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Saturday, April 15, 2006

Great Friday

Old St. Mary's had their Holy Friday service at noon. I made sure that I would have some free time then, because I really wanted to go, and the schola leader asked for help anyway. I definitely wanted to help him out, so I made sure that I would have free time. I should have asked if it was Tridentine or Novus Ordo, because I was rather disappointed to discover that it was not Tridentine. Oh, well...

But to make up for it, I went to Holy Transfiguration at 7:30PM. When I first went to Holy Transfiguration for these services, I was told that the East does everything one day in advance. As true as it may be, its also wrong. The East's Great Friday liturgy is a burial liturgy. It's main focus is Christ in the tomb. Is that early for 7:30PM on Good Friday? No. It's timed perfectly. By this point of the day, Christ has descended from the Cross and was in the tomb. At 3:00PM, Holy Transfiguration had the Vespers of the Taking the Body of Jesus down from the Cross, once again, timed rather well. It was about the ninth hour when Jesus died on the cross. The removal of His Body and preparation for burial would have followed soon after.

After singing many antiphons, psalms, and hymns, we processed outside, and walked around the parish in procession. The main thing chanted was the Trisagion:

"Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us."

That was the only thing that I knew, and it was chanted over and over again. In the melancholic tone that is used, you can hear the sorrow of those who bore the Body of Christ to Its resting place in the sepulcher, and as the crowd moves slowly in procession to this chant, the reality of the Death of Christ sinks in. In the West, the primary focus is the Passion and Death of Our Lord. Although the East does not forget that service as shown in the reading of the 12 Gospels on Great Thursday and the Vespers of the same day, they also commemorate the actual burial in a separate service.

The best way to explain it is to recall a painful experience, if you will bear with me. Recall the death of a loved one, or if you have been blessed to not have a loved one pass on from this world to the nest, try to put yourself in the shoes of someone who has lost a loved one. Yes, their actual death hurts, terribly so. But somewhere, something inside of you thinks, "They'll be back. What if they are not dead?" Even seeing them in the coffin is not final. It is when the coffin is closed and placed in the ground that it adds a certain finality to the situation. Everything comes to an end when they are buried.

This same sense comes to those who have been living out Lent with this image in mind. Christ has been crucified and has died for my sins. But He'll be back. In the East, the image of the burial enhances the fact of His death so much more than just the Liturgy of His Passion and Death. I know I'm falling short, but I can't seem to explain it any better...

At the end of the prayers, a Gospel is sung, and the congregation is dismissed.

I had taken Alex S. with me to Holy Transfiguration. He seemed to like it. He said he did. After the service was over, we found Dr. William H. M. and chatted with him for a bit. It turned out that he needed someone to take his girls in to Holy Transfiguration the next day for the evening Liturgy. Christine C. was going to, but for some reason or another, she couldn't anymore, so I offered. I could do it. I was coming down to Christendom anyway to pick up Emma for the same Liturgy, so that left two seats available in my car...
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