Saturday, April 19, 2014

Great and Holy Friday and Saturday

On Thursday night, we celebrated the matins for Holy Friday. This service is very old, and can be traced as far back as Jerusalem in the 4th century. The structure of the service also follows the older pattern of matins, which was a series of sung antiphons interspersed with prayers. Here we have fifteen antiphons on the theme of the Crucifixion, as well as twelve selections from the Gospels telling of Our Lord’s Passion.

The most well-known and poignant antiphon is the fifteenth:

Today is suspended upon the Tree, He who suspended the land upon waters.
A crown of thorns crowns Him, who is the King of the angels.
He is wrapped in the purple robe of mockery, who wraps the heavens with clouds. He receives smitings, who freed Adam in the Jordan.
He is transfixed with nails, Who is the Son of the Virgin.
We worship Thy passion, O Christ.
We worship Thy passion, O Christ.
We worship Thy passion, O Christ.
Show us also Thy glorious resurrection!

The next morning, after the Royal Hours, I finished cleaning up the restrooms across from the bookstore, which was part of my assigned pre-paschal cleaning. Sophia, who is of course here for the weekend, volunteered to help with the eggs. One of the women asked Fr. Cyprian how many eggs they were doing. “A little less than last year,” he said, “only nine hundred.”

On Friday afternoon, we had vespers, with the removal of the winding-sheet or “burial shroud” of the Lord, which was put in the middle of the church. After that, we had a light repast in the trapeza; otherwise there was no eating or drinking.

In the middle of the night we did matins for Holy Saturday, which essentially was a funeral service. Like during a funeral, we chanted the 118th psalm, which was interspersed with verses known as the Lamentations. The service began at two o’clock in the morning and lasted until a little after five. The church was completely dark, lit only by candles. I was honestly getting so tired I was afraid that I was going to light my hair on fire!

We got enough sleep to have yet another service this morning, which is the Holy Saturday vesperal liturgy! This liturgy was originally the ancient paschal vigil; in fact, it’s technically supposed to be served much later in the day, before the traditional reading of the Acts of the Apostles and the paschal matins. This is why the vestments in the church turn white today. There are many readings from the Old Testament (15 in all) which originally served to “cover” the baptizing which went on during this time. Although we served the liturgy much earlier than prescribed in the typikon, we did follow ancient custom by serving bread and wine at the end of the service, which was quite refreshing after long days of fasting.

I got assigned to set tables for the paschal breakfast that takes place after the midnight liturgy. Putting the milk chocolate eggs and other goodies on the table made me feel sorely tempted!

But it’s just a few more hours! Tonight we will have the reading from the Acts of the Apostles, the Midnight Office, and then…Pascha!

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