On this day, Holy and Great Friday, we celebrate the awesome, holy, and saving Passion of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ - the spitting, the blows with the palm of the hand, the buffeting, the mockery, the reviling, the wearing of the purple robe, the reed, the sponge, the vinegar, the nailing, the lance, and above all, the Crucifixion and Death which He condescended to endure willingly for our sakes - and also the saving confession of the grateful thief upon the cross.
After our Lord Jesus Christ was sold for thirty pieces of silver and was betrayed by a friend and disciple, He was led to Annas the High Priest. Annas again sent the Lord to Caiaphas, where He was spat upon and at the same time mocked and laughed at. He heard them saying to Him, "Prophesy to us, Christ! Who is the one that struck you?" (Matt. 26:68). Then many false witnesses and accusers arrived, perhaps because He said, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up" (John 2:19) and because He said about Himself, "I am the Son of God" (Matt. 27:43), or because He said, "Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of heaven" (Matt. 26:64). At that point, the High Priest tore his own garment, saying, "He has spoken blasphemy! What further need do we have of witnesses? Look, now you have heard His blasphemy!" (Matt. 26:65). And when morning came, Jesus was led into the Praetorium to Pilate, and "they did not enter," as they said, "lest they should be defiled, but that they might eat the Passover" (John 18:28).
Then when Pilate came, he asked them about Jesus, saying, "What accusation do you bring against this Man?" (John 18:29). Since he did not find any reasonable cause for the accusation, he sent Him to Caiaphas, since he was the one who was seeking His execution, and Caiaphas sent Him back again to Pilate. Then Pilate said to them, "You take Him and judge Him according your Law." Therefore the Jewish leaders said to him, "It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death" (John 18:31). They said this so Pilate would pronounce the judgment of death on the cross. Pilate asked Jesus whether He was the King of the Jews, and Jesus acknowledged this and said that His Kingdom is eternal and not of this world (John 18:36). Pilate wished to release Jesus and first told the crowd that he did not find any serious accusation against Him. Then he reminded the Jews of their custom of releasing a prisoner of their choice on the feast of Passover. The crowd named Barabbas the robber as acceptable choice but not Christ. Pilate then sought to placate the crowd, but with no success. Leading Him out through the soldiers, he first had Jesus scourged. Then clothing Him with a purple cloak, the soldiers forced a crown of thorns upon His most pure head and placed a reed in His right hand as though it were a royal scepter. All this time, the soldiers were mockingly sneering and shouting a parody of their salute to Caesar, "Hail, King of the Jews" (Matt. 27:29; Mark 15:18; John 19:3). Clearly, this public humiliation and torment was for the gratification of the mob, for Pilate showed that he was acting against his conscience by saying again, "I find no fault in this Man" (John 18:38; John 19:6; Luke 23:4). The Jewish leaders answered him, "We have a law, and according to our law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God" (John 19:7).
While these things were being said, Jesus was silent. But the crowd cried out to Pilate, "Crucify Him, crucify Him" (John 19:6). Thus they wished to destroy Him through an inglorious and shameful death, so that they might destroy the noble fame that Jesus possessed. Pilate incited their ethnic pride and said, "Shall I crucify your King?" The chief priests answered, "We have no king but Caesar!" (John 19:15). Since they could not get their way by any other means, they uttered this blasphemy because Jesus clearly called Himself the Son of God, and they wanted Caesar to stand in His place so that their madness would be satisfied. Therefore they said, "Whoever makes himself a king speaks against Caesar" (John 19:12).
While these events were taking place, Pilate's wife - Procula Claudia (comm. Oct. 27), sent a message to him that she was troubled by a fearful dream, and she said, "Have nothing to do with that just Man, for I have suffered many things today in a dream because of Him" (Matt. 27:19). Then Pilate washed his hands and clearly rejected the responsibility for the blood of the Righteous One. But the people cried out, "His blood be upon us and upon our children" (Matt. 27:25). If you let this Man go, you are not Caesar's friend" (John 19:12). Even though Pilate surely knew that Jesus was not guilty, he feared Caesar and thus confirmed the Lord's condemnation to death on the Cross, and he released Barabbas. When Judas beheld this, he threw away the silver coins and went out and hanged himself from a tree.
