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Orthodox Good Friday

Millions of Orthodox Christians around the world commemorate Good Friday, also known as “Great Friday”. The atmosphere of the day is solemn and it is observed as a day of mourning to remember the events leading up to Jesus Christ's crucifixion.

Many Orthodox churches retained the Julian calendar after the Gregorian calendar was introduced in Europe in 1582. Therefore they often follow a different Easter date compared with many western churches. Easter holidays, such as Good Friday, are “moveable feasts” as these dates change according to calendar calculations.

The crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ is remembered on Good Friday.

©iStockphoto.com/Richard Goerg

What do people do?

On Good Friday, many Orthodox Christian churches hold special liturgies with readings from the Gospels of the events leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. In countries such as the United States, some Orthodox churches hold evening liturgies throughout Holy Week, with some special afternoon liturgies for children on Good Friday.  Church activities may include: a family retreat with children’s activities; discussion groups; the wrapping of the red eggs to be distributed on Easter Sunday; and a Lenten lunch.  Many adult Orthodox Christians observe Good Friday with fasting, prayer, cleanliness, self-examination, confession and good works.

The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America celebrates the Passion of Christ, or the last moments of his life according to the New Testament in the Bible, on Good Friday. This liturgy is long, but its content is dramatic. The liturgy also includes participation in prayers and the historical sequence of the events, as related in the Gospels and hymns.

In Greece, Good Friday is a day of mourning so many people may avoid household chores. A ritual lament called the “Procession of the Epitáphios of Christ” mourns the death of Christ on the cross with a symbolic decorated coffin carried through the streets by the faithful. Families attend their church to decorate the Epitaph (Bier of Christ) with flowers. In the morning of Good Friday, Christ’s burial is reenacted in many churches and in the evening the Epitaph procession takes place.

Public life

Good Friday is officially observed in countries such as Cyprus, Greece, Lebanon and the Republic of Macedonia. Some embassies are closed in these countries on Good Friday but travelers and expats will need to check first with their own embassies. Many public offices, schools and banks will also be closed.

There are no federal Orthodox Easter public holidays in countries such as Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States. However, it is a time for families and friends of the Orthodox Christian faith to gather together and to celebrate the Orthodox Easter period.

Background

In the early Church Good Friday was called "Pascha of the Cross" because it marked the beginning of that Passover. It is part of the Easter period which is observed by both Orthodox and western churches alike, although the Easter dates may differ.

The Council of Nicaea established the Easter date for churches around the world in 325CE but not all Christian churches observed Easter according the Gregorian calendar after it was first introduced in 1582. Many Orthodox churches still observe Easter in accordance with the Julian calendar. Therefore the Orthodox Easter period occurs later than the Easter period that falls around the time of the March equinox.

In the Orthodox circles, tensions exist between New Calendarists – those who use the revised Julian calendar for calculating the feasts of the ecclesiastical year – and Old Calendarists – those who continue to use the traditional Julian calendar. There have been a number of proposed Easter date reforms. In 1997 the World Council of Churches proposed a reform to solve the Easter date difference between churches that observe the Gregorian calendar and those that observe the Julian calendar. So far, this reform has not been implemented.

Symbols

Good Friday commemorates the moments leading up to and including the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, as told in the New Testament of the Bible. The most common symbols in observing Good Friday are the cross and crucifix and traditions include the venerations of the cross and the preaching or singing of the Passion of Christ.

In Greece, many flags at homes and government buildings are set at half mast to mark the mournful day. The icon of Christ is taken off the cross in churches and is then wrapped in linen and placed in a great casket covered in flowers symbolizing the tomb of Christ. The bier is then taken through the town or village, with people lamenting the death of Christ.

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