Since it is Holy Thursday for some of you and the end of the second week of Lent for others like myself, I think this is a perfect time to open up a discussion regarding the slavic vs the middle eastern observances from Good Friday until the midnight paschal Liturgy.
Coming from a Carpatho-Rusyn Orthodox background, I have always loved Good Friday services and to this day get tears in my eyes when I watch the Plaschanitsa being placed in the tomb while the choir sings 'Noble Joseph' where it stays until Nocturns on the eve of Holy Saturday. I have always loved to go into the church at any time day or night to pay my respects to 'Our Lord' and see people of all religions come in to also pay their respects.
I used to love to watch the old Baba's come into the church get down on their knees and and walk on their knees while praying up the center aisle and around the tomb three times. Unfortunately with all the old Baba's gone you don't see that anymore.
Well, before I digress anymore, let me get back to the post at hand.
I always took it for ganted that this is the way all Orthodox observed Good friday and Holy Saturday until the midnight procession.
I attended a small Albanian Orthodox Church for awhile when I lived in CC. Once my mother passed away I decided to stay in the city for Pascha. Imagine my first Good Friday in the Albanian Church when, after the procession the Plaschnitsa was taken right thru the Royal Doors and placed on the Altar. The Tomb, which was Greek style with the canopy was all decorated with flowers entwined in the lattice work. The priest came out and started to dismantle the Tomb! As the people came forward they were each given a flower from the Tomb! I was in total shock! It was like watching a desecration! I kept thinking to myself...'How can these people be desecrating Christ's Tomb on Good Friday! The priest (who was Carpatho Russian) just kind of smiled when he saw the expression on my face. He just whispered 'I'll explain later'.
Apparently there are two distinct traditions within Orthodoxy regarding this most Holy time. In discussing it further, the Albanians and Greeks said.."Why do you Russians put Christ back in the Tomb? We just got finished the Procession Commerating Our Lord's Descent into Hades (Matins of Lamentations). He's no longer in the Tomb, he's in Hades! And they have an excellent point!
Since then I have always been torn between the two practices. I still love that spiritual high I get when I stop in the church in the early A.M. to pray and see people (including RC nuns doing the same). I still love the fact that I am alone with our Lord in the wee hours of the morning doing 'Tomb watch' and reading the Psalms aloud for three hours. But yet what runs through my mind is 'How can you Russians still have Christ in the Tomb when he's in Hades?' Talk about mixed feelings!
So why don't we call a truce on other subjects for the next few days and discuss it at this most appropriate of times.
"... the Plaschanitsa being placed in the tomb while the choir sings 'Noble Joseph' where it stays until Nocturns on the eve of Holy Saturday. I have always loved to go into the church at any time day or night to pay my respects to 'Our Lord' and see people of all religions come in to also pay their respects."
This tradition is still alive and well in our church.
I will be visiting the tomb to stand watch at another parish with my son sometime in the middle of the night, maybe 2 or 3 AM, my preferred time. My Father and I did it for years together. The Church doors were left unlocked since there were always tomb guards standing at the foot of the tomb before the Royal Doors.
[ 03-28-2002: Message edited by: J Thur ]
Two or three A.M. is my time to. I hate to do Tomb watch there during the day on Holy Saturday when the Greeks are downstairs cooking the lamb, the Russians and Ukrainians the kielbasa, ham etc. for the Agape meal after the midnight Liturgy. I'm reading the Psalms with my mouth watering! It ain't easy!
However, what is your feelings that, according to Biblical accounts, Christ is no loner in the Tomb but in Hades?
I was always taught that Christ's body remained in the tomb until that glorious Resurrection morning. But, being a Latin, I could be WAY off :p . It is an interesting theory/tradition, though that does make sense if the situation is looked at in one light. Your "traditional" tradition makes just as much sense, as well, though.
In my church, St. Ann's Byzantine Catholic in Harrisburg, Pa., virtually everyone approaches the tomb on their knees, most of them from the very back of the nave all the way to the tomb. From the youngest walkers to the eldest who still have workable knees. What is in some parishes a curious custom kept only by the babas is in our parish the norm for everyone.
Many upon reaching the tomb then make prostrations.
Although we have a tabletop "tomb" now and so one has to then stand up to venerate the shroud.
The grave "watch" is kept at our church all night Friday from the end of Burial Vespers until the beginning of Resurrection Matins. Although one of my favorite personal customs on Great Saturday is to drive 1-2 hours northward through the various towns of the hard coal region and make brief visits to the grave in as many of our Greek Catholic churches as I can. Unfortunately in recent years one finds as many of the churches locked as open. There just doesn't seem to be the interest (or bodies) for the churches to always be occupied during the vigil.
In some churches, the Acts of the Apostles are read continuously during the vigil, but this seems to be observed more faithfully in Orthodox (OCA) parishes.
