thirsty mob.
Upon completing the scourging, the soldiers began to inhumanly mock the Sufferer. They dressed Him in a robe, that is, a red military cloak, similar to the cloaks of the highest military leaders. Such cloaks did not have sleeves and were put on so that the right hand remained free. The robe, put on Christ, ironically portrayed the porphyry of the Judaic king. On the head of the Lord they placed a crown woven out of thorns, and in His hand they placed a reed, portraying a kingly scepter. After doing this, several of the soldiers began to bow before the Godly Sufferer and, mocking Him, greeted: “Hail, King of the Jews.” Others smote Him on the cheeks, spit on Him and hit Him with the reed on the head, from which the thorns were driven more deeply into His head.
After this, Pilate commanded that the exhausted and tortured Lord be led outside, hoping to arouse some sympathy towards Him from the people, and to dissuade them from demanding crucifixion. So thought the heathen, not knowing God or His law of love. But unfortunately, the spiritual leaders of the Jewish nation did not think so, becoming satanic in their hatred against the Savior of the world. When the Lord was led to the lithostroton, Pilate said: “Behold, I bring him forth to you, that ye may know that I find no fault in him.” Then, pointing to Him, added: “Behold the Man!” With this exclamation, Pilate was appealing to the judgment of their conscience. He appeared to be saying: look, here is a Person alone, humiliated, tortured. Can He be some dangerous rebel; doesn’t He arouse more pity than fear, just by His appearance? In addition, Pilate unknowingly said the real truth: The Lord in His humiliation, more, than in glory and kingly splendor, displayed all the spiritual greatness and moral beauty of a true Person, as he should be according to the conception of the Creator. For Christians, the words of Pilate mean: here is an example of a Person to which all should strive.
But none of this mattered to the leaders and the mob. At the first sight of the tortured Christ, they cried even louder: “Crucify Him, crucify Him!” Such blind hatred vexed Pilate and caused him to say harshly, “Take ye Him, and crucify Him: for I find no fault in Him.” — If you are so determined, then crucify Him yourselves on your own responsibility, but I as the representative of justice cannot take part in such an unworthy act. But besides vexation, these words of Pilate did not express anything else, and so the enemies of Christ continued to strive for Pilate’s consent to the death penalty, presenting a new accusation: “We have a law, and by our law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God” (John 19:5-8).
Hearing this, Pilate became fearful. Of course, the expression “Son of God” he could understand only in the heathen sense, in the sense of halfgod-heroes, with which heathen mythology is filled. But even this was enough to disturb him, considering also the warning given by his wife, seeing some kind of mysterious dream about this enigmatic Person. And so Pilate leads Jesus to the Praetorium and privately asks Him: “Whence art Thou?” Are you truly the Son of God? But Jesus did not answer him. It was pointless to answer. When the Lord wanted to explain the meaning of His coming earlier, it had only drawn a sceptical smile.
Overcoming his fear, Pilate wanted to remind Christ of his great position, and so incline Him to answer: “Speakest Thou not unto me? Knowest Thou not that I have power to crucify Thee, and have power to release Thee?” The Lord answers these vain words with Godly wisdom: “Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered Me unto thee hath the greater sin.” In other words, I am in your hands only by the will of God. By putting the Jewish people under Roman rule, God so gave you power over Me as a Person. Still, you will be guilty in My crucifixion because you judge against your conscience; but a greater responsibility lies with those who accomplished their unlawful verdict —the Jewish leaders. The words of the Lord stirred in Pilate his better feelings, and he more determinedly sought an opportunity to release Him.
Then the enemies of Christ tried the most extreme approach: threatening to blame the procurator himself for treason to the Roman emperor: “If thou let this Man go, thou art not Caesar’s friend.” This frightened Pilate, because the ruling emperor at that time was the suspicious and cruel Tiberius, who willingly accepted accusations. This threat by the Jewish leaders decided the matter. Pilate truly wanted to save Christ from crucifixion, but not at the cost of his own career. Then, seating himself in the judgment seat, he formally concludes the trial. This was the Friday before Easter, around “the sixth hour” — by our time around 12 noon. (The Evangelist Mark says “And it was the third hour, and they crucified him” (15:25), but from the sixth to the ninth hours there was darkness over all the land (Matt. 27:45). Days were divided into four parts, with three hours in each. The first, third, sixth and ninth hours are mentioned in the New Testament. The sixth hour is the time period between 9 o’clock and noon.).
Revenging himself on the Jews for the coerced verdict, Pilate says to them with irritation: “Behold your King!” In this way he throws them a cruel rebuke and as if tells them: you dream of having self-government return to you, about some high station among the peoples of the world. No one is so able to such a task perform as this Person calling Himself the spiritual King of Israel. How is it that you, instead of bowing before Him, demand that I, a Roman leader hated by you, take away your King, who can bring about all your life-long desires?
Apparently, the accusers so understood these words, because they angrily cried out: “Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him.” This was a cry from the wound inflicted in the most sensitive spot. But Pilate, before finally yielding wanted to hurt them once more and asks ironically: “Shall I crucify your King?” In answer to this the leaders in their blind hatred pronounced the fateful words that decided the entire future fate of the Jewish people: “We have no king but Caesar.” Previously, the Jews had always claimed: “We have not other King, but God.” But now, only to achieve the crucixion of Christ, they renounced everything, stating that they do not wish any other king but the Roman emperor. Only then did Pilate decide to give in to their demands and gave Christ up to be crucified.
Taking water and washing his hands, Pilate declared before all: “I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it” (Matt. 27:24). The Jews had a ritual of washing their hands to denote that the one whose hands are washed considers himself innocent in the spilling of the accused’s blood (Deuteronomy 21:6-8). Pilate took advantage of this ritual in order to underscore before everyone that he does not accept the responsibility for the execution of Jesus, who he considered innocent and Righteous. “See ye to it,” — that is, you yourselves will answer for the consequences of this unfair murder. Going to any lengths to extract the procurator’s confirmation of the death sentence, the Jews agree to everything, not considering any consequences. “His blood be on us, and on our children,” — cried the Jews. If this is a crime, then may the punishment of God descend upon us and on our progeny.
St. John Chrysostom says concerning this incident: “Such reckless hatred, such evil passion! Let it be so, that you cursed yourselves. But why do you bring a curse on the children?” This curse, which the Jews called upon themselves, was soon fulfilled. In 70 AD, during the siege of Jerusalem, the Romans crucified a huge number of Jews around the city. It was also fulfilled in the later history of the Jews, scattered since then in many countries — in those countless “pogroms,” to which they were subjected, in fulfillment of the prophecies of Moses in Deuteronomy (Chapters 28:49-57; 64-67).
