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Good Friday is a special day celebrated by Christians on the Friday before Easter or Pascha. It commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Special prayer services are often held on this day with readings from the Gospel accounts of the events leading up to the crucifixion. Many Christians view Christ's crucifixion as a voluntary and vicarious act by which death itself was conquered, not as a temporary defeat overturned by His resurrection on the third day.
Eastern Orthodox Christians spend all this day in fasting from all food, to the extent that their health permits. It is the one day of the year they are forbidden from celebrating the Divine Liturgy, thereby fasting from the Eucharist as well. Instead, they meet up to three times during the day for prayer: in the forenoon, to pray the Royal Hours appointed for that day; in the afternoon, the Vespers of Holy Friday; and in the evening, the Matins of Holy Saturday.
The people relive the events of the day through public reading of the Psalms, Gospels, and singing the hymns about Christ's death. Visual imagery and symbolism is also often used: in the morning, a large cross is moved to the front or center of the nave (where the congregation gathers), and a two dimensional painted body of Christ or corpus is placed on it. During the afternoon prayers, it is removed from the cross and taken to the altar in the sanctuary, and an epitaphion is brought down to a low table in the nave representing the tomb; it is often decorated with an abundance of flowers. The epitaphion itself represents the body of Jesus wrapped in a burial shroud, and is a roughly full-size cloth icon of the body of Christ. During the evening prayers, the shroud is part of a procession outside the church, and is then returned to the tomb.
During this reliving of Christ's death, the hymns do not forget the coming resurrection. Holding both events in tension, the following troparion (type of hymn) is sung during the afternoon prayers while the shroud is being carried to the tomb:
- The noble Joseph, when he had taken down Thy most pure Body from the tree, wrapped it in fine linen, and anointed it with spices, and placed it in a new tomb.
- Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.
- The angel came to the myrrh-bearing women at the tomb and said:
- Myrrh is fitting for the dead, but Christ has shown Himself a stranger to corruption.