HolyThursday is one of the holiest days of the Paschal week. This is the day on which Christ celebrated the Passover with His disciples, washed their feet, and also instituted the Sacrament of the Eucharist. On this day also, Judas betrayed His Master, surrendering Him to the Jews.
After Peter and John had prepared for the Passover, the disciples began to ask which of them would be first in the Kingdom of Heaven. The Lord in His reply knelt down and began to wash their feet. This was not only teaching humility by example, but it was also the institution of a great work: service. Service is not simply preaching or rebuking, but in truth it is washing the feet (of the served).
When they had finished the meal, Christ began to institute the Sacrament of the Eucharist. He took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to His disciples saying, “Take eat of it all of you, for this is My body which shall be given for you, do this in remembrance of Me.” Likewise, also He took the cup after supper and said, “This is My Blood of the New Covenant, which shall be shed for you.” Satan, however, entered Judas’ heart, and he, being a traitor, went to deliver His Master to the Jews. It is during this time also, that the Lord warned Peter that he would deny Christ three times before the rooster had crowed twice.
That evening, the Lord retreated to the Garden of Gethsemane, and as He prayed, His sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground. An angel of the Lord came to strengthen Him proclaiming, “Yours is the power, Yours is the glory, Yours is the blessing, Yours is the majesty, O Emmanuel, our God and King”. For this reason, the Church has established this praise in every hour of the prayers of the Paschal week.
The First, Third, Sixth and Ninth hours of this day are all related to the Preparation of the Passover. This is evident in the readings of each hour. The Liturgy of the Lakkan itself is a commemoration of the service the Lord performed when washing the disciples’ feet. As for the Liturgy of the Eucharist, it commemorates the institution of the Sacrament of the Eucharist itself.
The Rite of Covenant Thursday begins with the judgment of Judas in the Prime hour, where he is excommunicated by the Church, and denounced from amongst the rank of the Apostles. He is dealt with in such a manner for breaking the law and delivering His Master and God into the hands of the Jews with a kiss. The prayer begins in the first chorus as the priest open the veil of the sanctuary and commences with the Prime Raising of Incense. During the Doxologies, the priest proceeds around the Church, censing without greeting, thus condemning Judas’ kiss. The complete Creed is then chanted (as outlined in the decision made by the Holy Synod on June 2, 2001). Following efnoti nai nan , the deacons chant kieryalason in the long tune three times, followed by the hymns faietafenf and`ekesmarout . The Praxis is then read from the raised podium of the church. In reading it, Judas is both judged and condemned. These were the words spoken by St. Peter the Apostle saying,“Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus – for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry. (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. This became known to all the residents of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their language Hakeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) For it is written in the book of Psalms, ‘Let his homestead become desolate, and let there be no one to live in it’; and ‘Let another take his position of overseer’” (Acts 1:16-20).
Following this, the priests and deacons of the Church denounce Judas by proceeding around the church twice in a clockwise rotation, the opposite direction to which processions are normally conducted. During the procession, they chant a Greek hymn rebuking Judas for dishonoring the Law. After this, Agios is chanted in the mournful tune. In the first Agios, the congregation chants O Ekpartheno Genetis . In the second and third however, `Oestavrotis is chanted instead. The reasoning for this is that the Church, through the rite, desires to tell the faithful that the complete Redemption through the Cross has not yet been completed, but will be fulfilled on Good Friday. Only then will we chant `Oestavrotis three times.
After this, the Litany of the Gospel is prayed, and the Psalm is chanted in the Shamy tune. Through this psalm, the Church declares its reasoning for denouncing Judas, saying, “with speech smoother than butter, but with a heart set on war; with words that were softer than oil, but in fact were drawn swords. Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved” (Ps. 55:21-22). This is to say that Judas used deceit to betray his Master. The Gospel is then read, followed by the exposition, the litanies, and the conclusion. With this, the excommunication of Judas from the Church is completed in the First hour of Maundy Thursday.
