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Friday, April 14, 2006

Great Thursday

Yesterday, I went to Holy Transfiguration for the Great Thursday Liturgy, which was called "The Reading of the 12 Gospels". It is exactly what it says it is.

When I walked in, I saw the large cross standing there. This cross is over seven feet tall, and about five feet wide. Behind it, there was a row of twelve tapers (tall, thin candles about half-an-inch wide, and about a foot tall) lined up in a wooden support. There were also twelve votive candles set in holes alongside these tapers. The candle pattern was votive on the outside, taper next to it, votive, taper, and so on.in the center, between tapers six and seven, there was no votive, keeping the total number of candles 24. (From left to right: votive, taper; votive, taper; votive, taper; votive, taper; votive, taper; votive, taper; {space} taper, votive; taper, votive; taper, votive; taper, votive; taper, votive; taper, votive.)

I came and stood near the front of the church, not at the very front, because I wasn't sure exactly what I was supposed to do. This way, I had someone next to me, and if I forgot something I would see them do it, and I would follow suit...

The service begins with a psalm and a prayer. Father Joseph came out from the closed sanctuary doors (the single left door) while these were going on, stood in front of the double center doors, and at the end, he went back into the sanctuary via the single right door. The center doors were opened, and the deacon announced the reading of the Gospel. Father Joseph came out with the book containing the Gospels, and the congregation came forward to the front of the church. Holding the book in his hands, Father Joseph chanted the first Gospel, which was about Our Lord's last sermon to His disciples, before His bitter agony in the Garden. In it, He prophesies His death and His resurrection.

At the end of the Gospel, Father Joseph closed the book, and blessed the people with it, and we all went back to our places. The outside left taper was extinguished. A psalm was chanted, and the deacon announced the reading of the second Gospel. Once again, the people came to the front of the church, and Father read the second Gospel, about Our Lord's Agony in the Garden as told by one of the Evangelists.

At the end of the second Gospel, he closed the book and blessed us with it, and we went back to our places. The outside right taper was extinguished. A psalm was chanted, and the deacon announced the reading of the third Gospel.

This pattern continued like so until the end of the fifth Gospel. At this point in the Gospels, Jesus has been condemned to death, and has received His cross. After the fifth Gospel was finished and the fifth taper extinguished, the lights in the church were turned off. Father Joseph picked up the large icon of the Corpus, and goes to the left sanctuary door.

At this point, everyone able to do so in the church prostrates. The Eastern prostration is not like the West's. In the East, you kneel down, fold up, and place your forehead on the floor, whereas in the West, you lay out on the floor, face down. While we were prostrated, Father Joseph processed completely around the outside of the congregation, counter-clockwise. When he reached the front of the front of the church, he went around again, but at the center-back of the church, the procession came forward on the middle aisle to the front. When he got to the front of the Church, he nailed the Corpus to the cross.

Meanwhile, I was prostrated the entire time. I knew what was going on, because I had been here for this before, but at the same time, I had never actually seen it. It's hard to see when your face is on the ground. In any event, I was right next to the middle aisle, so I heard the acolytes, the deacon, and the priests passing by. While we were still prostrated, you could hear the slight jingle of metal rods, and then this metal-on-metal "tap-tap-tap" four times. When you finally get up, there is the cross, but this time, the Corpus is on it, with nails through the hands and feet.

Father Joseph began a chant. I know a version of this chant from "Thy Passion" by the Boston Byzantine Choir, which is why I recognized it immediately (I actually suspected that Father would sing this Antiphon here). The words were along these lines:

"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."

At this point, a soloist begins singing. I'm not sure, what, because I don't know the language -- perhaps the same thing, but in Hebrew. While she was singing, the priests and deacon in succession prostrate twice, kiss the Corpus, and prostrate a third time before going back up into the sanctuary. At the end of her chant, she left the front of the Church and went back to her seat.

At some point earlier in the evening comes another of the chants from the Boston Byzantine Choir CD, "Thy Passion".

The other seven Gospels resumed; the sixth is the first Gospel to tell about Our Lord's crucifixion and death. At the end of the twelfth Gospel, Our Lord was in the tomb, and the women have looked and remembered where it is, so that they may come back to it...

At the end of the twelfth Gospel, Father Joseph asked everyone to come to the front of the Church and reverence the cross as he, the other priests, and the deacon did before. The acolytes lines up in the front with the choir behind them, and the congregation behind them. The priests heard confessions, and those wishing to remain in the Church for a while were invited to do so.
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