The soldiers mocked Jesus, hitting His head with a reed, and they placed the Cross on Him to bear. Then they coerced Simon of Cyrene, obliging him to carry the Cross. About the third hour, they reached the Place of the Skull, and they crucified Him there. On the right and on the left they suspended two thieves so that Jesus would appear to be an evildoer. In a spirit of greed, the soldiers divided His garments, but they cast lots for His seamless tunic. They performed each deed with excessive animosity, as if they were drunk. They not only did these things, but they also feigned ignorance, saying ironically to Jesus on the Cross, "Aha! You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself, and come down from the Cross!" (Mark 15:29-30). And they continued, "Let the Christ, the King of Israel, descend now from the Cross, that we may see and believe" (Mark 15:32). However, if they had reflected and understood correctly, they would have wished to have recourse to Him without hesitation, because He proved Himself to be not only King of Israel, but even of all the world.
For what other meaning was there when the sun was darken during the Crucifixion of Christ at the third hour, in the middle of the day, but that the Lord's Passion would be revealed to all men? Likewise, when the earth shook and the rocks were rent asunder, did this not reprove the stony-heartedness of the chief priests? And when many bodies arose for the acknowledgment of the common resurrection, did it not provide the evidence that the power of the Suffering One might appear? Moreover, when the curtain of the temple was split in twain, did it not mean that the temple was certainly angered, because the One who was glorified in it was suffering, thereby revealing these things which were not apparent to the multitudes? Therefore, at the third hour, Christ was crucified, as says the divine Mark; from the sixth hour until the ninth there was darkness over the whole land (Mark 15:33). The Centurion Longinus (comm. Oct. 16), seeing these marvelous events and especially the darkening of the sun, cried out with a mighty voice, "Truly this Man was the Son of God" (Matt. 27:54; Mark 15:39). Of the two thieves, one reviled Jesus, but the other reproached him, most profoundly reproving him, and confessed Christ to be the Son of God. Because of his confession, the Savior rewarded his faith and promised that he would be with Him in Paradise that very day. The "good thief" is commemorated on October 12.
When every sort of abuse had been hurled at the Lord Jesus, Pilate wrote out His title, which read, "JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS", and placed it on the Cross. (See John 19:19.) Therefore, the chief priests said to Pilate, "Do not write, The King of the Jews, but He said, 'I am the King of the Jews'." Pilate answered, "What I have written, I have written" (John 19:21-22). And when the Savior said, "I thirst" (John 19:28), they put vinegar on hyssop and brought it to Him. After saying, "It is finished" (John 19:30), He inclined His head and gave up the spirit. He was crucified on the day when the moon was full and at the hour when, according to the old Law, the Passover lamb was to be slain (See Exod. 12). When all had fled away, His Mother alone kept vigil at the Holy Cross with her sister Mary, the wife of Cleopas (the one, some say, Joachim begot in accordance with the Mosaic Law since his brother Cleopas died childless, but this assertion is false), Mary Magdalene, and John, the Disciple beloved by Him. (See John 19:25.) Then the ungrateful people, not being able to tolerate seeing the bodies on the crosses, since it was the great day of the Passover, asked Pilate that the legs of the condemned might be broken so that death might come more quickly. They broke the legs of the thieves, since they were still alive and, coming upon Jesus, as soon as they saw that He was already dead, they refrained from breaking His legs. One of the soldiers, doing a favor for the ungrateful ones, took his spear and pierced the right side of Christ, and immediately there flowed forth blood and water. On the one hand, the outpouring was as from a man, and on the other hand on behalf of mankind; that is, the blood, for the sake of the Holy Communion of the divine sanctified elements, and the water, for the sake of Holy Baptism. In fact, this two-fold fountain constitutes the foundation of the Holy Mysteries for us.
Also, St. John the Theologian saw and bore witness to these events, and his witness is true, because he was present at all these happenings, and after he saw them he recorded them. For if they were false, clearly he would not have written them, for such things would have appeared as a dishonor to the Teacher. It is said that when he was present at that time, he collected in some kind of vessel the Divine and All-holy Blood from the Life-giving side. Moreover, while these extraordinary events were being accomplished, when night approached, Joseph of Arimathea arrived (he was a disciple from the beginning, as the others, but secretly). He then went to Pilate with boldness since he was clearly known by him, asked for the Body of Jesus, and was given permission to take It. Then he immediately took the divine Body down from the Holy Cross with all reverence. And when night came, Nicodemus arrived, bearing a certain mixture of myrrh and aloes, which had been prepared for the special purpose of anointing, and he wrapped the Holy Body in a winding cloth, as was the regular custom of the Jews. They then entombed the Body of the Lord nearby in the garden tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, which had been cut into a rock, rolling a great stone over the entrance. In this tomb, no one had been buried before, so that when Christ arose the chief priests might not attribute the Resurrection to another person. The mixture of aloes and myrrh strongly cemented the winding cloth to the Body of Christ, so that when the winding cloth and the face cloth would be seen folded up in the Tomb, no one would suppose that His Body had been stolen away. How would it have been possible that anyone could have detached the linen so firmly glued to the flesh? However, those foolish men who shaped this falsehood did not know that in accordance with the economy of God, all these proofs remained inside the Tomb for the censuring of their slander. All these events marvelously happened on Friday. Accordingly, the God-bearing Fathers decreed that we should commemorate all these events with a compunctious and contrite heart. Furthermore, the Church, as received from the time of the Holy Apostles, has given the commandment that every Friday is to be observed as a fast day in remembrance of Christ's Holy Passion and Life-giving Death.
