HOLY WEEK CEREMONIES, SPECIAL DAYS AND HOW IT WAS OBSERVED IN THE 4TH CENTURY

HOLY WEEK

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Procession in Seville
Holy Week, the week before Easter in Late March or April, is celebrated by Christians with a series of events that usually start slowly on Palm Sunday (the day Christ triumphantly entered Jerusalem), builds up to the solemn and gloomy processions on Good Friday (the day Jesus was crucified) and climaxes with joyous feasting and festivities Saturday at midnight and Easter Sunday (when Christ was resurrected from the grave).

During the week, in some places, passion plays (dramas that depict the suffering of Christ), re-enactment of Christ's Trial and his journey to Cavalry (where Christ was crucified) are performed. Often entire towns participate in elaborate Holy Week ceremonies that include elaborate processions and dramas.

Passion Week originally meant the week before Easter. Now it often refers to the week two weeks before Easter and begins with Passion Sunday, which is one Sunday before Palm Sunday and two Sundays before Easter.

According to the BBC: “Palm Sunday celebrates Jesus's triumphant entry into Jerusalem, so when the crosses used in the Palm Sunday service are converted to ashes, the worshippers are reminded that defeat and crucifixion swiftly followed triumph. But using the ashes to mark the cross on the believer's forehead symbolises that through Christ's death and resurrection, all Christians can be free from sin."

Websites and Resources: Christianity Britannica on Christianity britannica.com//Christianity ; History of Christianity history-world.org/jesus_christ ; BBC on Christianity bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity ;Wikipedia article on Christianity Wikipedia ; Religious Tolerance religioustolerance.org/christ.htm ; Christian Answers christiananswers.net ; Christian Classics Ethereal Library www.ccel.org ; Bible: Bible Gateway and the New International Version (NIV) of The Bible biblegateway.com ; King James Version of the Bible gutenberg.org/ebooks

Holy Week Celebrations

During Holy Week in Spain, confraternities with 60 or so men wear klu-clux-clan-like hoods and carry whips and chians a wooden statues of a crucified Christ placed in a glass coffin. Seville hosts one of the most famous of all the Semana Santa (Holy Week) festival. More than 50 religious brotherhoods sponsor floats dedicated to Christ or the Virgin Mary. Here many of the penitents are barefoot and the flower-decked floats they carry can weigh as much as eight tons. During the processions the penitents march to rhythm of a lonely drum. During nighttime procession when candles are the only source of light the hooded figures seem particularly ghostly.

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Procession in Xochi
Holy Week in Ayacucho, Peru features street murals, processions, candlelit prayers and a Palm Sunday procession with brightly-painted religious statues strapped onto donkeys and crowds of people all waving their palm fronds in unison in incense-filled air. The Wednesday procession features an anguished Jesus statue carried through the streets on a bier covered with candles, ears of corn, potato leaves, and quinoa grain. On Thursday elaborate paintings made from colored sawdust are laid out in the streets.

“The colorful Holy Week ceremonies rival those of Seville," wrote one National Geographic writer, “I watched Indians make the “andas”, or litter, on which they would carry the figure of Christ during the Easter procession. Men lashed their long poles into a sturdy framework and tied to it hundreds of intricate candles in the form of flowers and ears of corn...Bonfires of “retema”, the shrub we know as Scotch broom, lit the square. Church bells toled wildly; a brass band shrilled; whirling pinwheels screamed. The sharp smell of smoke hung on the chill morning air.”

In Antigua, Guatemala Holy week is celebrated with processions with hooded figures in purple robes, chained penitents carrying crosses and swinging incense burners. Set up in the middle of the street where the procession takes places are designs, figures and pictures made of colored sawdust. The most important processions take place on Palm Sunday and Good Friday. There are also processions on the Sundays preceding Holy Week.