“Then released he (Pilate) Barabbas unto them; and when he has scourged Jesus, he delivered Him to be crucified.” In other words, confirming the verdict of the Sinhedrin, Pilate gave them soldiers to carry out the death sentence through crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Of course, Pilate could not divulge himself of his responsibility by washing his hands neither before the impartial opinion of humanity, nor before God’s judgment. The expression “washing my hands of it” since then has become a saying. In a little more than a year the punishment of God befell Pilate for his cowardice and unjust condemnation of Him, Who he himself called Righteous. He was banished to Gaul and there, after two years, exhausted from melancholy, torn by pangs of conscience and despair, he ended his life by suicide. (In 1961, in the location of ancient Caesaria, a plaque was found there with the name of Pilate carved in Latin: “Caesarianis Tiberium Pontius Pilatus Prefectus Iudaeae debit,” that is”: Pontius Pilate, prefect of Judea, gave the inhabitants of Caesaria (this theatre named for) Tiberius). Pilate here is called “prefect,” which applies to a military leader. The title of procurator referred to civil leaders. It is possible that Pilate served in both positions.
fter the scourging and mocking, the soldiers removed the cloak from Jesus Christ, dressed Him in His habitual raiment and led Him to be crucified. On the way to Golgotha they met one Simon, of Cyrene, returning from his fields to the city, and forced him to carry Christ’s cross the rest of the way to the place of execution. It was customary for those condemned to be crucified to carry their own cross. But the Lord was so worn out with the internal conflict in Gethsemane, the sleepless night and the inhuman torture, that He had no strength left to carry His cross any further. The enemies made Simon carry the Lord’s cross not from sympathy, of course, but from the desire to complete their deed faster. (Simon was an immigrant from Cyrene, a city in Libya, on the north shore of Africa). His sons, Alexander and Rufus, were well-known Christians, and the Apostle Paul mentions them in his letter to the Romans.
A great number of devout men and women followed Jesus Christ, and who cried for Him. Their expressed compassion was so deep and sincere that the Lord found it necessary to give them some comfort. This occurred, apparently, during the halt when Christ’s cross was being transferred to Simon of Cyrene. “Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children” (Luke 23:28). Here the Lord, forgetting his own sufferings, turns His spiritual vision to the future of the Jewish people — to the punishment which will befall them for the fearful curse which the Jews themselves brought so lightly upon themselves, crying: “His blood be on us, and on our children.” For the days were coming, when the blessing of childbearing will turn into grief, and the barren will be considered blessed. “Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us,” — so great will the disasters be. Here again the speech refers to the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus in 70AD. “For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?” This is apparently a folk saying The Lord refers to Himself as the “green tree” full of life, but the “dry tree” refers to the Jewish people. If He, the Innocent, was not given mercy, what would become of the guilty people? “Behold, I will kindle a fire in thee, and it shall devour every green tree in thee, and every dry tree: the flaming flame shall not be quenched, and all faces from the south to the north shall be burned therein” (Ezekiel 20:47).
he Lord was brought to the place called Golgotha, which means “the place of the skull” and there He was crucified between two robbers who were brought with him. Golgotha is a small hill, found at that time outside the city walls of Jerusalem to the southwest. It is presumed that this hill was called “the place of the skull” because the skulls of the executed often lay at its base. The Apostle Paul in his letters to the Hebrews (13:11-12) points out the special meaning of the fact that Jesus “suffered without the gate.” When Jesus was brought to Golgotha, they gave Him wine with myrrh (or vinegar with bile). This was wine into which myrrh (one form of tar) was added, in order to dull the consciousness of the condemned and thus relieve his torture. The Romans called such a wine soporific. Myrrh gave the wine a bitter taste, which is why St. Mark calls it bile, and the wine, probably soured — vinegar. “And when He had tasted thereof, He would not drink,” desiring to endure His cup of suffering fully conscious to the end.
“It was the third hour,” and the sixth hour was only beginning (in the sense of the second quarter of the day). (Day and night were divided into four watches. If one can suppose that the verdict of Pilate was pronounced around the third hour (nine o’clock in the morning our time), then the Apostle John could certainly say, that Christ was crucified in the sixth hour. In this way there is no contradiction in the witnessing of the Evangelists). “And they crucified Him.” Crucifixions were carried out differently: sometimes nailing to a cross lying on the ground, after which the cross was lifted and placed in the ground vertically; sometimes the cross was raised first, after which the condemned was lifted and nailed to it, or tied to it with ropes. Sometimes crucifixions were performed head down (thus the apostle Peter was crucified by his own wish). The hands and feet were sometimes nailed, sometimes tied. The body of the crucified helplessly hung from the cross. In terrible convulsions, all the muscles would cramp in torturous spasms; the wounds from the nail tore from the weight of the body; the executed was tormented by unbearable thirst as a result of the fever brought on by the wounds and loss of blood. The sufferings of the crucified were so great and torturous, and besides prolonged (sometimes the crucified hung on the crosses, not dying three days or more), that this execution was performed only on the most dangerous criminals. It was considered the most horrible and shameful of deaths. In order that the arms not tear apart prematurely from the wounds, a support crossbar was sometimes placed under the feet on which the crucified could stand. Above the head of the crucified was added a small board denoting the crime.
The Lord did not remain completely silent amid these indescribably sufferings. The first words of the Lord were a prayer for His crucifiers: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” None of those soldiers crucifying Him knew that He was the Son of God. “For had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor. 2:8), states the Apostle Paul, and even to the Jews Peter says at the healing of the lame one: “I wot that through ignorance ye did it” (Acts 3:17). Still, this ignorance of the Jews did not justify their crime, because they had the opportunity and means of finding out Who He is. The Lord’s prayer witnesses the greatness of His spirit and serves as an example to us not to take revenge against our enemies, but to pray for them.
By order of Pilate, a board was nailed to the cross declaring the Lord’s crime. Wishing to once again pique the members of the Sinhedrin, Pilate ordered written on it “This is Jesus the King of the Jews.” The Judean King is crucified by the demand of the representatives of the Jewish people. This sign was written in three languages: Hebrew — the local language, Greek — the universal language and Roman — the language of the conquerors. Pilate wanted everyone to know the reason the leaders condemned Christ. But at the same time Pilate unwittingly fulfilled a higher goal: at the moment of His greatest humiliation, the Lord Jesus Christ was proclaimed King for all the world to see. The accusers of the Lord took this sign as a cruel jibe and demanded that Pilate change it, but the proud Roman harshly refused, reminding them that he is the ruler.
