CELEBRATION OF GREAT AND GOOD FRIDAY IN OUR UKRAINIAN CATHOLIC CHURCH
Vespers with the Veneration of the Holy Shroud
Prior to the celebration of Vespers, the Lord’s Tomb is set up in the center of the Church in front of the ambon. Candles or vigil lights are placed on each side. After the procession with the Holy Shroud (Plaschanitsa), the shroud is placed in the Lord’s Tombs. The faithful come after services and the next day to venerate the Holy Shroud.
The Vesper service of Good Friday re-enact the crucifixion and death of Our Lord as described in the Holy Gospels. The reading of the Gospel for Great and Good Friday is a combination of the account in the various Evangelists. The special reading starts with the account of the chief priests and elders of the people gathering together and after consultation decide to put Jesus to death. Jesus is bound and then led away to face Pilate the governor. Having seen Jesus condemned to death, Judas repents and wants to return the thirty silver pieces, saying: “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” However, the chief priests and elders refuse to accept back the coins. Judas despaired, left the temple to hang himself. They considered the money “blood money” and did not put it into the Temple treasury. Instead, what happened was a fulfillment of what was prophesied by Jeremiah: “They took the thirty silver pieces, the price of the man on whom a price was set by the sons of Israel, and they gace them for the Potter’s Field, as the Lord ordered them.”
Now Jesus, standing before Pilate answered ‘Yes, as you yourself say” to the question whether He is the King of the Jews. The chief priests and scribes accuse Him, but Jesus gives no reply, not even to a single accusation. This truly surprised Pilate. Pilate then assembles a crowd to decide which of the two persons arrested would be released. For it was customary during the festival, Passover approaching, to release one prisoner. Pilate knew that it was out of envy that Jesus was handed over to him. He then poses the question: “Barabbas or Jesus Who is called the Christ.”
Pilate suddenly receives a message from his wife: “Do not meddle with that righteous man, for I have suffered much in a dream today on His account.” Meanwhile, the chief priests and scribes instigate the crowd. They had managed to persuade the crowd to ask for the release of Barabbas and the execution of Jesus. When Pilate does ask the crowd, they reply: Barabbas. Pilate asks then what to do with Jesus Who is called the Christ. And when asked what evil has He done, the crowd just repeats: “Let him be crucified.” Each response would increase in volume.
After attempting to dissuade the crowd, Pilate washes his hands, saying: “I am innocent of the blood of this righteous man. Look to it yourselves.” The crowd’s reply was “Let His blood be upon us and upon our children.” Pilate eventually gives in to the demands of the crowd: release Barabbas and crucify Jesus.
This is how the Totally Innocent One was unjustly treated. Not willing to stand up and do what was being revealed to him, Pilate hands over Jesus to be crucified, even though knew envy was the motive and his wife’s warning in a dream. For such lack of fortitude and conviction to do the right thing, we profess in the Creed: “For our sake He (Jesus) was crucified under Pontius Pilate.” This was inserted into the Creed in the early Church to remind us that ceremonial washing of the hands does not absolve one of guilt. Christians are to be willing to suffer and die for the Faith: to follow Christ despite any false accusations or tribulations come our way.
Christ then willingly endured the “terrible Passion, and the life-giving Cross and the voluntary burial in the flesh.” The Passion Christ endured was indeed “terrible”: “They stripped him, put upon Him a scarlet robe, plaited a crown of thorns and placed it on His head, pit a reed in His right hand, knelt before Him, mocking him: Hail, King of the Jews.” One of the criminals crucified with Jesus demands: “If You are the Messiah, save Yourself and us.” The other criminal crucified reproves him for talking as such: “Have you no fear of God when you undergo the same penalty? We suffer justly indeed, for we are receiving the due reward of our misdeeds. But this man (Jesus) has done nothing wrong.” Jesus then assures the good thief (criminal) that he shall that very day be with the Lord Jesus in Paradise (His Kingdom).
Passerbyers jeered shook their heads also said: “Save Yourself.” So too the chief priests, the scribes and the Pharisees: “He saved others, but He cannot save Himself.” They wanted Him to come down from the Cross and only then would they believe or so they said.
Jesus expires. Nature witnesses this great injustice, atrocity and signs appear in reaction to this great wrong sinful mankind had done: the Temple curtain was rent into two, the earth shook, the rocks were split, the tombs were opened, many bodies of the saints arose, came out of the tombs after His Resurrection, went into the holy city and appeared to many.” The centurion and soldier attested: “Truly, this was the Son of God.”
Seeing that Jesus was already dead, they did not break His legs as was done with the other two crucified with Him. However, a soldier pierces Hi side and blood and water flow out. It is time to bury Jesus quickly for the Sabbath was approaching. Joseph of Arimathea goes to Pilate and request the body of Christ to be taken from from the Cross and buried in a tomb which Joseph provided.
The Gospel for Great and Good Friday ends with Pilate granting this request. Following some prayers, the Procession with the Holy Shroud begins. Elders have been designated to carry the Holy Shroud in procession around the church. The four elders hold it by each of its four corners.
Aposticha are sung giving glory to the Lord’s condescension. Being God, the Son of God, Jesus had become man and died on the Cross to save sinful mankind from sin. As Jesus is laid in the tomb and is wrapped with balm in a linen shroud. Hell is mocked and was terrified by the long-suffering of the Lord, for its bonds were broken, its gates demolished, graves opened and the dead arose. Those awaiting the coming of the Messiah, Adam and the faithful ones of the Old Testament covenant are about to rise and enter into the heavenly Kingdom.
As the Holy Shroud (Plaschanitsa) is placed in the Lord’s Tomb prepared in the center of the church for veneration by the faithful in attendance, the following hymn is sung three times: “The noble Joseph took Your most pure body down from the Tree, and wrapped it in a new linen shroud with aromatic spices, and sadly laid it in a new tomb.
In our Ukrainian Catholic Church, we recognize the Sorrowful Passion of the Mother of God for Her Son so cruelly treated. Mary stood by Her Son at the Cross until the very end – always faithful and truly expressing Her unshaken love. The hymn, “Mournful Mother” expresses this most dearly. The second stanza of the Hymn says it so beautifully: “With my bitter tears how lovingly I bathed You; When You were a child from Your foes I saved You. But now You leave, and My heart so grieves Me. For My dearest Son, no longer will I see You, O My Son.”
Rev. D. George Worschak