Holy and Great Friday, Vespers

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The service begins about the tenth hour of the day (four o”clock in the afternoon).1 Before it starts, the Epitaphion is placed on the altar, and on top of it the Book of the Gospels.

After the Psalm of Introduction (Psalm 103) and the Great Litany, to

Lord, I have cried, six stichera are sung:


The whole creation was changed by fear, when it saw Thee, O Christ, hanging on the Cross. The sun was darkened and the foundations of the earth were shaken; all things suffered with the Creator of all. Of Thine own will Thou hast endured this for our sakes: O Lord, glory to Thee (twice).


Why does the impious and transgressing people imagine vain things? Why have they condemned to death the Life of all? O mighty wonder! The Creator of the world is delivered into the hands of lawless men, and He who loves mankind is raised upon the Cross, that He may free the prisoners in hell, who cry: O longsuffering Lord, glory to Thee.

Today the most pure Virgin saw Thee hanging on the Cross, O Word; and with a mother’s love she wept and bitterly her heart was wounded. She groaned in anguish from the depth of her soul, and in her grief she struck her face and tore her hair. And, beating her breast, she cried lamenting: “Woe is me, my divine Child! Woe is me, Thou Light of the world! Why dost Thou vanish from my sight, O Lamb of God?” Then the hosts of angels were seized with trembling, and they said: “O Lord beyond our understanding, glory to Thee.”

Seeing Thee hanging on the Cross, O Christ the Creator and God of all, bitterly Thy Virgin Mother cried: “O my Son, where is the beauty of Thy form? I cannot bear to look upon Thee crucified unjustly. Make haste, then, to arise, that I too may see Thy Resurrection on the third day from the dead.”


Today the Master of Creation stands before Pilate; today the Maker of all things is given up to the Cross, and of His own will He is led as a lamb to the slaughter. He who sent manna in the wilderness is transfixed with nails; His side is pierced, and a sponge with vinegar touches His lips. The Deliverer of the world is struck on the face, and the Creator of all is mocked by His own servants. How great is the Master’s love for mankind! For those who crucified Him, He prayed to His Father, saying: “Forgive them this sin, for in their wickedness they know not what they do.

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.


See how the lawless synagogue has condemned to death the King of the Creation! They were not ashamed when He recalled His blessings, saying: “O My people, what have I done unto you? Have I not filled Judaea with miracles? Have I not raised the dead by My word alone? Have I not healed every sickness and disease? How then have ye repaid Me? Why have ye forgotten Me? In return for healing, ye have given Me blows; in return for life, ye are putting Me to death. Ye hang upon the Cross your Benefactor as an evildoer, your Lawgiver as a transgressor of the Law, the King of all as one condemned. “O longsuffering Lord, glory to Thee.

Both now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen.


A dread and marvellous mystery we sec come to pass this day. He whom none may touch is seized; He who looses Adam from the curse is bound. He who tries the hearts and inner thoughts of man is unjustly brought to trial. He who closed the abyss is shut in prison. He before whom the powers of heaven stand with trembling, stands before Pilate; the Creator is struck by the hand of His creature. He who comes to judge the living and the dead is condemned to the Cross; the Destroyer of hell is enclosed in a tomb. O Thou who dost endure all these things in Thy tender love, who hast saved all men from the curse, O longsuffering Lord, glory to Thee.

Entrance with the Gospel, O joyful Light..., and the Prokimenon (Psalm 21):


They parted My garments among them, and cast lots upon My vesture.

Verse: O God, My God, look upon Me: why hast Thou forsaken Me?

First Old Testament Lesson: Exodus 33:11-23.

And the Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend. And he turned again into the camp: but his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, departed not out of the tabernacle. And Moses said unto the Lord, See, thou sayest unto me, Bring up this people: and thou hast not let me know whom thou wilt send with me. Yet thou hast said, I know thee by name, and thou hast also found grace in my sight. Now therefore, I pray thee, if I have found grace in thy sight, shew me now thy way, that I may know thee, that I may find grace in thy sight: and consider that this nation is thy people. And he said, My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest. And he said unto him, If thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence. For wherein shall it be known here that I and thy people have found grace in thy sight? is it not in that thou goest with us? so shall we be separated, I and thy people, from all the people that are upon the face of the earth. And the Lord said unto Moses, I will do this thing also that thou hast spoken: for thou hast found grace in my sight, and I know thee by name. And he said, I beseech thee, shew me thy glory. And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy. And he said, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live. And the Lord said, Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock: And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a clift of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by: And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen.

Prokimenon (Psalm 34):


Judge them, OLord, that wrong Me: fight against them that fight against Me.

Verse: They rewarded Me evil for good.

