"Do this in remembrance of Me..."
Great Holy Thursday Morning
(The service is the Vespers and Divine Liturgy of Thursday evening which is sung in the morning by anticipation.)
Jesus drew His last breath of freedom on this Thursday night. Christ knew all the incidents which were about to take place and called to Him His Apostles in order to institute the Holy Eucharist for them and for the Church forever. At the end of March, with the full moon as a brilliant lantern in the sky and the weather mild, the people in Jerusalem enjoyed the beginning of spring. In this atmosphere, Christ presented Bread and Wine as the Elements of His Very Body and His Very Blood; they are the Precious Gifts which have been left as His perpetual Presence in the Church. The institution of the Holy Eucharist and its re-enactment through the centuries, both as a sacrifice and sacred ceremony (Mysterion), is the life-giving remembrance which, along with the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ, constitutes the basis of salvation for the Christian.
Then followed the incidents of the dramatic closing moments of Christ's life. After the washing of His Apostles' feet, He pointed out the betrayer, inaugurated the Eucharist, and pronounced the new commandment of love for one another. He spoke to them words of comfort, promising the descent of the Holy Spirit to complete man's union with Christ. His departure, Christ said, would bring to them and the world joy. Christ took His Apostles out in the mild night where He could see face-to-face His co-workers in the bright light of the full moon. In this spiritual mood and physical setting, Jesus withdrew to pray. After this agony of the "bloody sweat" came the kiss of Judas and His arrest. He thus became the source of spiritual and physical freedom for mankind.
The Divine Liturgy of St. Basil is officiated on this day. The readings are: 2 Cor. 11:23-32; Matt. 26:2-28; John 13:3-17; Matt. 26:21-39; Luke 22:43-44; Matt. 26:40-75; Matt. 27:1-2. During this Liturgy, the priest prepares the "Amnos," the Holy Communion, which is kept throughout the whole year to be given the faithful in times of sickness. The Body and Blood of Christ is present in the Church during the entire year and throughout the ages. On this day, with greater feeling than ever, Christians come for Holy Communion singing: "Receive me Today, O Son of God, as a partaker of Thy Mystic Feast; for I will not speak of the Mystery to Thine enemies, I will not kiss Thee as did Judas, but as the thief I will confess Thee. Lord, remember me when I comest to Thy Kingdom." "We worship Thy passion, O Christ..."
Great Holy Thursday Evening
(The service of the HOLY PASSION of our Lord Jesus Christ. The service is Matins of Friday morning sung by anticipation, on Thursday evening.)
Good Friday celebrates the holy, saving, and awesome Passion of Christ. To take away our sins, Christ willingly endured spitting, scourging, buffeting, scorn, mocking, and purple robe; the reed, sponge, vinegar, nails, spear, and above all, the Cross and Death. The confession from the cross of the penitent thief, crucified with Christ, is celebrated. This service is long, but its content is dramatic and deeply moving for the devout Christian. Participation in the prayers and the historical sequence of the events, as related in the Gospels and hymns, provides a vivid foundation for the great events yet to come. Following are the references of the "Twelve Gospel" readings of this service:
1. St. John 13:31 thru Ch. 18:1
2. St. John 18:1-29
3. St. Matthew 26:57-75
4. St. John 18:28 thru Ch. 19:16
5. St. Matthew 27:3-32
6. St. Mark 15:16-32
7. St. Matthew 27:33-54
8. St. Luke 23:32-49
9. St. John 19:38-42
10. St. Mark 15:43-47
11. St. John 19:38-42
12. St. Matthew 27:62-66
These readings relate the last instructions of Christ to His disciples, the prophecy of the drama of the Cross, the dramatic prayer of Christ and His new commandment. The day should be devoted to reading the "Gospel of the Testament" of Christ which He left for all men. The Church services during Holy Week re-enact the events of this Gospel.
After the reading of the fifth Gospel comes the procession with the Crucifix around the church, while the priest chants the 15th antiphon: "Today is hung upon the Tree, He Who did hang the land in the midst of the waters. A Crown of thorns crowns Him Who is King of Angels. He is wrapped about with the purple of mockery Who wrapped the Heavens with clouds. He received buffetings Who freed Adam in Jordan. He was transfixed with nails Who is the Bridegroom of the Church. He was pierced with a spear Who is the Son of the Virgin. We worship Thy Passion, O Christ. Show also unto us thy glorious Resurrection."
During the Procession, the faithful Christian kneels and prays for his spiritual welfare, imitating the thief on the Cross who confessed his faith and devotion to Christ. He then approaches and reverently kisses the Crucifix.