“And when they had crucified Him, they parted His garments, casting lots upon them, what every man should take…” The Roman law gave the belongings of the condemned to the soldiers performing the execution. There were four carrying out the execution. The outer clothing the soldiers split among themselves, tearing it into four parts, but the inner clothing (the coat) was handwoven as a single piece from top to bottom, with no seams. Thus they unwittingly fulfilled the ancient prophecy of David concerning the crucifixion of the Messiah: “They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture” (the entire 22nd psalm is devoted to the sufferings of the crucified Lord).
Even after achieving the crucifixion of the Lord, the high priests with the scribes and Pharisees could not settle down and continued to mock Him. Mocking Jesus, they ridiculed everything that He ever said or did. For example, remembering that He used to save others, they reproached Him in His current helplessness and jeeringly suggested that Him come down from the cross, hypocritically promising to believe in Him in that case. They even reproached Him for always believing in God: “He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now, if He will have Him.”
At first the robbers, hanging on both sides of the Savior and hearing how the surrounding leaders vilified the Lord, joined them and also abused the Lord. And one of them, suffering, grew meaner and abused Christ more and more harshly. Then his friend, in whom the spark of goodness had apparently not gone out completely, began to reproach his companion, saying: “Dost thou not fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss.” Apparently, the reproaches of the leaders that Christ used to save other influenced him, as well as the fact the Christ meekly prayed for His crucifiers and appealed to God as to His Father. One way or the other, his conscience spoke loudly and he openly defended the Lord among the abuse and jeers of the mob. Such a decisive turning point in his soul occurred that he, believing in the crucified Jesus as the Messiah, turned to Him with the penitent words: “Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom!” When You come to the Father in Your Kingdom of glory, then remember about me the unfortunate who shared these terrible sufferings with You.
The robber did not ask for reward or glory, only prayed for mercy in that world, into which he was preparing to go. From that time the repentance of the robber became an example for all believers in Christ. His faith must have been great. The One suffering, worn out, dying, he recognized as a King returning to His Heavenly Kingdom. This was an espousal, which was not possible even for the nearest disciples of the Lord, who could not accept the idea of a suffering Messiah. Undoubtedly this was a special act of God’s grace enlightening the robber to make him an example for all sinners. This confession earned him a great reward, greater than the robber dared expect. “Today shalt thou be with me in paradise” — said the Lord to him. Thus, the wise robber became the first to be saved.
When the enemies began to disperse little by little, the Ever-holy Virgin Mary, Mary Cleophas, Mary Magdalene and “the disciple, whom he loved” (John the Theologian calls himself this). With the departure of Christ from this world, His Ever-pure Mother would remain alone and there would no longer be anyone to look after Her, and so with the words directed to the Virgin Mary: “Woman, behold thy son,” and to the Apostle John: “Behold thy Mother,” — the Lord entrusts His Ever-pure Mother to His beloved disciple. “And from that hour that disciple took Her unto his own home,” caring for Her, as a loving son. (This event is important for the following reason. The sectarians, not believing in the virginity of the Mother of God, say that after Jesus Christ She had other children, born in the usual manner from Joseph, and that these were the “brothers of the Lord,” which are mentioned in the Gospels. But then it must be asked: if the Mother of God had natural children, why entrust Her for safekeeping to St. John the Theologian?).
he death of the Lord was preceded by darkness, covering the earth. “And it was about the sixth hour, and there was a darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour,” that is, by our clock — the sun dimmed from noon until three o’clock. This could not have been a natural solar eclipse, because on the Jewish Passover, the 14th day of the month of Nisan, there is always a full moon, and a solar eclipse only occurs during new moons. This was a miraculous eclipse, which testified to an extraordinary event — the death of the beloved Son of God. Phlegon, the Roman astronomer, and also the Greek historian Phallos recorded the unexpected solar eclipse, during which the stars were visible. Dionysius Areopagit mentions it in his letters. Apparently, the darkness, which followed the derision and ridicule of the Lord, put an end to this derision and caused the people to regret their act, “And all the people that came together to that sight, beholding the things which were done, smote their breasts and returned” (Luke 23:48).
“And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, “My God, my God, why has Thou forsaken Me?” The word “God” in Aramaic is pronounced “Eloi” or “Eli,” as written by the Evangelists. This cry was the expression of the God-person‘s deepest sorrow. In order for the sacrifice for salvation to occur, it was necessary that the God-person drink the full cup of human suffering. For this is was necessary that the crucified Jesus not feel the joy of His unity with God the Father for a time. All of God’s anger, which should have been directed towards sinful humanity, was now concentrated on Christ alone, and it was as if God the Father had abandoned His beloved Son. Amid the worst physical and spiritual sufferings, this abandonment was the most torturous, which is why it drew this painful cry from Jesus’ lips.
When Jesus panted “I thirst,” — one of the soldiers immediately took a sponge, filled it with vinegar and, putting it on a reed, gave Him drink. The soldier put the sponge on a reed, because those hanging on crosses were found rather high off the ground. The Psalm-singer in the 69th psalm, verse 21, predicts the sufferings of the Messiah, saying in His name: “In My thirst they gave Me vinegar to drink.” When he had drunk the vinegar, the Lord said, “It is finished,” that is: My work is done, which was predetermined in the Council of the Holy Trinity and predicted by the prophets, — the reconciliation of the human race with God is accomplished through My death. After this, the Lord cried: “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit,” and, bowing His head, gave up the ghost.
At this same moment the curtain which divided the Sanctuary from the Holy of Holies in the Temple tore in half from top to bottom. As this was the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice (3 o’clock our time), the priests could not have avoided seeing this occurrence. It symbolized the conclusion of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament.
There was also an earthquake at this time that split the cliffs on the neighboring hills and opened the burial chambers. By crucifying the Son of God, people committed such a horrible crime that even lifeless nature shuddered. Then, as a sign of the Lord’s victory over death, “many bodies of the saints which slept arose” and appeared in Jerusalem to people who knew them on the third day after the Lord’s resurrection. These miraculous signs caused such a staggering reaction in the Roman centurion that he exclaimed, “Truly this was the Son of God!” According to legend, this centurion, called Longin, became a Christian and later suffered as a martyr for Christ. The people remaining on Golgotha until this time were shaken as well, they “smote their breasts, and returned.” Such extreme changes from one mood to another is natural in an excited crowd.
The witnesses of the Lord’s death and all these events were many women who had followed Jesus from Galilee. Among them were: Mary Magdalene, Mary (mother of James and Joses) and Salome, mother of the sons of Zebedee (the apostles James and John). As it was Friday (in Greek “paraskevi,” which means preparation, that is, the day before Saturday), and that Saturday (sabbath) was a “high day,” as it coincided with the first day of Passover, the members of the Sinhedrin asked Pilate “that their legs might be broken” (the bone below the knee), in order that the bodies of those crucified not remain on the crosses.