Second Old Testament Lesson: Job 42:12-17.2

And the Lord blessed the latter end of Job, than the beginning: and his cattle were fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen, a thousand she-asses of the pastures. And there were born to him seven sons and three daughters. And he called the first Day, and the second Casia, and the third Amalthaea’s horn. And there were not found in comparison with the daughters of Job, fairer than they in all the world: and their father gave them an inheritance among their brethren. 16 And Job lived after affliction a hundred and seventy years: and all the years he lived were two hundred and forty: and Job saw his sons and his sons’ sons, the fourth generation. And Job died, an old man and full of days: and it is written that he will rise again with those whom the Lord raises up. This man is described in the Syriac book living in the land of Ausis, on the borders of Idumea and Arabia: and his name before was Jobab; and having taken an Arabian wife, he begot a son whose name was Ennon. And he himself was the son of his father Zare, one of the sons of Esau, and of his mother Bosorrha, so that he was the fifth from Abraam. And these were the kings who reigned in Edom, which country he also ruled over: first, Balac, the son of Beor, and the name of his city was Dennaba: but after Balac, Jobab, who is called Job, and after him Asom, who was governor out of the country of Thaeman: and after him Adad, the son of Barad, who destroyed Madiam in the plain of Moab; and the name of his city was Gethaim. And friends who came to him were Eliphaz, of the children of Esau, king of the Thaemanites, Baldad sovereign the Sauchaeans, Sophar king of the Minaeans.

Third Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 52:13-54:1.

Behold, my servant shall deal prudently, he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high. As many were astonished at thee; his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men: So shall he sprinkle many nations; the kings shall shut their mouths at him: for that which had not been told them shall they see; and that which they had not heard shall they consider. Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed? For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child: for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the Lord.

Prokimenon (Psalm 87):


They laid Me in the lowest pit: in dark places and in the shadow of death.

Verse: Lord God of My salvation, I have cried day and night before


Epistle: 1 Corinthians 1:18–2:2.

For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord. And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.



Verse 1: Save Me, O God : for the waters are come in, even unto My soul (Psalm 68: 2).

Verse 2: They gave ·Me gall to eat: and in My thirst they gave me vinegar to drink (ibid., 22).

Verse 3: Let their eyes be darkened, that they see not (ibid., 24).

Gospel: Matthew 27:1–38; Luke 23:39–43; Matthew 27:39–54; John 19:31-37; Matthew 27:55–61.4

When the morning was come, all the chief priests and elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death: And when they had bound him, they led him away, and delivered him to Pontius Pilate the governor. Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, Saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And they said, What is that to us? see thou to that. And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself. And the chief priests took the silver pieces, and said, It is not lawful for to put them into the treasury, because it is the price of blood. And they took counsel, and bought with them the potter”s field, to bury strangers in. Wherefore that field was called, The field of blood, unto this day. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him that was valued, whom they of the children of Israel did value; And gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord appointed me. And Jesus stood before the governor: and the governor asked him, saying, Art thou the King of the Jews? And Jesus said unto him, Thou sayest. And when he was accused of the chief priests and elders, he answered nothing. Then said Pilate unto him, Hearest thou not how many things they witness against thee? And he answered him to never a word; insomuch that the governor marvelled greatly. Now at that feast the governor was wont to release unto the people a prisoner, whom they would. And they had then a notable prisoner, called Barabbas. Therefore when they were gathered together, Pilate said unto them, Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus which is called Christ? For he knew that for envy they had delivered him. When he was set down on the judgment seat, his wife sent unto him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him. But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude that they should ask Barabbas, and destroy Jesus. The governor answered and said unto them, Whether of the twain will ye that I release unto you? They said, Barabbas. Pilate saith unto them, What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ? They all say unto him, Let him be crucified. And the governor said, Why, what evil hath he done? But they cried out the more, saying, Let him be crucified. When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it. Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children. Then released he Barabbas unto them: and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified. Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the common hall, and gathered unto him the whole band of soldiers. And they stripped him, and put on him a scarlet robe. And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand: and they bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews! And they spit upon him, and took the reed, and smote him on the head. And after that they had mocked him, they took the robe off from him, and put his own raiment on him, and led him away to crucify him. And as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name: him they compelled to bear his cross. And when they were come unto a place called Golgotha, that is to say, a place of a skull, they gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall: and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink. And they crucified him, and parted his garments, casting lots: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots. And sitting down they watched him there; And set up over his head his accusation written, THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS. Then were there two thieves crucified with him, one on the right hand, and another on the left.

And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.

And they that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads, and saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross. Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said, He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him. He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God. The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth. Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Some of them that stood there, when they heard that, said, This man calleth for Elias. And straightway one of them ran, and took a spunge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink.The rest said, Let be, let us see whether Elias will come to save him. Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many. Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God.

The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. Then came the soldiers, and brake the legs of the first, and of the other which was crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs: But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water. And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe. For these things were done, that the scripture should be fulfilled, A bone of him shall not be broken. And again another scripture saith, They shall look on him whom they pierced.

And many women were there beholding afar off, which followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto him: Among which was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s children. When the even was come, there came a rich man of Arimathaea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus” disciple: He went to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be delivered. And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed. And there was Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, sitting over against the sepulchre.

Then the Litany of Fervent Intercession.