Easter- Holy Week Season

According to the BBC: “Easter celebrates Jesus Christ's resurrection from the dead, three days after he was crucified. Easter Sunday is the culmination of Holy Week. According to the BBC: “Easter is the most important Christian festival, and the one celebrated with the greatest joy. The date of Easter changes each year, and several other Christian festivals fix their dates by reference to Easter. Churches are filled with flowers, and there are special hymns and songs. But not all Easter customs are Christian; some, such as the Easter Bunny, are pagan in origin. [Source: July 5, 2011 BBC |::|] “The Easter story is at the heart of Christianity On Good Friday, Jesus Christ was executed by crucifixion. His body was taken down from the cross, and buried in a cave. The tomb was guarded and an enormous stone was put over the entrance, so that no-one could steal the body. On the following Sunday, some women visited the grave and found that the stone had been moved, and that the tomb was empty. Jesus himself was seen that day, and for days afterwards by many people. His followers realised that God had raised Jesus from the dead. |::|

"Holy Week is the week leading up to Easter, beginning on Palm Sunday, including Maundy Thursday and ending on Holy Saturday. It is the most solemn week of the Christian year. Christians remember the last week of Jesus's life. Pilgrims in Jerusalem enact the Way of Suffering of Jesus at this time." [Source: October 7, 2011 BBC |::|]


Lent, Holy Week calendar


Saturday Before Palm Sunday — Station at Bethany in the 4th Century

Egeria, Etheroiua or Aetheria was a woman, widely regarded as the author of Peregrinatio (pilgrimage) – a detailed account of a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in the A.D. 380s — from which this description is from. Scholars believe she is either from Spain or Gaul (France). [Source: “Egeria's Description of the Liturgical Year in Jerusalem” based on the translation reproduced in Louis Duchesme's Christian Worship (London, 1923), published online by Michael Fraser, Department of Theology, University of Durham. June 1994, users.ox.ac.uk ]

Egeria wrote in the A.D. 380s: “2. Now when the seventh week has come, that is, when two weeks, including the seventh, are left before Easter, everything is done on each day as in the weeks that ,are past, except that the vigils of the sixth weekday, which were kept in the Anastasis during the first six weeks, are, in the seventh week, kept in Sion, and with the same customs that obtained during the six weeks in the Anastasis. For throughout the whole vigil psalms and antiphons are said appropriate both to the place and to the day.

“3. And when the morning of the Sabbath begins to dawn, the bishop offers the oblation. And at the dismissal the archdeacon lifts his voice and says: " Let us all be ready to-day at the seventh hour in the Lazarium." And so, as the seventh hour approaches, all go to the Lazarium, that is, Bethany, situated at about the second milestone from the city.

“4. And as they go from Jerusalem to the Lazarium, there is, about five hundred paces from the latter place, a church in the street on that spot where Mary the sister of Lazarus met with the Lord. Here, when the bishop arrives, all the monks meet him, and the people enter the church, and one hymn and one antiphon are said, and that passage is read in the Gospel where the sister of Lazarus meets the Lord. Then, after prayer has been made, and when all have been blessed, they go thence with hymns to the Lazarium.

“5. And on arriving at the Lazarium, so great a multitude assembles that not only the place itself, but also the fields around, are full of people. Hymns and antiphons suitable to the day and to the place are said, and likewise all the lessons are read. Then, before the dismissal, notice is given of Easter, that is, the priest ascends to a higher place and reads the passage that is written in the Gospel: When Jesus six days before the Passover had come to Bethany, and the rest. So, that passage having been read and notice given of Easter, the dismissal is made.

“6. This is done on that day because, as it is written in the Gospel, these events took place in Bethany six days before the Passover; there being six days from the Sabbath to the fifth weekday on which, after supper, the Lord was taken by night. Then all return to the city direct to the Anastasis, and lucernare takes place according to custom.

Palm Sunday


Palm Sunday in South Sudan

Palm Sunday is the Sunday before Easter and the last Sunday of Lent. It marks the beginning of Holy Week. Palm Sunday is when Jesus and his followers entered Jerusalem, before his arrest and crucifixion. According to the Gospels, followers threw palm branches in his path. To mark this occasion, Christian worshipers have traditionally sang, prayers and waved palm fronds and olive branches. In many places believers congregate somewhere and have their palms or branches blessed and then off in a procession towards the church for mass, during which one of the Gospel accounts of the Passion is read. The faithful take home the branches and use them to decorate crucifixes in their homes.

“Palm Sunday commemorates Christ's triumphant arrival in Jerusalem to the cheers of the crowd.
The next day the great crowd that had come for the Feast heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem,
They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,
"Hosanna!"
"Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"
"Blessed is the King of Israel!" — John 12:12-13 |::|
Later in that week many of the people in that cheering crowd would be among those shouting that Jesus should be executed.