Of all the types of executions, crucifixion on the cross was the most torturous. The crucified could not die immediately, but suffered many days, pulling themselves up on pierced arms and legs in order to breathe air. Finally as a rule they died of suffocation, not having any more strength to pull themselves up on the cross. For accelerating death the legs of the crucified were broken. Upon gaining permission from Pilate, the soldiers broke the legs of the robbers, who were still alive. “But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs: but one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water.”
Apparently this emission of blood and water was the result of the feverish state which the dying on the cross experience. Nonetheless the apostle John sees a miraculous phenomenon even in this, underlying that “he that saw it bare record, and his record is true” (John 19:35). The most pure body of the God-person was not subject to the laws of decomposition of the normal human body. From the very minute of death it began to enter that state which ended with His Resurrection in the new, glorified, energized form. The Holy Fathers explain that this pouring out of blood and water symbolizes the renewal of the faithful in the mysteries of baptism and the Eucharist: “We are born with water, and are nourished with blood and body” (the Apostle John reminds us of this in his letter: “This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth…And there are three that bear witness in earth, the spirit, and the water, and the blood” (1 John 5:6-8).
The Apostle John sees the fact that the soldiers did not break the legs of Jesus as the fulfillment of the demands of Scripture regarding the killing of the Passover lamb: “Neither shall ye break a bone thereof” (Exodus 12:46). The Passover lamb, as the prototype of the Lord Jesus, had to be eaten without breaking bones, and the rest was supposed to be burned. The Apostle also presents the prophecy of Zechariah regarding the piercing of the ribs of the Savior: “and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced” (Zech. 12:10). Here the Jehovah-Messiah is presented as one pierced by the Hebrew nation. The nation later brings its repentance before the Pierced with tears and crying. These words were fulfilled at the moment of Christ’s death and will be fulfilled a second time before the end of the world, when many Jews will turn to Christ. (See the predictions of the Apostle Paul in the letter to the Romans 11:25-26).
The Burial of the Lord Jesus Christ.
he burial of the body of Christ took place in the early evening, before the beginning of the feast of Passover. Joseph (a member of the Sinhedrin) of Arimathea (a city near Jerusalem) came to Pilate. He was a pious person, a secret disciple of Christ who did not participate in the judging of the Lord. He asked Pilate for the body of Jesus for burial. According to Roman practice, the bodies of the crucified were left on the crosses and became food for the birds. Pilate was surprised that Jesus was already dead, as those crucified sometimes hung for several days, but after checking with the centurion who confirmed Jesus’ death, commanded that the body be given to Joseph. Nicodemus also came for the burial, who had once visited Jesus at night. He brought approximately 100 pounds of a mixture of myrrh and aloe with him. Joseph also bought a linen shroud — a long and expensive material. Joseph and Nicodemus removed the Body from the cross, covered it with the sweet-smelling spices according to custom, wrapped it in the shroud and laid it in a new burial cave in Joseph’s garden not far from Golgotha.
The sun was already in the west, and though everything was done diligently, it was done very quickly. They departed after rolling a stone before the entrance of the grave. The women who were previously at Golgotha stood observing all of this.
he forty-day lent has ended. The sounds or grief for our sins have fallen silent in order to give way to another grief — the memory of the salutary sufferings of the God-man for us sinners. The Church does not omit one moment of the consecutive development of the holy events of the last days of the Lord’s earthly life. It leads us in His steps from Bethany (the place where Lazarus was raised) to Jerusalem, then to the Mount of Olives, to the Sion chamber (where the Last Supper took place), to Gethsemane, to the court of the high priest and into the Praetorium of Pilate, to the Place of Skulls (Golgotha), and, finally, to the burial cave of the righteous Joseph of Arimathea.
The first three days of Passion Week the deeds of the Savior are revealed to the mental gaze of those praying, His discussions, parables and teachings which occurred between the entrance of the Lord into Jerusalem and the Last Supper. The Church sees to it that the praying feel all the salutary sufferings of Christ and His endless compassion for people.
The services of these three days consist of Matins, Hours and Vespers, in conjunction with the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts. At the beginning of Matins the following troparion is sung, the basis for which is the parable of the Nine Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13):
Behold, the Bridegroom cometh in the middle of the night, and blessed is that servant whom He shall find watching; and again unworthy is he whom He shall find heedless. Beware, therefore, O my soul, lest thou be borne down with sleep, lest thou be given up to death, and be shut out from the Kingdom. But rather rouse thyself and cry: Holy, Holy, Holy art Thou, O God, through the Theotokos, have mercy on us.
After the canon the exapostilarion is sung, which is based on the parable of the bridal feast (Matthew 22:1-14).
Thy bridal chamber, O my Savior, do I behold all adorned, and a garment I have not that I may enter therein. Illumine the garment of my soul, O Light Bestower, and save me.
On this day the Church invites all believers to accompany Christ, in a sense to die with Him in regards to earthly pleasures, in order to be resurrected with Him in spirit. By bringing together the events of the Old and New Testaments, the Church shows the believers the Savior’s sufferings in the Old Testament exemplar of the righteous Joseph, innocently sold and belittled due to the jealousy of brothers, but later restored by God to great glory (Genesis, chapters 37-41). The Gospel readings on this day are the tale of the barren fig-tree and the parable of the evil husbandmen. The barren fig tree, cursed by the Lord, portrays the Jewish nation which only looked righteous, but was dried up internally and unspiritual. The evil husbandmen portray the Judaic leaders, who only use the property of God only for their benefit and destroying the prophets He sends (Matt. 21:18-43; Matt. 21:3-35).
On Great Tuesday the Gospel readings present the discussions of the Savior about the resurrection of the dead and of His second coming, the parable of the ten virgins, the parable of the talents and about the Last Judgment (Matt. 22:15; 23:39; Matt. 24:36; 26:2).
The Lord spent the night before Wednesday in Bethany (Matt. 26:6-17). Her, in the house of Simon the leper, a woman poured expensive spikenard on the head of the Savior and thus prepared Him for burial. In the church prayers this woman’s unselfish act is contrasted to Judas’ ingratitude, who had thought to betray Christ to the Judaic leaders for money. The morning Gospel presents the prediction of the Savior of His impending death on the cross and of the founding of the Church among the heathen (John 12:17-50). The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is served for the last time on Great Wednesday, and the penitent prayer of St. Ephraim of Syria “O Lord and Master of my life…” is also read for the last time.
The prayers of Great Thursday are full of deep feelings and thoughts in connection with the series of Gospel events of the day. They contain admiration for the meekness of the Savior, expressed in the washing of the feet of his disciples; reverence for the mystery of the Body and Blood of Christ; glorifying the endless selflessness of Christ; grief over His sufferings; indignation at the hardness of the Jews and the perfidy of Judas.