The Third, Sixth and Ninth hours are prayed according to the standard rite. During these prayers, the Church is preparing Herself for the Passover. This is evident in the reading of the prophecies, where several references are made to Judas’ betrayal and the new Passover. The readings also reveal to us many symbols of the Passover in the Old Testament. Two examples are Abraham offering Isaac as a sacrifice, and Melchizedek the High Priest offering bread and wine. When the prayers of the hours are completed, the priests and deacons wear their liturgical vestments as worn during the annual days. They proceed to the second chorus and begin with the prayers of the Liturgy ofLakkan. The prayers are conducted in the annual tune, following the order outlined in the LakkanBook of Prayers. In its conclusion, Psalm 150 is chanted, also in the annual tune, during which the priests will wash the feet of the faithful, in commemoration of what the Lord did to His disciples on that day.
The Divine Liturgy of Maundy Thursday begins with the offering of the Lamb without the normal prayers or Kuri`e `eleycon because the hourly prayers are not prayed during the week of Pascha. Alleulia fai pe pi is not said either because the Day of the Lord (His Resurrection) has not yet come, nor is Alleluia ge efmevi chanted because the True Sacrifice and Eternal Offering has not yet been raised on the wood of the Cross. Following the prayers of Thanksgiving, the congregation remains silent, since the hymn Cw;ic is not chanted, as Redemption has not yet been accomplished (but will on Good Friday when the Lord Jesus Christ gives up the spirit on the Cross). The Hiten are not said, rather Tenwoust is chanted immediately, followed by the Pauline reading in the annual tune. There are no readings from the Catholic Epistle, Praxis or Synexarium. The Trisagion is chanted thereafter in the same manner as the Prime hour, except in the annual tune. After this, the Litany of the Gospel is prayed, followed by the reading of the Psalm and Gospel, also in the annual tune, as well as the Gospel Response.
The Prayer of Reconciliation is not prayed, this is omitted so as to denounce Judas’ kiss again, and also because reconciliation between God and Man has not yet been fulfilled through God the Word, the Son of Man, our Lord Jesus Christ, on the wood of the Cross. This will not happen until Good Friday. Also, the Rite of reconciliation reminds us of the resurrection because of the raising of theProspherin from the altar, which is a symbol of the rock that the Archangel Michael rolled from the door of the tomb. The bells on the Prospherin also serve as a symbol of the earth quaking at the Lord’s Resurrection. Since the Resurrection has not yet occurred, the congregation chants theAdam Aspasmos for the Divine Liturgy.
During the liturgy, it is preferred that the words “You have come to the slaughter…” be used instead of “He rose from the dead….” When the litany of oblations is prayed, the priest does not recite the Commemoration of the Saints nor does he mention the names of the departed, since the Church is completely focused only on the sufferings of Christ. Instead, the congregation chants Wcperyn . The priest continues the prayers from “Lead us throughout the way into Your Kingdom, as in this also…”, followed by the Fraction of the Sacrifice of Isaac.
As for the rite of prayers during Communion, there are two views with respect to this rite. The first and most commonly accepted, is that the veil of the altar is closed, without chanting Psalm 150, and the Prayers of the Eleventh Hour of Covenant Thursday are prayed instead. The prophecies are read and the Attriby Psalm is chanted. The prayers of the Eleventh Hour are therefore completed during Holy Communion. Also, no prostrations should be made during the Litanies because the congregation has partaken of the Body and Blood of Christ.
The second opinion is based on the fact that since the Lord Christ is present on the altar, the Church should not be in a sad state. Rather, the veil should not hide the Body, and Psalm 150 should be chanted, followed by the hymn Pioik . No other annual hymns however may be chanted during Communion. It is only after Communion is concluded that the prayers of the Eleventh Hour of Covenant Thursday are prayed.
The Prayers of the Eleventh hour are concluded in the same manner as all the hours of the Paschal week, after which the priest dismisses the congregation.
Glory be to God, now and forever. Amen.
Mikhail, Deacon Albair Gamal, The Essentials in the Deacon’s Service, (Shobra, Egypt: Shikolani, 2002), p.289-291. Translated from Arabic by Ragy Sharkawy, edited by Alexander A-Malek.