In the beginning, God created Man on the sixth day of creation. It was also on the sixth day that Adam and Eve sinned, and fell from the presence of the Lord. Humanity was condemned to death and eternal separation from God. For this reason, mankind became in need of a redemptive death to purify all people of sin. God the Logos accepted this upon Himself, and took the body of Man; and was incarnate of the Virgin Mary through the Holy Spirit.
Christ redeemed us on the wood of the Cross, on the sixth hour of the sixth day of the week. The first Adam sinned on the sixth day of Creation, and Christ, the second Adam, redeemed him and died on his behalf also on the sixth day of the week. The sixth day is Friday, the day on which we celebrate our salvation and freedom from the bondage of Satan and Sin. The hymns of Good Friday are deep and mournful, moving one’s spirit to live and experience the true purpose of Christ’s many passions, which He willing endured for our sakes. The hymns reflect the Church’s love and gratefulness for this great Divine work, which has saved us from Satan and his followers.
The Rite of Good Friday begins with the usual Paschal Prime Prayers. The Icon of Crucifixion is then adorned with roses, with lit candles and censors around it. The Rite continues with the prayers of the Third Hour in the same manner as the rest of the Pascha Week. The priests will then wear their dark cloaks and the deacons their liturgical vestments with their blue stoles as a sign of mourning. Following this, the prayers of the Sixth Hour commence with the reading of the prophecies in Coptic and/or the languages of understanding and the Paschal Praise. The priest will then raise incense before the Icon while the deacons chant Tai shoury in the mournful tune, followed by Faietavenf and Tenousht , after which the Pauline is read in Coptic and/or the language of understanding. This is concluded by the hymn, tiepistoly . After praying the Litanies of the Sixth Hour with its responses, the deacons chant the Greek hymn `Omonogenees , followed by the Trisagion in the mournful tune. Afterwards, the Psalm is chanted in the Attribi tune, commonly known as Keeperto , and the reading of the Gospel in Coptic and/or the language of understanding. As soon as the reader says the words “and there was darkness on the earth,” the candles are blown out and the lights of the Church switched off, in remembrance of the darkness that fell upon the earth during the Crucifixion of our Lord. The exposition is then read, followed by the litanies and the melismaticKuri`e `eleycon , which is chanted three times. The prayer is then concluded with the blessing, and the Thief’s Faithfulness is read with its appropriate responses.
The prayer of the Ninth Hour begins with the Raising of Incense before the Icon of the Crucifixion, during which the deacons chant the hymns Tishouri , Faietavenf and Tenousht , followed by the reading of the Pauline in Coptic, which is the hymn ethveteanastasees , and its translation in the language of understanding. The litanies of the hour and the appropriate responses are then chanted, followed by the mournful Trisagion. The Psalm is then chanted in the Attribi tune, commonly known as Ke upertou. Then, the Gospel is read in Coptic and/or the language of understanding. In conclusion, the exposition is read, then the litanies, and the melismatic kieryalason, which is chanted three times. The prayer concludes with the blessing.
The prayer of the Eleventh Hour is similar to that of the Third Hour except that the melismaticKuri`e `eleycon is chanted.
In commencing the prayer of the Twelfth Hour, the deacons move up to the first chorus, and the veil of the sanctuary is opened. The black curtain covering the veil of the sanctuary, as well as those on the lecterns, are lifted and the candles are lit once more. As the priests wear their seasonal garments, the Lamentations of Jeremiah are read, followed by the Paschal Praise, one verse from the raised podium and the other from lower podium. In churches without podiums, the Paschal Praise is chanted one verse inside the sanctuary and the other from outside. The Psalm Pekethronos is then chanted in the Shamy tune from the podium of the church, if one is present, followed by the hymn Keeperto and the Gospel reading in Coptic and/or the language of understanding. Following this, the exposition is read and the litanies are prayed, concluded with kieryalason , to be chanted four hundred times with full prostrations (metanoias). These prostrations are done periodically with one hundred in each direction, starting with the east, then west, north, and ending with south.
The priest and deacons then begin the procession three times around the altar, then three times around the church’s nave, ending with one final procession around the altar. The Icon of the Crucifixion is carried throughout the procession, during which Kieryalason is chanted in a melismatic tune. When the procession is completed, the deacons begin to chant the hymn Golghotha , during which the senior priest buries the Icon while anointing it with spices, fragrances and roses. All one hundred and fifty psalms are then read, and the prayer is concluded with the blessing. It is of interest to note that the Rite of the Twelfth Hour is both mournful and joyous. This is because the Church joins in the mourning of the slain Christ for our sins, meanwhile, it also rejoices as mankind is granted Salvation from the bondage of Satan by Christ’s death.
Some points regarding the Rite of Good Friday should be addressed:
- The mournful epouro is chanted in the conclusion of the First and Third Hours, however, it is not chanted in the rest of the hours.
- The hymn tishouri may be chanted in two alternative tunes. The late Cantor Mikhail Girgis El-Batanony the Great has handed down both these tunes.
- The music of the hymn Golgotha has its roots from the Ancient Egyptians. It was used during their burials ceremonies, and the Church incorporated its music into this rite, with lyrics suited for the burial of Christ. Similarly, the music of the hymn Pekethronoc was chanted by the Ancient Egyptians to express their grief for the dead separating from them, which is evident in the first half of the hymn. With this music also, they rejoiced that the deceased had bordered the Sun-Ship that would take the soul to the god Ra to grant it eternal life. The joyous music is evident in the second half of Pekethronoc .
- Psalms that are chanted using the tune Keeperto are referred to as Attribi Psalms. The word Attribi is taken from Attrib, an Ancient Egyptian city which St. Shenouda the Archimandrite had transformed into a church, which is currently St. Shenouda’s Monastery in Sohag.
- The Byzantine Church believes that the words of `omonogenees were written by Emperor Justinian I (527-565 A.D), known as the righteous Emperor. The Church also believes that the hymn was chanted when St. Severus, the Patriarch of Antioch, visited him. The Syrian Church, on the other hand, believes that St. Severus himself is the author of the hymn, written between 512 and 518 A.D. It seems that St. Severus wrote this hymn particularly to protect that Church against heresies of Nestorius and Eutyches. It is also speculated that St. Severus, while visiting Justinian I, revealed to him this hymn. The Emperor became fond of it, and began to labor in spreading the hymn to surrounding churches. In the Greek Church, `o Monogenyc is chanted in the Divine Liturgy during the Great Entry (the procession of the Lamb proceeding the raising of the Lamb).
The blessing of this holy day be with us all. Amen.
Mikhail, Deacon Albair Gamal, The Essentials in the Deacon’s Service, (Shobra, Egypt: Shikolani, 2002), p. 550-552. Translated from Arabic by Ragy Sharkawy, edited by Alexander A-Malek.