And after that the aposticha:5


Down from the Tree Joseph of Arimathaea took Thee dead, who art the Life of all; and he wrapped Thee, O Christ, in a linen cloth with spices. Moved in his heart by love, he kissed Thy most pure body with his lips; yet, drawing back in fear, he cried to Thee rejoicing: “Glory to Thy self-abasement, O Thou who lovest mankind.

Verse: The Lord is King, and has put on glorious apparel (Psalm 92:1). When Thou, the Redeemer of all, wast laid for the sake of all in a new tomb, hell was brought to scorn and, seeing Thee, drew back in fear. The bars were broken and the gates were shattered, the tombs were opened and the dead arose. Then Adam in thanksgiving rejoicing cried to Thee: “Glory to Thy self-abasement, O Thou lovest mankind.”

Verse: He has made the world so sure, that it cannot be moved


In the flesh Thou wast of Thine own will enclosed within the tomb, yet in Thy divine nature Thou dost remain uncircumscribed and limitless. Thou hast shut up the treasury of hell, O Christ, and emptied all his palaces. Thou hast honoured this Sabbath with Thy

blessing, with Thy glory and Thy radiance.

Holiness becomes Thine house, O Lord, for ever (ibid., 5).

The powers of heaven beheld Thee, O Christ, falsely accused by lawless men as a deceiver, and they saw the stone before Thy tomb sealed by the hands which had pierced Thy most pure side; and they were filled with fear at Thine ineffable forbearance. Yet, rejoicing at our salvation, they cried aloud to Thee: “Glory to Thy self-abasement, O Thou who lovest mankind.”

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. Both now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen.


Joseph with Nicodemus took Thee down from the Tree, who deckest Thyself with light as with a garment; and looking upon Thee stripped, and without burial, in his grief and tender compassion he lamented, saying: “Woe is me, my sweetest Jesus! When little while ago the sun saw Thee hanging on the Cross, it wrapped itself in darkness: the earth quaked with fear and the veil of the temple was rent in twain. And now I see Thee for my sake submitting of Thine own will to death. How shall I bury Thee, my God? How shall I wrap Thee in a winding sheet? How shall I touch Thy most pure body with my hands? What song at Thy departure shall I sing to Thee, O compassionate Saviour? I magnify Thy sufferings; I sing the praises of Thy burial and Thy Resurrection, crying: O Lord, glory to Thee.”

Then Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace...

Holy God..., etc., and the Lord”s Prayer, and after it the apolytikia (troparia):


Noble Joseph, taking down Thy most pure body from the Tree, wrapped it in clean linen with sweet spices, and he laid it in a new tomb.

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. Both now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen.

The Angel stood by the tomb, and to the women bearing spices he cried aloud: “Myrrh is fitting for the dead, but Christ has shown Himself a stranger to corruption.”

During the aposticha the senior priest puts on all his vestments, while the other priests put on the epitrachelion and phelonion. When the choir begins to sing Joseph with Nicodemus..., the senior priest goes three times round the Holy Table, censing the Epitaphion from the four sides. After the Lord”s Prayer, when the choir begins Noble Joseph..., the senior priest takes the Book of the Gospels and the other clergy take the Epitaphion which they hold above his head. (If there is only one priest, the Epitaphion may be held by members o fthe laity.) They go round the Holy Table on the south side and out of the sanctuary through the north door. The Epitaphion is preceded by processional candles and the exapteryga, and by the deacon with the incense. The procession proceeds to the centre of the church where there stands a table decorated with flowers and often provided with a canopy. Here the Epitaphion is placed, and on top of it the Gospel Book. The senior priest goes round the Epitaphion three times, censing it from the four sides. He may then sprinkle it with rose water and scatter flowers over it. When the choir has finished the troparion The Angel stood by the tomb..., there follows the conclusion of Vespers. At the Dismissal the priest says: May He who for us men and for our salvation endured in the flesh the dread Passion, the life-giving Cross and voluntary burial, Christ our true God...

The Epitaphion is then venerated by the clergy and by all the faithful, each making three great prostrations to the ground, two before kissing the Epitaphion and one after.

These liturgical texts are used with permission from The Lenten Triodion, translated from the original Greek by Mother Mary and Archimandrite (now Metropolitan) Kallistos Ware, St. Tikhon”s Seminary Press, 1999. The Lenten Triodion can be purchased from STS Press.


1 In modern practice, often at three o”clock or earlier.

2 Note that the Septuagint here contains three further verses, not found in the Hebrew.

3 In the Slav books, Tone One.

4 In the contemporary Greek use, during the concluding verses of the Gospel reading (i.e. Matthew 17:58–60), one of the priests comes out from the northern door of the sanctuary and approaches the Cross that stands in the middle of the church; then, taking down from the crucifix the figure of Christ, he wraps it in a white cloth, carries it into the sanctuary, and lays it on the Holy Table. But if there is only a single priest, officiating alone without a deacon, he does this after the end of the Gospel.

5 In the Greek use, the procession of the Epitaphion takes place during the singing of the aposticha; but in the Slav use, during the troparion Noble Joseph

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