At the beginning of Matins (which is served on Wednesday evening) the troparion is sung about how Judas, blinded by greed, leaves the Last Supper.
When the glorious disciples were enlightened at the washing of the feet, then Judas the ungodly one was stricken and darkened with the love of silver. And unto the lawless judges did he deliver Thee, the righteous Judge. O thou lover of money, behold thou him that for the sake thereof did hang himself, flee from that insatiable soul that dared such things against the Master. O Thou Who art good unto all, Lord, glory be to Thee.
The Matins canon, beginning with the words “Verily, the Red Sea was cleft by the rod” explains the meaning of the Last Supper is and portrays the spiritual union of the Lord Jesus Christ and His disciples.
On Thursday morning the Liturgy of Basil the Great is performed, preceded by Vespers. The Gospel reading tells of the Last Supper, the washing of feet and the prayer in Gethsemane. In place of the Cherubic Hymn is sung:
Of Thy Mystic Supper, O Son of God, receive me today as a communicant; for I will not speak of the Mystery to Thine enemies; nor will I give Thee a kiss as did Judas; but like the thief do I confess Thee: Remember me, O Lord, when Thou comest in Thy Kingdom.
Instead of “It is truly meet” the 9th hermos of the canon is sung:
Come, ye believers, let us enjoy the banquet of the Lord, an immortal table, in the upper chamber, receiving with uplifted minds exalted words (ours) from the Word (God) whom we magnify.
On this day, when the Savior established the mystery of Communion and gave communion to the apostles with His own hands, it is necessary to approach the Chalice with special trepidation, pondering the greatness of Christ’s love and one’s own worthlessness.
The Service of the Twelve Gospels
The Matins of Holy and Great Friday are performed on the evening of Great Thursday, or, as it is generally referred to, the Service of the Twelve Gospels. All of this service is dedicated to the reverent memory of the salutary sufferings and death of the God-person on the cross. Every hour of this day has a new act of the Savior, and the echoes of these acts are heard in every word of the service. In it, the Church reveals the full picture of the sufferings of the Lord before the faithful, beginning with the bloody perspiration in the garden of Gethsemane to the crucifixion on Golgotha. Carrying us back in thought through the past centuries, the Church in essence leads us to the very foot of Christ’s cross and makes us trembling viewers of all of the Savior’s sufferings. The faithful hear the Gospel readings with lit candles in their hands, and after each reading thank the Lord through the lips of the choir with the words: “Glory to Thy forbearance, O Lord, glory to Thee.” After each reading of the Gospel, the bell is rung the appropriate number of times.
The Passion Gospels:
- John 13:31-18:1 (The farewell discussion of the Savior with His disciples and His prayer at the Last Supper).
- John 18:1-28 (The taking of the Savior under guard in the garden of Gethsemane and His sufferings at the high priest Annas).
- Matthew 26:57-75 (The sufferings of Christ at the high priest Caiaphas’ and the denial of Peter).
- John 18:28-40, 19:1-16 (The sufferings of Christ at the trial of Pilate).
- Matthew 27:3-32 (The despair of Judas, the new sufferings of the Lord at Pilate’s and the verdict of crucifixion).
- Mark 15:16-32 (The path of the Lord to Golgotha and His sufferings on the cross).
- Matthew 27:34-53 (About the sufferings of the Lord on the cross; miraculous signs, accompanying His death).
- Luke 23:23-49 (The Savior’s prayer for His enemies and the repentance of the wise robber).
- John 19:25-37 (The words of the Savior from the cross to the Theotokos and to the Apostle John, His death and the piercing of His rib).
- Mark 15:43-47 (The taking of the body of the Lord from the Cross).
- John 19:38-42) (Nicodemus and Joseph bury Christ).
- Matthew 27:62-66 (The placing of the guard at the tomb of the Savior).
During the intervals between Gospels antiphonies are sung which express indignation at the betrayal of Judas, the lawlessness of the Jewish leaders and the spiritual blindness of the mob. “What caused thee, O Judas, to betray the Savior?” it is stated here. “Did he set thee aside from the disciples? Did He deny thee the gift of healing? Did he take supper with the others and send thee away from the table? Did He wash the feet of the rest and pass thee by? Of how much goodness has thou become forgetful?” Then, as if from the person of the Lord, the choir turns to the ancient Jews: “My people, what have I done unto thee; and wherewith have I harmed thee? Thy blind have I lighted; thy lepers have I cleansed, and the man on his couch have I raised. O My people, what have I done unto thee, and wherewith hast thou rewarded Me? Instead of manna, gall; and in place of water, vinegar; and instead of loving Me, thou didst nail Me to the Cross. I can endure no more. I will call the Gentiles, and they shall glorify Me with the Father, and the Spirit. And I will grant them everlasting life.”
After the sixth Gospel and the reading of the “Makarizmoi” with troparions comes the canon with three odes, conveying in compressed form the last hours of the Savior with the apostles, the denial of Peter and the sufferings of the Lord, and then the exaposteilarion (svetilen) is sung three times. Here we put down the odes of the canon.
Early will I seek Thee, O Word of God, who of Thy compassion didst empty Thyself, being led even unto suffering without trasubstantiation and without suffering, for the sake of the fallen. Wherefore, grant me safety, O Lover of mankind.
The divine youths exposed the God-contending pillar of wickedness; and the assembly of the wicked, roaring at Christ, conspired falsely, studying how to kill Him who holdeth life in his grasp, Whom all creation doth bless, glorifying Me unto all ages.
O Thou who art more honorable than the cherubim, and beyond compare more glorious than the seraphim, who without corruption didst bear the Word of God; truly, Thou art the Theotokos, and Thee do we magnify.
After the canon the choir sings the touching exaposteilarion, in which the repentance of the robber is remembered:
Thou made the thief worthy of paradise on the same day, O Lord. Wherefore, illuminate me too by the tree of Thy Cross and save me.
The stichera from the Einos:
Every member of Thy holy body, O Savior, hath endured humiliation for our sakes; the head with thorns, the face with spitting, the cheeks with blows, the mouth with the taste of vinegar mixed with gall, the ears with blasphemies replete with infidelity, the back with scourges, the hand with the rod, the extension of the whole body with the Cross, the extremities with nails, and the side with the spear.
At the end of the service, before the benediction, the choir sings the troparion: Thou didst ransom us from the curse of the Law (of the Old Testament) by Thy precious Blood. Nailed to the Cross and pierced with the lance, Thou didst pour forth immortality for men. O our Savior, glory be to Thee.
