1:00 PM Vespers of Un-nailing
Before the service begins, a tomb is erected in the middle of the church building and is decorated with flowers. An icon painted on cloth and depicting the dead Savior is placed on the altar table. This icon is called the winding-sheet (epitaphios
in Greek, plaschanitsa
Vespers begin with hymns about the suffering and death of Christ. Readings are from Exodus, Job, Isaiah, and I Corinthians, and the Gospel reading includes selections from each of the four accounts of Christ's crucifixion and burial. The prokeimena and alleluia verses are psalm lines prophetic in their meaning (for example, "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?" - Ps 22:1).
After more hymns glorifying the death of Christ, the priest vests fully in his dark robes and incenses the burial shroud that still lies upon the altar table while the choir sings the dismissal song of St Simeon. While the people sing the day's troparion, the priest circles the altar table with the burial shroud carried above his head and places it into the tomb for veneration by the faithful.
7:00 PM Matins with Lamentations
In place of the regular psalm reading for Matins, the entire Psalm 119 is read with a verse praising the dead Savior chanted between each of its lines. This psalm is considered the verbal icon of Jesus, the righteous man whose life is in the hands of God and who, therefore, cannot remain dead. The Praises, as the verses are called, glorify God as "the Resurrection and the Life," and marvel at His humble condescension into death.
After the final glorification of the Trinity, the church building is lighted and the first announcement of the women coming to the tomb resounds through the congregation as the celebrant censes the entire church. Here comes the first clear proclamation of the good news of salvation in Christ's resurrection.
The canon song of Matins continues to praise Christ's victory over death by His own death, and uses each of the Old Testamental canticles as a image of our final salvation through Jesus. Here for the first time is expressed the ancient Christian understanding that this Sabbath, this particular Saturday on which Christ lay dead, is truly the most blessed seventh day that ever existed. This is the day when Christ rests from His work of recreating the world. This is the day when the Word of God "through whom all things were made" (Jn 1:3) rests as a dead man in the grave, saving the world of His own creation and opening the graves. The canon ends on the final note of victory:
Lament not for me, Mother, beholding me in the grave, the son whom you have born in seedless conception, for I will arise and be glorified, and will exalt with glory, unceasingly as God, all those who with faith and love glorify you.
As more praises are sung, the celebrant again vests fully in his somber vestments and, as the great doxology is chanted, censes the Savior's tomb once more. Then, led by their pastor carrying the Gospel Book and by the burial shroud of Christ, the faithful process with lighted candles around the church building, repeating the song of the Thrice Holy. This procession bears witness to the total victory of Christ over the powers of darkness and death. The whole universe is cleansed, redeemed and restored by the entrance of the Life of the World into death. After the procession re-enters the church, the people pass under the burial shroud, a Byzantine custom observed at Holy Trinity.
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