It is fitting to understand that on the sixth day of the week, Friday, the Lord was crucified because on the sixth day of the week during Creation, Adam, the first man, was formed. Furthermore, at the sixth hour of the day, He was suspended on the Holy Cross because at the sixth hour, tradition tells us, Adam stretched out his hands toward the forbidden tree to eat the fruit and inherited death. Therefore it was fitting that at the same shattering hour the Old Adam would be created anew. The Lord's Crucifixion was in a garden because Adam was deceived in a garden in Paradise. The bitter drink which the Lord tasted on the Cross healed the tasting of Adam. The Holy Cross replaced the tree in Paradise. The slap on the Face signified our awakening from the stupor of sin. The spitting and the dishonorable behavior toward the Lord makes manifest the value He places on us. The crown of thorns relieved us from the curse surrounding the head of Adam and Eve. The purple cloak replaced the garment of skin and symbolized the royal garment with which He covers us. The nails indicated our total immobility in our sins. The pierced Side of the Lord, from which our salvation came forth, represented the side of Adam, from which Eve came forth and out of whom the transgression occurred. The spear removed the fiery sword which guarded Paradise after the disobedience. The water from the Side was an image of Holy Baptism. The blood and the reed were the means through which the Savior, as though writing in imperial red ink, decreed, as a King from on high, the restoration of the ancient homeland.
It is said that the skull of Adam lay where Christ, as the Head of all, was Crucified, and Adam was "baptized" through the Blood of Christ, which flowed from Him and down onto Adam's skull. It is called the Place of the Skull because during the Flood the earth expelled the skull of Adam, which rolled around by itself in a circle, and this was viewed as a fearsome sign. The Holy Prophet and King Solomon, out of respect toward the Forefather, covered it up with many stones. Moreover, the eminent saints say, as is the tradition, that Adam was buried there by an angel. Therefore, where Adam's corpse lay, there Christ stood as the everlasting King, the New Adam, healing by the wood of the Holy Cross the Old Adam who had fallen by the wood of the tree.
It should be noted that on this day there is no celebration of the Divine Liturgy, nor of the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts. On this day of the Holy Crucifixion we neither eat nor drink anything according to the words which the Lord spoke to the Pharisees: "But the days will come when the Bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast" (Matt. 9:15). Yet, if anyone is weak or old and cannot keep the fast, let him be given bread and water after sunset.
Wherefore, O Christ our God, through Your boundless compassion
for our sakes,
have mercy on us and save us.
Troparion, Tone 8
When the glorious disciples at the supper
Antiphon Six, Tone 7
Coming to Thy voluntary Passion, O Lord,
Antiphon Fifteen, Tone 6
He who hung the earth upon the waters hangs today upon the Cross.
Kontakion, Tone 8
Come, let us all praise Him who was crucified for us,
Ikos: Seeing her own Lamb led to slaughter, Mary let down her hair in grief and followed Him with the other women, crying thus: "Where goest Thou, my Child? Why dost Thou run so swiftly? Perhaps there is another wedding in Cana of Galilee, and Thou dost make haste now to go there and change their water into wine? Shall I go with Thee, O my Child, or shall I wait for Thee? Grant me some word, O Word, and pass me not by in silence, O Thou who hast preserved me in virginity. For Thou art my Son and my God.
The Exapostilarion (The Hymn of Light)
The wise thief at that same hour, O Lord,
Troparion, Tone 4
Thou hast redeemed us from the curse of the Law
Archpriest Victor Sokolov, Rector, Holy Trinity Cathedral (http://www.holy-trinity.org),
San Francisco, CA (http://www.schmemann.org)