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Good Friday: The Epitaph procession in Greek Orthodoxy VIDEO

Good Friday, the peak of the Passion Week. the day of absolute mourning for Christianity. The day commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and his death at the Calvary. I it is the most solemn day of Holy Week. The day ends with the candlelit Epitaph procession through the streets, where priests, choirs, military bands and the faithful chant the wonder hymns of the Orthodoxy.

In Greek Orthodoxy the day if full of rituals that end in the Epitaph procession. Psalms and hymns mark the day while the church bells ring in mourning from 12 noon.

The Epitaph symbolizes the Tomb of Christi.

In the morning, women decorate the Epitaph in all churches with flowers.

All gather for the Vespers of the Taking-Down from the Cross, commemorating the Deposition from the Cross. The Gospel reading is a concatenation taken from all four of the Gospels.

During the service, the body of Christ (the soma) is removed from the cross, as the words in the Gospel reading mention Joseph of Arimathea, wrapped in a linen shroud, and taken to the altar in the sanctuary.

Gold-thread embroidered and inscribed epitaphios, worked by the renowned needlewoman Despoineta in Constantinople in 1682

 The Epitaphios (“winding sheet”), depicting the preparation of the body of Jesus for burial
Near the end of the service an epitaphios or “winding sheet” (a cloth embroidered with the image of Christ prepared for burial) is carried in procession to a low table in the nave which represents the Tomb of Christ.

The Epitaphios itself represents the body of Jesus wrapped in a burial shroud, and is a roughly full-size cloth icon of the body of Christ. Then the priest may deliver a homily and everyone comes forward to venerate the epitaphios.

In the evening, hymns related to the burial of the Jesus Christ are sung.

A unique service known as The Lamentation at the Tomb (Epitáphios Thrēnos) is celebrated.

Chanting of the Lamentations or Praises (Enkōmia) consists of verses chanted by the clergy interspersed between the verses of Psalm 119 (which is, by far, the longest psalm in the Bible).

The Enkōmia are the best-loved hymns of Byzantine hymnography, both their poetry and their music being uniquely suited to each other and to the spirit of the day.

They consist of 185 tercet antiphons arranged in three parts (stáseis or “stops”), which are interjected with the verses of Psalm 119, and nine short doxastiká (“Gloriae”) and Theotókia (invocations to the Virgin Mary). The three stáseis are each set to its own music, and are commonly known by their initial antiphons: Ἡ ζωὴ ἐν τάφῳ, “Life in a grave”, Ἄξιον ἐστί, “Worthy it is”, and Αἱ γενεαὶ πᾶσαι, “All the generations”. The climax of the Enkōmia comes during the third stásis, with the antiphon “Ō glyký mou Éar”, a lamentation of the Virgin for her dead Child (“O, my sweet spring, my sweetest child, where has your beauty gone?”).

The author(s) and date of the Enkōmia are unknown. Their High Attic linguistic style suggests a dating around the 6th century, possibly before the time of St. Romanos the Melodist.

At the end of the Great Doxology, while the Trisagion is sung, the epitaphios is taken in procession around the outside the church, and is then returned to the tomb.

Some churches observe the practice of holding the epitaphios at the door, above waist level, so the faithful most bow down under it as they come back into the church, symbolizing their entering into the death and resurrection of Christ.

In our parish, when the Epitaph returns to church after the procession, the door is closed. According to the ritual, there is a loud earthquake when the Lord tries to enter the Hades. Someone behind the door ask loud “Who are you?”. A priest from the Epitaph procession shouts “I am the Lord! the King of Kings! Ante portas!” Then there is a loud noise, the door trembles and ultimately opens. The procession and the Epitaph are back in the church.

It is considered as a special gift to get some flowers from the Epitaph and keep them home around an icon. The flowers are blessed and the faithful and his or her family will be blessed the whole year.

The Εpitaph lays in the tomb until the Paschal Service early Sunday morning.

In several regions of Greece, a dummy of Judah has been made. At the end, the dummy is either burned of shot or both.

On Good Friday, many people visit the graves of relatives and friends, bring flowers, burn incense and light the candles in olive oil, while a priest reads the prayer for the dead.

In most of the areas across Greece, the Epitaph is brought out of the church at 9 p.m. the Epitaph leads a candlelit procession through the streets, people chant the hymns.

The Monastery in Kaisariani in Athens is the only place where the Epitaph procession takes place during the day.

Occasionally there is a “meeting of the Epitaphs” where the processions from several parishes meet.

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