There exists an ancient tradition of not putting out the candle after the last Gospel, but taking it home lit, and with its flame making small crosses on the door jams of all the doors in the house (to protect the home from all evil, Exodus 12:22). The votives before the icons are also lit with this candle.
Holy and Great Friday
On Great Friday, the very day of the death of the Savior, the Liturgy is not served in order to denote extreme sorrow. In its place the Royal Hours are served, which are entirely devoted to the events of this day.
Around three o’clock in the afternoon Vespers are served with the procession of the Shroud (the image of the Savior taken from the cross). At the beginning of Vespers, after the 104th psalm, the stichera on “O Lord, to Thee I have cried” are sung:
The whole creation, O Christ, hath been transfigured by fear at beholding Thee suspended on the Cross. The sun was darkened, the foundations of the earth were troubled, and everything suffered with the Creator of all. Wherefore, O Thou who didst endure this willingly for us, O Lord, glory be to Thee.
During the entrance with the censer the choir sings:
Today is beheld the working of a dread and strange mystery; for He who is inapprehensible is laid hold of; and He who released Adam is chained. He who trieth the hearts and reins is tried falsely; and he who looketh into the depths is locked in prison. He before whom the heavenly powers stand trembling standeth before Pilate. The Creator is smitten by the hand of His creatures; the Judge of the living and the dead is condemned to death on a Tree; and the Destroyer of hades is enfolded in a grave.
Three Old Testament excerpts are read after the entrance. The first relates the appearance of the glory of God to the prophet Moses (Ex. 33:11-23). Moses, praying for the sinful Hebrew nation, served as the image of the universal Intercessor on Golgotha, Jesus Christ. The second reading relates how God blessed Job for his patient bearing of sufferings (Job 42:12-16). Job served as the image of the innocent Godly Sufferer Jesus Christ, returning the blessing of the Heavenly Father to the people. In the third reading the prophecy of Isaiah is presented concerning the redeeming sufferings of the Savior (53:1-12).
The Apostle reading speaks of the Godly Wisdom revealed in the Lord’s Cross (1 Cor. 1:18-2:2). The Gospel reading, consisting of several Gospels, relates in consecutive order the events concerning the crucifixion and the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. Then, after the petitions, the choir sings the Aposticha. During the last stichera, below, the priest thrice censes the Shroud, lying on the altar.
O Thou Who puttest on light like a garment, when Joseph with Nicodemus, took Thee down from the Tree and beheld Thee dead, naked, and unburied, he struck up a compassionate dirge, and with mourning he said: Woe is me, O sweetest Jesus! When but a short while ago the sun beheld Thee hanging upon the Cross, it shrouded itself in darkness, and the earth quaked with fear, and the veil of the Temple was rent asunder. But, behold, now I see Thee willingly submitting to death for my sake. How shall I bury Thee, O my God? Or how shall I wrap Thee with winding sheets? With what hands shall I touch Thine undefiled Body? Or what dirges shall I sing at Thy departure, O Compassionate One? I magnify Thy Passion; I praise Thy Burial and Resurrection, and I cry out: O Lord, glory be to Thee.
After “Now lettest.” and “Our Father” the priests and servers proceed with the Shroud from the sanctuary, symbolizing the burial of the Savior. They raise the Shroud from the altar and carry it into the center of the church through the northern door. The altar boys lead with candles, the deacon — with the censer, and the praying meet the Shroud with lit candles in hand. The Shroud is placed on a special “tomb” standing in the center of the church and decorated with white flowers. During this time the choir sings the burial troparion to a special melody:
The noble Joseph, taking Thine immaculate Body down from the Tree, and having wrapped It in pure linen and spices, laid It for burial in a new tomb.
Unto the myrrh-bearing women did the Angel cry out as he stood by the grave: Myrrh-oils are meet for the dead, but Christ hath proved to be a stranger to corruption
After censing the Shroud, everyone kneels and kisses the images of the wounds on the Savior’s body, thanking Him for His endless love and long-suffering. During this time the priest reads the canon “The Tears (Cry) of the Theotokos” The Holy Shroud remains in the middle of the church for three incomplete days, reminding the faithful of the three days’ presence of the body of Christ in the tomb. From this moment the bells are not rung until the beginning of the Easter service, in observance of reverent silence while the Body of Christ rests in the tomb. The Church assigns complete abstention from food this day.
In the evening of the same day the matins service of Holy and Great Saturday is held with the rite of burial of the Savior and the procession of the cross around the church. At the beginning of the service, during the singing of the troparion “The pious Joseph…” the faithful light candles while the clergy leave the sanctuary and go to the Shroud, where they cense the shroud and the entire church. The rite of burial is performed in the center of the church. The choir sings passages from the 119th psalm, while the next reads a troparion priest after each passage. The troparion of the burial rite reveal the spiritual essence of the expiatory feat of the God-person, remember the grief of the Most Holy Theotokos and profess faith in the Savior of humanity. The rite of the singing of the 119th psalm with the funeral troparions is divided into three parts, called “articles.” Small petitions are read between the articles.
After the third article, prefacing the coming resurrection of the Savior, the choir sings “The Heavenly Host…” — which is sung on all-night services before Sunday.
The choir sings the odes of the canon “The children of those who were saved…” in which is portrayed the horror of all creation at the sight of the Creator in His tomb. This canon is one of the most perfect creations of church-Christian poetry. It is presented in full at the end of this article. The ninth ode “Mourn not for me, Mother…”completes the graveside song.
At the end of the Great Doxology, during the singing of “Holy God,” the Shroud, accompanied by candlelight, banners, and the censing of incense, is lifted from the tomb and, with slow strikes of a bell, is reverently carried around the church in commemoration of the burial of Jesus Christ. In addition, the descent of Jesus Christ into hell and the victory of Christ over hell and death is also represented: the doors of heaven are opened once again through the Savior’s Sufferings and Death, and the Shroud, after being carried into the church, is brought to the Royal doors. After the priest’s exclamation: “Wisdom, let us attend,” the choir sings the troparion “The noble Joseph…” and the Shroud is again laid on the tomb in the center of the church. Old Testament readings, the Apostle and the Gospel are read before the Shroud. The readings consist of the prophetic vision of Ezekiel about the resurrection of the dead bones (Ezek. 37:1-14). The Apostle reading calls upon everyone to keep Pascha “not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Cor. 5:6-8; 3:13-14). The short Gospel relates the placing of the seal on the tomb of the Savior and the ordering of the watch (Matt. 27:62-66).
