GOOD FRIDAY, the Friday preceding Easter, observed as a day of mourning in commemoration of Christ's passion and crucifixion to accomplish the miracle of redemption.
This day has been kept with due solemnity ever since the apostolic age. "It is therefore your duty, brethren, who are redeemed by the precious blood of Christ, to observe the days of the Passover exactly, with all care, after the vernal equinox, lest ye be obligated to keep the memorial of the one passion twice in a year. Keep it once only in a year for Him that died but once" (Apostolical Constitutions, Vol. 7, p. 446).
Good Friday is a day of total absention from food and drink. In early times this fast extended through Holy Saturday until dawn on Easter day, a practice referred to by Irenaeus (c. 130-200). According to Eusebius, quoting Irenaeus, ". . . Some think that they should fast one day, others two, yet others more; some moreover, count their day as consisting of forty hours day and night. And this variety in its observance has not originated in our time; but long before, in that of our ancestors." The Constitutions of the Holy Apostles enjoin a restricted diet throughout Holy Week: "Do you therefore fast on the days of the Passover, beginning from the second day of the week until the preparation, and the Sabbath, six days, making use of only bread, and salt, and herbs, and water for your drink . . . Do ye who are able fast the day of the preparation and the Sabbath-day entirely, tasting nothing till the cock- crowing of the night; but if anyone is not able to join them both together, at least let him observe the Sabbath-day."
Highlights of the Coptic Service of Good Friday
Following morning prayer, the church is decked with crosses draped with black material. The icon of the Crucifixion is placed on a raised stand in the nave of the church, surrounded by crosses, candles, censers, and the New Testament. The priests conduct the service in black vestments as a symbol of mourning.
The lections and prayers, which are all directly related to the theme of the Crucifixion, are delivered in a mournful tone. At the end of the Prayer of the Twelfth Hour, the senior priest (or the patriarch, metropolitan, or bishop, if present) lifts up the cross, and all the clergy and the congregation repeat the KYRIE ELEISON a hundred times, in each direction successively, first facing east, then west, north, and south, each time bowing their heads and making the sign of the cross. Finally, they turn again to the east and chant the Kyrie eleison twelve times to the accompaniment of cymbals.
Then the priests and the deacons make three circuits round the altar, descend from the sanctuary, and go around the church in procession three times. They enter the sanctuary again and go around it once, chanting the Kyrie eleison. This is followed by the Service of the Burial of Christ. The senior priest takes the icon of the burial, places it in a white linen veil on the altar, with roses and aromatic spices spread around it, while the deacons sing the Hymn of Golgotha. The icon is then covered with the ibrusfarin veil (a rectangular red or white silk cloth with an embroidered cross in the center). Two candles are placed on the altar, one at the north and the other at the south side, representing the two angels who sat, one at the head and one at the feet of Jesus' body (Jn. 20:12).
Next follows the reading of the entire Book of Psalms, with one noteworthy feature in the course of the reading: after the first two Psalms have been read by two different priests, the first five verses of Psalm 3 are read, stopping at "I lie down and sleep." Here the priests and the deacons descend from the sanctuary, and the curtain is drawn. The reading of the rest of the Psalms is then resumed outside the sanctuary.
By way of further reminiscence of the agony of Christ on the cross, many people break their fast by drinking a mixture of vinegar and myrrh (Mt. 27:48; Mk. 15:36; Jn. 19:29).
Good Friday Celebrations in Jerusalem
The Coptic celebration of Good Friday at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem is conducted in three distinct stages:
1. Morning prayer and the Prayer of the Third Hour are performed between 4:30 and 7:30 A.M.
2. A procession led by the Coptic metropolitan starts at about eleven o'clock in the morning from the Coptic patriarchate. On the way, it stops briefly at the Stone of Anointing and the Holy Sepulcher and then resumes its route toward the Coptic chapel in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher. There, the prayers of the Sixth, Ninth, Eleventh, and Twelfth Hours are said. At about 4:30 in the afternoon, they return to the patriarchate.
3. At five o'clock in the evening, the burial procession starts from the Coptic chapel, stopping en route at the chapels of Saint Mary Magdalene, the Prison of Christ, Saint Longinus, the Division of the Raiment, the Mocking, Calvary (southern and northern parts), the Stone of Anointing, the Holy Sepulcher, and back to the Coptic chapel. At each stop a priest says the Intercession of the Gospel; the metropolitan reads the Gospel in Coptic inside the chapel, followed by the Arabic version read by a deacon at the entrance; and finally a short sermon is delivered. The procession ends about seven o'clock in the evening and returns to the patriarchate following the same itinerary.
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