According to the BBC: “In many churches, during Palm Sunday services, large palm branches are carried in processions. In Anglican and Roman Catholic churches, members of the congregation hold small crosses made of palm leaf, both to remember the palm leaves which the people of Jerusalem waved when Jesus arrived, and to remember the cross on which he died. Some Christians display the crosses from that service in their homes during the year as a symbol of their faith. The crosses are burned at the start of Lent the next year to provide the ash for Ash Wednesday. [Source: October 7, 2011 BBC |::|]

“Christian clergy will often use the Palm Sunday story to help people think about the strength of their own commitment to their faith. They may ask believers to think about times that they have been unfaithful to Christ, or been hypocritical in proclaiming their support Hymns for Palm Sunday generally include Ride on, Ride on in Majesty and All glory, laud and honour. Songs may include Make Way, Hosanna, and (for children) We have a King who Rides a Donkey. |::|

Palm Sunday in the 4th Century


Jesus entering Jersualem

Egeria wrote in the A.D. 380s: “XXX On the next day, that is, the Lord's Day, which begins the Paschal week, and which they call here the Great Week, when all the customary services from cockcrow until morning have taken place in the Anastasis and at the Cross, they proceed on the morning of the Lord's Day according to custom to the greater church, which is called the martyrium. It is called the martyrium because it is in Golgotha behind the Cross, where the Lord suffered. [Source: “Egeria's Description of the Liturgical Year in Jerusalem” based on the translation reproduced in Louis Duchesme's Christian Worship (London, 1923), published online by Michael Fraser, Department of Theology, University of Durham. June 1994, users.ox.ac.uk ]

“2. When all that is customary has been observed in the great church, and before the dismissal is made, the archdeacon lifts his voice and says first: " Throughout the whole week, beginning from to-morrow, let us all assemble in the martyrium, that is, in the great church, at the ninth hour." Then he lifts his voice again, saying: " Let us all be ready to-day in Eleona at the seventh hour."

“3. So when the dismissal has been made in the great church! that is, the martyrium, the bishop is escorted with hymns to the Anastasis, and after all things that are customary on the Lord's Day have been done there, after the dismissal from the martyrium, every one hastens home to eat, that all may be ready at the beginning of the seventh hour in the church in Eleona, on the Mount of Olives, where is the cave in which the Lord was wont to teach.

Procession with Palms on the Mount of Olives in the 4th Century

Egeria wrote in the A.D. 380s: “XXXI Accordingly at the seventh hour all the people go up to the Mount of Olives, that is, to Eleona, and the bishop with them, to the church, where hymns and antiphons suitable to the day and to the place are said, and lessons in like manner. And when the ninth hour approaches they go up with hymns to the Imbomon, that is, to the place whence the Lord ascended into heaven, and there they sit down, for all the people are always bidden to sit when the bishop is present; the deacons alone always stand. Hymns and antiphons suitable to the day and to the place are said, interspersed with lections and prayers. [Source: “Egeria's Description of the Liturgical Year in Jerusalem” based on the translation reproduced in Louis Duchesme's Christian Worship (London, 1923), published online by Michael Fraser, Department of Theology, University of Durham. June 1994, users.ox.ac.uk ]


Palm procession in Leon, Spain

“2. And as the eleventh hour approaches, the passage from the Gospel is read, where the children, carrying branches and palms, met the Lord, saying; Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord, and the bishop immediately rises, and all the people with him, and they all go on foot from the top of the Mount of Olives, all the people going before him with hymns and antiphons, answering one to another: Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord.

“3. And all the children in the neighbourhood, even those who are too young to walk, are carried by their parents on their shoulders, all of them bearing branches, some of palms and some of olives, and thus the bishop is escorted in the same manner as the Lord was of old.

“4. For all, even those of rank, both matrons and men, accompany the bishop all the way on foot in this manner, making these responses, from the top of the mount to the city, and thence through the whole city to the Anastasis, going very slowly lest the people should be wearied; and thus they arrive at the Anastasis at a late hour. And on arriving, although it is late, lucernare takes place, with prayer at the Cross; after which the people are dismissed.

