Holy and Great Thursday
On Great Thursday morning the Divine Liturgy of St Basil is celebrated and we chant this wonderful Communion hymn: “Of Your mystical supper, Son of God, receive me today as a partaker; for I will not speak of the mystery to Your enemies; I will not kiss You as did Judas; but as the thief do I confess You: Remember me Lord in your Kingdom”.
On Great Thursday a second Holy Bread is sanctified and kept in the Artophorion throughout the year for the special needs of the seriously ill or dying. As well, on this day the red Paschal eggs are dyed according to the ancient tradition of the Church.
In the evening, the Service of the Immaculate Sufferings are performed, that is the Matins of Great (Good) Friday. Twelve Gospel lessons are read which relate to the whole spectrum of the Divine Drama, starting from the Mystical Supper and the last statements of the Lord to His disciples, the washing of their feet, the handing over of the Mystery of the Holy Eucharist, the agonising prayer in the garden of Gethsemane, the betrayal of Judas’, the dishonourable kiss, the arrest, the taking of Christ before the Chief-priests Annas and Kaiafas and later to the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate, the desertion of the disciples, the investigation, the false witnessing, the denial of Peter, the insults, the mockery, the beatings, the Pilatine hypocrisy, the majestic silence of the Innocent One, the “away, away, crucify Him”, the asking for Barrabas, the whippings, the stripping, the red robe, the crown of thorns, the reed of mockery, the lifting of the Cross, the help of Simon Kyrinaios, the Crucifixion of the New Adam on Golgotha, the place where according to ancient Jewish tradition the old Adam had been buried, the divine forgiveness “Father forgive them, they do not know what they are doing”, the sharing out of His garments, the casting of lots for His outer robe by the soldiers who crucified Him, the giving of vinegar and bile for His last thirst, the derision, the terrible “Aha, the one who would destroy the temple”, the grateful confession of the thief “Remember me Lord, when You come in Your Kingdom”, the “My God, my God why have You forsaken me?”, the “Teteleste!” which means: it is completed; It is finished; it is perfected!, the fulfillment of Psalm 21 (Septuagint), the giving up of His all-holy Soul, the terrible earthquake, the opening of the tombs, the resurrection of many saints, the three hour darkening of the sun which could not bear to see the setting of the Noetic Sun of Righteousness, the tearing of the curtain of the temple, the confession of the Centurion “truly He was the Son of God”, the spearing of His all-immaculate side, the flowing of the redeeming blood and cleansing water, the courage of Joseph of Arimathea and of Nicodemus, the taking down from the Cross, the preparation of the all-holy Body, the burial of the Great Stranger in a foreign tomb, the post-mortuary Jewish blasphemes “that deceiver!” and in the end the diligent sealing and guarding of the Life’s Tomb by the peasant Roman soldiers.
Hymns full of passion and lyricism are chanted between the twelve Gospel readings. Only hearts of stone remain unmoved on hearing theses hymns. The Crucifix is brought in between the fifth and sixth Gospel readings, while it is intoned and later chanted in the mournful plagal of the 2nd tone. The words of this marvelous Troparion of our hymnography are: “Today He who hung the earth upon the waters is hung upon the Cross. He who is King of the Angels is arrayed in a crown of thorns. He who wraps the heavens in clouds is wrapped in the purple of mockery. He who in Jordan set Adam free receives blows upon His face. The Bridegroom of the Church is transfixed with nails. The Son of the virgin is pierced with a spear. We venerate Your Passion, O Christ. Show us also Your glorious Resurrection”.
We see here at the very hour of extreme pain and sorrow of the Cross and of Death, an indirect mention of the Resurrection. We have to underline that for us Orthodox these all go together. We never isolate the Cross from the hope of Resurrection, neither the Resurrection from the sorrowful experience of the Cross. Our Pascha is Cross-Resurrectional! Our life is always mixed. Sadness and happiness, pain and hope, grief and light are always together; inseparable. That is why the Fathers talk about “harmolype” (joyful sadness). And it is this harmolype which distinguishes the faithful who worship Jesus in an “eastern and Orthodox” way from the westerners who stick in a sick way only on the happening at Golgotha. They do not redirect their vision a few metres away from the Cross to the empty Tomb of Life, which makes fun of death and announces that ‘The Lord has risen indeed”! With this I am not suggesting that they do not believe in the Resurrection. No way! I only say that they do not know how to rejoice fully in their happiness.
BY METROPOLITAN JOSEPH OF PROIKONESSOS