Holy and Great Saturday
Christ is in the tomb. The disciples, it seemed, buried their hope and faith together with Him. Until the end they did not want to part from their ideas of a glorious earthly kingdom. But Christ not only did not found this kingdom, but He died like a criminal. If even He was powerless, then evil, apparently, is stronger than everything? Sabbath — is the day of rest. In this forced inactivity the horror of that which had occurred became even more clear: “But we trusted that it had been He.” How they had rushed to share positions and thrones! The Evangelists keep silent about what the disciples went through and thought on that Easter Saturday. But their very silence speaks more eloquently than any words.
Night descends. The watch slumbers at the sealed tomb. Suddenly an underground blow shakes the hill. The stone crashes away. A flash like lightning throws the soldiers to the earth. The tomb is empty. The watch runs in terror. Christ, who descended into the darkness of the nether world, turned out to be stronger than death.
In antiquity the Liturgy of Great Saturday, like the other Great Lent Liturgies, was performed in the evening, and for this reason it is begun with vespers. Since the evening service always refers to the next day, and the next day is Pascha, the Liturgy of Great Saturday combines two moments: on the one hand, it is a Passion service, on the other — it begins the Easter feast. These opposing features — sorrow and joy, tears and radiant joy — are miraculously combined during the service. The image of the buried Savior still lies in the center of the church, but the choir is already singing His conquest over death.
In the beginning of the service, after the singing of the stichera on “O Lord, to Thee I have cried…” and the small entrance, fifteen Old Testament readings are read before the Shroud. In antiquity the baptism of the catechumens was performed on Great Saturday — persons prepared for accepting Christianity. The lengthy readings allowed enough time to complete the mystery of baptism over many catechumens.
Old Testament Readings: 1) Genesis 1:1-13 (creation). 2) Exodus 60:1-16 (the New Testament Church). 3) Exodus 12:1-11 (the establishment of Passover). 4) Jonah chapters 1-4 (the history of the prophet Jonah). 5) Joshua 5:10-15 (the celebration of Passover in Joshua’s time). 6) Exodus 13:20-14:32 (crossing the Red Sea). At the end of this reading the choir sings a multiple of times “For gloriously is He glorified.” 7) Soph. 3:8-15 (calling the heathen to the Church). 8) 3 Kings 17:8-23 (the Prophet Elijah resurrects the youth). 9) Exodus 61:10-11, 62:15 (the New Testament Church). 10) Gen. 22:1-18 (the sacrifice of Isaac). 11) Exodus 61:1-9 (the sermon of the Messiah). 12) 4 Kings 4:8-37 (the prophet Elisias resurrects the youth). 13) Exodus 63:11-64:5 (the repentant prayer). 14) Jeremiah 31:31-34 (the conclusion of the New Testament). 15) Daniel 3:1-51 (the salvation of the three children in the Babylonian furnace). At the end of the readings the choir sings multiple times “O praise ye the Lord and supremely exalt Him unto the ages.”
For the newly baptized, standing now in the church in white gowns with candles in hand, the choir instead of “Holy God” now sings “Ye who have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27). After this the singing of Vespers changes to the Liturgy.
The Apostolic reading (Rom. 6:3-11) calls on Christians to die with regards to sin in order to live with Jesus Christ. The turning point in the service occurs at this time, the change from the Passion to the Paschal: the Sanctuary doors are shut and all the vestments in the church are changed from dark to white. The choir repeats in triumphant melody many times: “Arise, O Lord, judge the earth, for Thou shalt have an inheritance among all the nations” (Ps. 81:8). Toward the start of the Gospel reading, which announces the resurrection of the Savior (Matt. 28:1-20), the church acquires a bright, Paschal appearance. After the Gospel the Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great continues in its usual order.
Instead of the Cherubic hymn, the choir sings:
Let all mortal flesh keep silence and stand with fear and trembling, and take no thought for any earthly thing, for the King of kings and Lord of lords cometh to be slain and given as food for the faithful. Before Him go the choirs of the angels with all sovereignty and power: the many-eyed Cherubim and six-winged Seraphim, covering their faces and crying out the hymn: Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.
Instead of “It is meet” the choir sings the 9th ode of the matins canon:
Mourn not for me, Mother, as Thou beholdest Me in the grave; for I Thy Son, whom Thou didst conceive in Thy womb without seed, shall rise and shall be glorified. And being God, I will ceaselessly exalt and ennoble those who in faith and longing magnify Thee.
The service of Holy and Great Saturday serves as the transition to the upcoming day, considered the Feast of Feasts — the Resurrection of Christ. For fortification, the faithful are given blessed breads moistened with wine at the end of the service.
Besides a strict fast, the observance of Great Saturday in antiquity was remarkable in its particular inner concentration and festal silence in church life. “What is this?” -says St. Epiphany in his discussion on Great Saturday. —“Today great silence and peace rule on earth. Deep silence, because the King sleeps. The earth fears and is quiet, because God sleeps in Body and wakens those who have slept from the ages. God died in Body, and the netherworld trembles. God slept for a short time, in order to awaken those who are in netherworld.”
nd so, the Passion week is the most momentous time of the year, uplifting the soul of the Christian and disposing it to accepting the most elevated thoughts and impressions, — a time, offering much fare for religious Christian thought and heavenly delight for the believing heart. The passion services enjoin the faithful to the blessed fruits of redemption, give them to feel the power of His endless love in His compassion towards humans. St. John Chrysostom thus summarizes the meaning of Christ’s feat on the Cross: The ancient tyranny of the devil is destroyed on the cross, the strong is tied and his weapons taken away, sin is ironed out, death is trampled and the curse is removed from men, the obstacle of separation is removed and Paradise is opened, Heaven has become accessible and people have drawn closer to the angels; God has reconciled the heavenly and the earthly.”
Real perception of Christ’s love should help us understand how dear we are to God. This realization will help us perk up, so that we would not be dejected because of life’s different sorrows. There is edification here for us: If Christ died for us sinners, then we also must be prepared to “put down our souls” for our loved ones. In addition, one must courageously oppose temptations and not fear feats. The Apostle Peter thus teaches: “Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin; that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God.” May the all-powerful Lord help us in this! Amen.
The Canon of the Great Saturday.
The children of those who were saved, hid under ground the God who made the persecuting giant of old to disappear in the waves of the sea. As for us, however, let us praise the Lord as did the youths; for in glory hath He been glorified.
O Lord my God, I shall praise Thy Burial with funeral dirges, and indite unto Thee paeans, O thou through whose Burial the entrance of life hath opened for me; and who be Death caused death and hades to die.
Verily, the super-terrestrial, and those below the earth, beholding thee on Thy throne on high and in the grave below, were amazed, trembling at Thy Death; for Thou O Element of life, wast seen to be dead in a manner transcending the mind.
