Holy Friday Vespers
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Remember the Lord's suffering and death. Remember His eternal sacrifice. Remember the humility as He laid aside His glory and endured the ultimate indignity, that we who enter His sufferings might also enter His glory.
Vespers — Friday 5:30 pm
Join us on the afternoon of Great and Holy Friday for Vespers.
On Great and Holy Friday the Orthodox Church commemorates the death of Christ on the Cross. This is the culmination of the observance of His Passion by which our Lord suffered and died for our sins. This commemoration begins on Thursday evening with the Matins of Holy Friday and concludes with a Vespers on Friday afternoon that observes the taking down of Christ from the Cross and the placement of His body in the tomb.
On this day we commemorate the sufferings of Christ: the mockery, the crown of thorns, the scourging, the nails, the thirst, the vinegar and gall, the cry of desolation, and all the Saviour endured on the Cross.
The day of Christ's death is the day of sin. The sin which polluted God's creation from the breaking dawn of time reached its frightful climax on the hill of Golgotha. There, sin and evil, destruction and death came into their own. Ungodly men had Him nailed to the Cross, in order to destroy Him. However, His death condemned for ever the fallen world by revealing its true and abnormal nature.
In Christ, Who is the New Adam, there is no sin. And, therefore, there is no death. He accepted death because He assumed the whole tragedy of our life. He chose to pour His life into death, in order to destroy it; and in order to break the hold of evil. His death is the final and ultimate revelation of His perfect obedience and love. He suffered for us the excruciating pain of absolute solitude and alienation - "My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me!" (Mark 15:34). Then, He accepted the ultimate horror of death with the agonizing cry, "It is finished" (John 19:30). His cry was at one and the same time an indication that He was in control of His death and that His work of redemption was accomplished, finished, fulfilled. How strange! While our death is radical unfulfillment, His is total fulfilment.
The day of Christ's death has become our true birthday. Within the mystery of Christ's death and resurrection, death acquires positive value. Even if physical, biological death still appears to reign, it is no longer the final stage in a long destructive process. It has become the indispensable doorway, as well as the sure sign of our ultimate Pascha, our passage from death to life, rather than from life to death.
From the beginning, the Church observed an annual commemoration of the decisive and crucial three days of sacred history, i.e., Great Friday, Great Saturday and Pascha. Great Friday and Saturday have been observed as days of deep sorrow and strict fast from Christian antiquity.
Great Friday and Saturday direct our attention to the trial, crucifixion, death and burial of Christ. We are placed within the awesome mystery of the extreme humility of our suffering God. Therefore, these days are at once days of deep gloom as well as watchful expectation. The Author of life is at work transforming death into life: "Come, let us see our Life lying in the tomb, that He may give life to those that in their tombs lie dead" (Sticheron of Great Saturday Matins).
The divine services of Great Friday with the richness of their ample Scripture lessons, superb hymnography and vivid liturgical actions bring the passion of Christ and its cosmic significance into sharp focus. The hymns of the services on this day help us to see how the Church understands and celebrates the awesome mystery of Christ's passion and death.
Order of Service
Introductory Prayers and Psalms
The Vespers service commences with Psalm 103:
Bless the Lord, O my soul! O Lord my God, You are very great; You are clothed with honour and majesty, Who cover yourself with light as with a garment…
It continues with Psalms 140 and 141.
The hymns capture the moment and the paradox:
We see a strange and fearful mystery accomplished today: He Whom none may touch is seized. He Who looses Adam from the curse is bound. He Who tries the hearts of men is unjustly brought to trial. He Who closed the abyss is shut in prison. He before Whom the Hosts of Heaven stand with trembling stands before Pilate. The Creator is struck by the hand of His creature. He Who comes to judge the living and the dead is condemned to the Cross. The Conqueror of Hell is enclosed in a tomb. O You, Who have endured all these things in Your tender love, You have saved all men from the curse. O long-suffering Lord, glory to you!
Old Testament, Epistle and Gospel readings
After three Old Testament readings, the Epistle reading is taken from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (1:18-2:2).
During the Gospel reading, which is a combination of texts from Saints Matthew, Luke and John, the icon of the Body of the Lord (Epitaphios) is taken from the Cross and placed in the Sanctuary.
Following the evening litany, as members of the members of the congregation bow their heads, the priest prays for them as usual during a Vespers service:
O Lord our God, You made the heavens bow and You descended for the salvation of mankind: Look upon Your servants and Your inheritance; for Your servants have bowed their necks and submissively inclined their necks to You, the awesome Judge, Who loves mankind; for they are not looking for human help but rather for Your mercy, confidently awaiting Your salvation. Guard them at all times, both during the present night; protect them from every enemy, from all adverse powers of the Devil, and from vain thoughts and evil imaginations.
Who could leave the service and not feel loved and protected!
Final hymns and reverencing of Christ
A final set of hymns in sung while the clergy and altar servers process with the Epitaphios—an icon bearing the image of the dead body of Christ—around the interior of the chapel before being placed in the Naj—tomb or sepulchre covered in a canopy of flowers—which is at the Solea—directly in front of the icon screen. The congregation reverence Christ in front of the Epitaphios and the faithful quietly leave the chapel.
The Good Shepherd Orthodox Church, meeting at the Uniting Church Hall, 1939 Princes Hwy, Clayton, is a living witness to the power of the Gospel and the fullness of the Christian Faith in modern, secular Australia.
We are a vibrant Australian Christian community under the direction of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia, New Zealand & the Philippines, within the jurisdiction of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East.
The Church of Antioch is the continuation of the Christian community founded in Antioch by the Apostles Peter (who served as its first bishop) and Paul. The Patriarchate of Antioch is the oldest of the ancient Patriarchates constituting the one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ.
All services are in the English language and are held at the Uniting Church Hall, 1939 Princes Hwy, Clayton, conveniently located in the centre of Melbourne’s residential population.