"However, what is your feelings that, according to Biblical accounts, Christ is no loner in the Tomb but in Hades?"
First, it makes an excellent Jerusalem Matins service! Notice how those in their tombs are considered "dead' but Christ only "sleeps':
“Come, let us see our Life lying in the tomb, that He may give life to those that lie DEAD in their tombs. Come, let us look today the Son of Judah as He SLEEPS, and with the prophets let us cry aloud to Him: You have laid down, You have SLEPT as a lion.” (At Psalm 150, 3rd Stichera, Samohlasen Tone 2)
Second, it also makes a fine Paschal Troparion!
"... and to those in the grave He granted life"
T'is a wonderful feeling. BTW, you are so right about not standing guard at the grave while all that cooking is going on. Between services tomorrow, I get to go and pick up our Honey-Baked Ham and home made Slovenian sausage ... and it is Good Friday with strict fast!
My son doesn't like this tradition of mine. So hard to pass up the free samples of ham. 2 or 3 AM is a good time. Very quite and no cooking going on.
[ 03-28-2002: Message edited by: J Thur ]
Thank you, Bob, for starting this excellent thread.
The evening Vesper service with the entombment is probably my favorite service, with my favorite sticheri being the Apostica hymn: Joseph, with Nicodemus, took you down from the cross….. But, but, this may only be because the church is packed with hundreds of voices wailing through this hymn.
Jerusalem Matins is perhaps the most haunting of services. We take it at 11:00 PM, with a small assembly of believers in a candlelit church. I simply weep at the words of the Third Station: “Every generation, O Christ, offers praises at your burial.” It is literally a funeral for Christ. For many years my guarding the tomb has been from 2:00 – 3:00 AM.
Bob's story of the Albanian Church makes me think. I always wondered why the Greeks (who celebrate Jerusalem Matins in the evening) took Jesus for a walk after He had been buried. A friend just mentioned to me today that they do not take Him out of the tomb for a walk but they take the entire tomb on procession. I will think about this tomorrow night as we sing the “Holy God, Holy Mighty….” in the requiem melody and will remember all of you in prayer.
This is an interesting topic of discussion.
I have experienced both traditions -- the Melkites follow the Middle Eastern tradition Bob describes, whereas the OCA parish I now belong to follows more closely the Slavic tradition.
My understanding of the Melkite/Middle Eastern tradition is that the procession that follows the Lamentations service is actually the procession of Christ through Hades, liberating the dead, who then pass through Christ (ie, under the epitaphion/plaschanitsa) into the church, where Christ leads them with him to heaven. Some might say that this is gun-jumping, because the Resurrection does not occur until Sunday -- but I believe that the tradition is that the dead in Hades were liberated by Christ on Saturday, making the Lamentations service (really Matins of Holy Saturday) the commemoration par excellence of this.
Having said that, I see nothing *wrong* with what the Slavs do -- it's simply a variant that emphasizes a different aspect of Holy Saturday -- the idea that Holy Saturday is the eternal Sabbath, the true "day of rest", the time when we wait with our Lord for his (and our) resurrection. In the Eastern tradition, Holy Saturday has a very unique and multifaceted spiritual character -- quite unlike what I remember it being as a Western Christian. I think that the Greco-Arab and Slav traditions -- while different -- are both okay because they each express a different aspect of the spirituality of Holy Saturday.
I don't know if this helps, but this reminds me of the prayer we say as we begin the incensation of the church at the end of the proskomedia (rite of preparation, at the beginning of the Divine Liturgy):
"When your body was in the tomb, your soul in hell, when you were in paradise with the thief, you were, at the same time, O Christ, as God upon the throne, with the Father and the Spirit, infinite and filling all things."
This is one of the implicit beauties of the Byzantine tradition. We slavs are completed by the Arabs who, at the same time, celebrate this great mystery.
Fr Dcn John
I was just thinking of the same tropar and was going to post it myself. Reverend Deacon, you are correct in contemplating this troparion to enlighten the subject at hand. The belief is that, although Christ's physical body remained in the grave, his spirit or soul wandered throughout Hades (hell), liberating the souls of the just from the time of Adam until Jesus.
In this light, the Slavic practice of leaving the plashchanitsa in the sepulchre until Resurrection Matins would coincide with the theology of this troparion.
We Slavs have emphasized the Vespers and placing of the shroud in the tomb while others give greater significance to the Jerusalem Matins or Lamentations Service. I think that the problem is that there are now two processions with the winding sheet that are more or less the same when originally they had different purposes: the first, a procession to place the shroud in the grave and the second, to place it on the altar, which later, was attached to the Holy Saturday matins and came to symbolize the "wandering in Hades." Probably, since the Lamentations matins became popular in some traditions, more so than the "Burial vespers" a procession was added, to imitate the one taken earlier in the day. Both are clearly funeral processions for Christ, the first one is obvious - taking him to his grave. The second clearly takes on a funeral tone from the singing of the trisagion, "Holy God . . . " as at a funeral, although in reality, this singing of the trisagion is an elaborated version of the one already attached to the Great Doxology in the matins service.