To the depths of the earth Thou descendest to fill all with Thy glory; for my person that is in Adam was not hidden from Thee; and when Thou wast buried Thou didst renew me, who was corrupt, O Lover of mankind.
Verily, creation, having beheld Thee suspended on Golgotha, O Thou who didst suspend the whole earth on the waters without hinges, was overtaken with great surprise, crying aloud, There is none holy save Thee, O Lord.
Thou hast revealed, O Master, numerous sights as signs of Thy Burial. But now thou hast revealed Thy hidden things as God and Man to those who are in hades also, who shouted, saying, There is none holy save Thou, O Lord.
Thou hast stretched forth Thy hands, O Saviour, and gathered the things dispersed of old; and by the Burial in the linen and the grave Thou hast loosed the captives, who shout, There is none holy save Thee, O Lord.
A grave and seals contained Thee by Thy will, O Uncontainable; for by deeds, O Lover of mankind, Thou hast made thy power known by a divine act to those who sing, There is none holy save Thee, O Lord.
Verily, Habakuk, O good One, foresaw Thy divine condescension even to the Cross; and was dazzled as he cried, Thou abolishedst the prestige of the mighty, when Thou didst appear in hades, since Thou are Almighty.
Thou hast blessed, O Saviour, this seventh day, which Thou hadst blessed at the beginning with rest from work: for Thou hast brought out everything, renewing it and restoring it to its former state, thus keeping the Sabbath.
Thy soul, by the power of the best, hath vanquished the body, O Word, breaking the bonds of hades and death together by Thy might.
Hades in welcoming Thee, O Word, murmured at beholding a deified Man marked with wounds, who is yet Almighty. Wherefore, at that terrible sight it shouted in fear.
When Isaiah, O Christ, saw Thy light, that setteth not, the light of Thy divine appearance coming to us in pity, he rose up early, crying, The dead shall rise, and they who are in the tombs shall awake, and all those on the earth shall rejoice.
When Thou becamest earthly, O Creator, Thou didst renew those who are earthly. And the linen and the grave explained Thy hidden mystery, O Word; for the honourable Joseph, of sound belief, fulfilled Thy Father’s plan, through whom Thou hast renewed me by the might of His greatness.
Thou hast transported the dead by Death, and the corrupt by Burial; for as becometh God Thou has made the body which Thou didst create; incorrupt and deathless; for thy body, O Master, did not see corruption, and Thy soul in a strange manner was not left in hades.
Thou didst come from a Virgin who knew no travail. Thy side, O my Creator, was pierced with a spear, by which Thou didst accomplish the re-creation of Eve, having Thyself become Adam. Supernaturally Thou didst fall into a sleep that renewed nature, raising life from sleep and corruption; for Thou are Almighty.
Verily, Jonah the Prophet was caught but not held in the belly of the whale. But being a sign of Thee, O Thou who didst suffer and wast delivered to burial, he came out of the whale as out of a chamber, and cried unto the watchmen, In vain do ye watch, O watchmen; for ye have neglected mercy.
Thou was killed, O Word, but wast not separated from the body which Thou didst share with us; for even though Thy temple were dissolved at the time of the Passion, the Person of the Divinity and Humanity is one only; and in both Thou art still a single Son, the Word of God, God and Man.
The fall of Adam resulted in the Death of a Man, not God; for though the substance of Thine earthly body suffered, thy Divinity hath remained passionless, transforming the corrupt to incorruptibility. And by the Resurrection Thou hast uncovered the incorrupt fountain of life.
Verily, hades ruled the race of man, but not for ever; for Thou, O mighty One, when Thou wast placed in the grave didst demolish the locks of death with the palm of thy hand, O Element of life, proclaiming to those sitting yonder from the ages a true salvation, having become, O Saviour, the First-born of the dead.
An ineffable wonder! He who saved the righteous youths from the fire of the furnace, hath been placed in the grave, a breathless corpse, for our salvation and deliverance, who sing, Blessed art thou, O delivering God.
Verily, hades was pierced an destroyed by the divine fire when it received in its heart Him who was pierced in His side with a spear for our salvation, who sing, Blessed art Thou, O delivering God.
The Life of all was willing to lie in a grave, in accordance with the law of the dead, making it appear as the fountain of the resurrection of our salvation, who sing, Blessed art Thou, O delivering God.
The Godhead of Christ was one without separation in hades, in the tomb, in Eden, and with the Father and the Spirit, for our salvation, who sing, Blessed art Thou, O delivering God.
Be thou amazed, O heaven, and let the foundations of the earth quake; for behold, He who dwelleth in the highest hath been accounted among the dead, and hath been Guest in a humble tomb. Wherefore, O ye youths, bless him. Praise him, ye Priests; and ye nations, exalt him more and more unto all the ages.
The pure Temple hath been destroyed, then rising, He raised with Him the fallen tabernacle; for the second Adam who dwelleth in the highest hath descended unto the first Adam in the uttermost chambers of hades. Wherefore, ye youths, bless Him. Praise him, ye Priests; and ye nations, exalt Him more and more unto all the ages.
The courage of the Disciples hath come to its end. But Joseph of Ramah hath shown great valour; for beholding the God of all dead and naked, he sought Him and arrayed Him, shouting, O ye youths, bless Him. Praise Him, ye Priests; and ye nations, exalt Him more and more unto the end of ages.
O what dazzling wonders! O what endless goodness! O what ineffable endurance! For He that dwelleth in the highest is sealed up under the earth by His own will. God is slandered as a misleader. Wherefore, O ye youths, bless Him. Praise Him, ye priests, and ye nations, exalt Him yet more and more to the end of ages.
Mourn not for Me, Mother, as Thou beholdest Me in the grave; for I Thy Son, whom Thou didst conceive in Thy womb without seed, shall rise and shall be glorified. And being God, I will ceaselessly exalt and ennoble those who in faith and longing magnify Thee.
My eternal Son, I escaped sufferings at Thy strange Birth and was supernaturally blessed. And now, beholding Thee, O my Son, dead and breathless, I am pierced with the spear of bitter sorrow. But arise Thou, that I may be magnified by Thee.
The earth, O my Mother, hath hidden Me by mine own will. And the gate-keepers of hades trembled at beholding Me clothed with a robe spattered with revenge; for I being God, have vanquished Mine enemies with the Cross, and I will rise again and magnify Thee.
Let all creation rejoice, and all the earthly be glad; for hades and the enemy have been spoiled. Let the women meet Me with spices; for I redeem Adam and all their descendants, and will rise on the third day.
Missionary Leaflet # E59
Copyright © 2001 Holy Trinity Orthodox Mission
466 Foothill Blvd, Box 397, La Canada, Ca 91011
Editor: Bishop Alexander (Mileant)