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Good Friday: a Day of Fasting, Mourning and Solemn Processions

Vespers of Good Friday
From the Vespers of Good Friday afternoon (The Apokathylosis Service). Credit: ΙΣΧΣΝΙΚΑ-888 / CC BY-SA 3.0

For Greek Orthodox believers, Good Friday is a day of fasting and absolute mourning.

The Greek Orthodox Church reminds us about Jesus’ journey to the Cross and death, about his burial and the triumph of evil over good, until the latter triumphs once again with the Resurrection of Christ.

Twelve Gospels are read on Holy Thursday evening and five on Good Friday morning narrating the tragic events from the Evangelists’ point of view.

What is Good Friday?

Good Friday reminds the faithful of how Christ was betrayed and arrested, about his interrogation and humiliation, his death sentence delivered from the High Priests and Pilate, and Peter’s denial and repentance. It also recounts Christ’s road to Calvary, as well as His crucifixion, death, and burial and the sealing of His tomb.

Jesus was crucified at 9 am, while his torment lasted six hours, until 3 pm, when he passed away, saying “It is finished” (“Tetelestai”). At sundown, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus – two of Jesus’ secret disciples — removed his body from the Cross and buried him in a rock-hewn tomb.

On Good Friday morning, Orthodox faithful gather again to pray the Royal Hours — a special, expanded celebration of the Little Hours — in place of the Divine Liturgy. In the afternoon, around 3 pm, everyone gathers again for the Vespers of the Taking Down from the Cross.

Near the end of the service, an Epitaph (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, followed by another procession.

For Christians, the death of Christ is mankind’s salvation, a source of redemption that comes with his Resurrection, which is celebrated on Easter.

Good Friday traditions in Greece

Late at night, the Epitaph is carried through every Greek town, village or neighborhood, followed by a procession of faithful. In some occasions, a band or choir follows the procession and plays or sings solemn music to express the sorrow of the people.

The Epitaph is followed by cantors, members of the clergy, women bearing myrrh and altar boys carrying the liturgical fans. Throughout the procession, people scatter flowers and perfume on the Epitaph, while holding lit candles in their hands.

In Athens, women used to clean the streets just before the Epitaph procession passed by and as soon as the procession arrived, they would stand at their doors holding a roof tile containing a small piece of charcoal and incense.

On the evening of Good Friday, in Nafpaktos, western Greece, a crowd of both locals and visitors follow the Epitaph procession, passing through the port where locals light torches and place them all across the castle wall.

Torches are also placed in the middle of the port, forming a large cross, offering a uniquely moving spectacle to the people following the procession.

Some believers in Greece drink vinegar on Good Friday, as a remembrance of the vinegar offered to Christ while He was suffering on the Cross. On Crete, locals boil snails and drink their juice, which is very bitter, as another way to commemorate the bitterness of His Passion.

In Koroni, on the Peloponnesian peninsula, people do not eat anything during the entirety of Good Friday.

Also, in many Greek villages, the men refrain from doing any manual work and especially using nails — because it resembles the way in which Jesus was crucified.

In Naxos, people traditionally do not kiss on Good Friday, because Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss. The women gather to clean the churches and decorate the Epitaph before following the procession.

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