Just some liturgical possibilities. May Christ, who ascended the Cross and descended into Hades, have mercy on us and save us.
[I was just thinking of the same tropar and was going to post it myself. Reverend Deacon, you are correct in contemplating this troparion to enlighten the subject at hand. The belief is that, although Christ's physical body remained in the grave, his spirit or soul wandered throughout Hades (hell), liberating the souls of the just from the time of Adam until Jesus.]
Petrus and Joe: Excellent responses. Thanks!
[I was always taught that Christ's body remained in the tomb until that glorious Resurrection
morning. But, being a Latin, I could be WAY off . It is an interesting theory/tradition, though that does make sense if the situation is looked at in one light. Your "traditional" tradition makes just as much sense, as well, though.]
THE ICON OF THE DESCENT INTO HELL
In the Church's teaching, the Descent into Hell is indissolubly
connected with the Redemption. Since Adam was dead,
the abasement of the Savior, Who assumed his nature, had
to reach the same depths to which Adam had descended. The
Descent into Hell represents the very limit of Christ's degradation
and, at the same time, the beginning of His glory. The Evangelists
say nothing of this event, but Apostle Peter speaks of it both in
his Divinely inspired words on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:14-
39), and in the third chapter of his first Epistle (I Peter 3:19), "He
went and preached unto the spirits in prison". Christ's victory
over hell, the deliverance of Adam and the righteous people of
the Old Testament, is the main theme of the Divine Service of
Great Saturday; it runs through all the Pascal service and is
inseparable from the glorification of Christ's Resurrection in the
flesh. "Thou didst descend into the abyss of the earth, 0 Christ,
and didst shatter the eternal bonds which held those who were
captives, and like Jonah after three days in the whale. Thou didst
arise from the tomb."
In harmony with the hymnography of the Divine Services,
the icon of the Descent into Hell expresses the reality of the
Resurrection- THE DESCENT OF OUR LORD'S SOUL INTO HELL - and reveals
the purpose and results of this descent. The action of the icon
takes place in the very depths of the earth, in hell, Shown as a
gaping black abyss. In the center of the icon, standing out sharply
by His posture and colors, is the Savior. The author of the
remained inseparable from both-I mean both soul and body"
Therefore He appears in hell not as its captive, but as its
Conqueror, the Deliverer of those imprisoned therein; not as a
slave but as a Master of life. He is depicted with a radiant halo, a
symbol of glory, usually of various shades of blue, and often
spangled with stars and pierced with rays issuing from Him. His
garments are no longer those in which He is portrayed during His
service on earth. They are of a golden yellow hue, made luminous
throughout by golden rays. The darkness of hell is filled by the
light of these Divine rays- the light of the glory of Him Who
being God-Man, descended therein. It is already the light of the
coming Resurrection, the rays of the dawn of the coming Pascha.
The Savior tramples under foot the two crossed leaves hell's
gates. He pulled down. Below these gates, in the black abyss, is
seen the repellent cast-down figure of the prince of darkness,
Satan. The power of hell has been shattered as is shown by the
broken nails, keys, locks and chains, with which angels now bind
him. In His left hand Christ holds a scroll, a symbol of the
preaching of the Resurrection in hell, in accordance with the
words of Apostle Peter. Having torn asunder the power of hell by
His omnipotence, with His right hand Christ raises Adam from
the grave, along with our ancestress Eve. He frees Adam's soul
and with it the souls of all who await His coming with faith (the
two groups of Old Testament saints depicted at His sides). Seeing
the Savior descend into hell, they at once recognize Him and
point Him out to others as the One Whose coming they foretold.
The Descent into Hell was the last step made by Christ on
the way to His abasement. By descending into the abyss of the
earth, He opened to us access to heaven. By freeing old Adam
and the whole of the human race from slavery to him who is the
incarnation of sin, darkness and death, Christ laid the foundation
of a new life for those who have united themselves to Him in a
new birth. The spiritual raising of Adam in this icon is a sign of
the coming resurrection of the body, the first-fruit of which was
Christ. Although this icon expresses the meaning of the event on
Great Saturday, it is called a Paschal icon, because it prefigures
the coming celebration of the Resurrection of Christ and therefore
the future resurrection of the dead.
Vladimir Lossky and Leonid Ouspensky
"Man was given a mouth, not
to wound, but to heal."
- St. John Chrysostom (+407)
What a beautiful tradition! Thank you for posting it and sharing with us.