Holy and Great Friday

And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy Kingdom (Lk. 23:42)

When we came to the praetorium, a service was already being held in a small church. It was difficult to get to the Liturgy, but we managed to go down to the cave where the Lord once sat on bare stones, fettered and emaciated, although the place was crowded. Here, in the chapel of the Prison of Christ, there is a recess in the rock, which is considered to be the very place where Christ was imprisoned. In order for everybody to venerate it, a narrow "passage" was formed, along which people could squeeze into the basement and then squeeze out somewhere else.

The Chapel of the Prison of Christ. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Jerusalem The Chapel of the Prison of Christ. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Jerusalem     

The praetorium was the judgment seat, and it was there, according to the Gospel, that Jesus Christ was tried. Here He was held in dungeon together with Barabbas and other criminals. 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 (Mt. 27:21-23). The people, who shouted "Hosanna!" yesterday, and were shouting today, "Let Him be crucified!", were faced with an alternative: either the Lord, Who performed works of mercy, Healed the sick and raised some from the dead, or Barabbas, who performed works of iniquity, killing and destroying. Love or hate, truth or falsehood, good or evil, life or death. The choice was made in favor of evil, hatred, lies and death. They chose Barabbas.

But can we judge them? How do we, who live today, differ from the Jews who crowded together on that fateful day on the square in front of Pontius Pilate? What choices do we make today?

Millions of murderers (I am not afraid to make a mistake in giving this terrifying figure) serenely walk this earth, which is groaning from our iniquities. "Pious" mothers and wives who sacrificed their unborn babies, mercilessly making them martyrs, continue to live quietly without seeing their guilt, while raising their born children who are already being killed spiritually... Isn't a voluntary choice taking place today again and again? “Barabas” means evil, hatred, lies (first of all, self-deception), and finally death…

And do we, the "Christians" who crossed the threshold of the church and repented, continue the work of Christ? Don't we sometimes “kill” each other by our pride, anger, irritation, humiliations, toxic and stinging words daily and hourly? Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer (1 Jn. 3:15), St. John the Evangelist appeals to our conscience. How far we are from being Thy true disciples, O Lord! "Woe to us if the name of Christ is blasphemed through our lack of love for others," Archimandrite John (Krestiankin) used to say. While we mourn the Passion of Christ during Holy Week, in practice we are followers of Barabbas!... Lord, have mercy on us, sinners.

It was towards the end of the Liturgy. Pushing and shoving each other aside, everyone rushed to the exit. As they were crushing each other, someone's voice was heard: “The gates to the Kingdom of Heaven are narrow (cf. Mt. 7:14)!” But will we really enter Paradise this way? If only we were as zealous in doing good works, fulfilling God's commandments, striving for humility and love... My heart was heavy, but this time not over the Passion and death of the Lord, but over our general boundless guilt before Him. Shame for our lives, apostasy and betrayal. Your heart is being torn into small pieces, your soul is soaring up like a wistful string, aching from an almost physical pain and shame before infinite Love, Whose gaze penetrates to the very bottom of the seemingly bottomless abyss of your soul. Weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children (Lk. 23:28).

From here, with mournful singing in different languages, with crucifixes of all sizes from small to large, our procession headed by the crucifixion, which was to be carried by the Patriarch, representing the Lord Himself, set off along the Way of the Cross—the route believed to have been walked by Christ to His Crucifixion. A “river” of people moved along Via Dolorosa, with a “forest” of wooden crosses swaying over it. Bishops, clergy, and monastics marched in black vestments. They walked, stopping at the places where, according to tradition, the Lord stopped, drenched in blood and sweat, falling and rising again, under the weight of His Cross. These places are called the Stations. Soon we came to the square in front of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. After praying, the clergy ascended to Golgotha. The procession reached its destination.

Holy Friday Cross Procession in Jerusalem Holy Friday Cross Procession in Jerusalem     

But for a long time on that day--Holy and Great Friday--people continued to come to the site where Christ was crucified. Like banners, they carried their crosses, lovingly decorated with flowers, ribbons, and greenery. And, taking them up to Golgotha, they sanctified them by touching them against the great shrine in order to take them all over the world after that.

By the will of God, I was surrounded by Serbs, strong and courageous people. The Serbian nation suffered greatly from Albanian attacks. Prayer and the true faith of Christians are born in tribulation. "We have turned away from God," the young Yugoslav answered simply and clearly on TV news when asked by a journalist about the cause of the disasters that had befallen his country. You had to be close to these people in order to feel their pain for the defilement of their homeland, the destruction of their churches and the humiliation of their nation. "Before Thy Cross, we bow down in worship, O Master!" they sang together with me in Russian. Switching to their Serbian hymns no more than twice throughout the journey, they returned again and again to our Russian prayers and the troparion, "O Lord, save Thy people..." It’s a pity that none of them needed my help to carry the cross, but at least I managed to venerate their crucifixion with my hand, touching it before it was taken to faraway Serbia for veneration by the people for whom it had not only been carried along the great path of the Savior's Passion, but also taken up to Golgotha and touched against the great holy site where our Lord was crucified!

Come down from the Cross (Mt. 27:40), the Jews shouted to Christ. "Come down from the Cross," satan whispers to us. May God help you, our Serbian brothers, bear your cross to the end so that you too may finally ascend to your Golgotha.


Holy and Great Friday was nearing its end. Friday is the day when Christ was betrayed. The day when the human judgment was passed on Him and He was condemned. The day when He was tortured and tormented. The day when, exhausted under the weight of the Cross, He walked His last path. The day He was nailed to and lifted up on the Cross and subjected to the most shameful punishment worthy of the robbers and murderers crucified next to Him.

"Remember us, O Lord, in Thy Kingdom!" my soul cried out, while I was kneeling before the site of His Crucifixion.

It is finished (Jn. 19:30)! His pure Blood has been shed, washing away the guilt of our Ancestor Adam, who was reputedly reburied under the same Golgotha. The sacrifice of the Son of God for all mankind has been accomplished. The lifting of all the sins of the world by the Savior has been accomplished. His mission on this sinful earth has been fulfilled. It is finished!

We returned to the hotel in silence.

Irina Dmitrieva
Translation by Dmitry Lapa

Sretensky Monastery


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