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of Holy Week in the 4th Century

Egeria wrote in the A.D. 380s: “XXXII On the next day, the second weekday, everything that is customary is done from the first cockcrow until morning in the Anastasis; also at the third and sixth hours everything is done that is customary throughout the whole of Quadragesima. but at the ninth hour all assemble in the great church, that is the martyrium, where hymns and antiphons are said continuously until the first hour of the night and lessons suitable to the day and the place are read, interspersed always with prayers. “2. Lucernare takes place when its hour approaches, that is, so that it is already night when the dismissal at the martyrium is made. When the dismissal has been made, the bishop is escorted thence with hymns to the Anastasis, where, when he has entered, one hymn is said, followed by a prayer; the catechumens and then the faithful are blessed, and the dismissal is made. [Source: “Egeria's Description of the Liturgical Year in Jerusalem” based on the translation reproduced in Louis Duchesme's Christian Worship (London, 1923), published online by Michael Fraser, Department of Theology, University of Durham. June 1994, users.ox.ac.uk ]

“XXXIII On the third weekday everything is done as on the second, with this one thing added--that late at night, after the dismissal of the martyrium, and after the going to the Anastasis and after the dismissal there, all proceed at that hour by night to the church, which is on the mount Eleona. 2. And when they have arrived at that church, the bishop enters the cave where the Lord was wont to teach His disciples, and after receiving the book of the Gospel, he stands and himself reads the words of the Lord which are written in the Gospel according to Matthew, where He says: Take heed that no man deceiveyou. And the bishop reads through the whole of that discourse, and when he has read it, prayer is made, the catechumens and the faithful are blessed, the dismissal is made, and every one returns from the mount to his house, it being already very late at night.

“XXXIV On the fourth weekday everything is done as on the second and third weekdays throughout the whole day from the first cockcrow onwards, but after the dismissal has taken place at the Martyrium by night, and the bishop has been escorted with hymns to the Anastasis, he at once enters the cave which is in the Anastasis, and stands within the rails; but the priest stands before the rails and receives the Gospel, and reads the passage where Judas Iscariot went to the Jews and stated what they should give him that he should betray the Lord. And when the passage has been read, there is such a moaning and groaning of all the people that no one can help being moved to tears at that hour. Afterwards prayer follows, then the blessing, first of the catechumens, and then of the faithful, and the dismissal is made.


The Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci


Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday, the Thursday before Easter, marks the day of the Last Supper with an evening mass. It is often a solemn occasion, sometimes with red foods which symbolize the blood of Christ. Streets are supposed to be quiet and deserted. In some places the Jack of Spades is posted to warn people that merriness is out of order. According to the BBC: Christians remember it as the day “when Jesus washed the feet of his disciples and established the ceremony known as the Eucharist. The night of Maundy Thursday is the night on which Jesus was betrayed by Judas in the Garden of Gethsemane. Maundy comes from the Latin word mandatum, meaning commandment, in Jesus's phrase A new commandment I give to you. [Source: BBC |::|]

According to the BBC: “The word maundy comes from the command (mandate) given by Christ at the Last Supper, that we should love one another. In Roman Catholic churches the anthem Mandatum novum do vobis (a new commandment I give to you) would be sung on Maundy Thursday. In many other countries this day is known as Holy Thursday. In Roman Catholic churches, Maundy Thursday is usually the day on which the supply of anointing oil to be used in ceremonies during the year is consecrated.This is done at a special Chrism Mass. [Source: October 7, 2011 BBC |::|]

“Pedilavium: the washing of the feet: Roman Catholic church services feature a ceremony in which the priest washes the feet of 12 people to commemorate Jesus' washing the feet of his disciples. It was common in monasteries throughout history for the Abbot to wash the feet of the monks in a similar gesture. Some other churches nowadays also have foot-washing ceremonies as part of their Maundy Thursday services. |::|

Maundy Thursday in the 4th Century: Mass Celebrated Twice

Egeria wrote in the A.D. 380s: “XXXV On the fifth weekday everything that is customary is done from the first cockcrow until morning at the Anastasis, and also at the third and at the sixth hours. But at the eighth hour all the people gather together at the martyrium according to custom, only earlier than on other days, because the dismissal must be made sooner. Then, when the people are gathered together, all that should be done is done, and the oblation is made on that day at the martyrium, the dismissal taking place about the tenth hour. But before the dismissal is made there, the archdeacon raises his voice and says: "Let us all assemble at the first hour of the night in the church which is in Eleona, for great toil awaits us to-day, in this very night." [Source: “Egeria's Description of the Liturgical Year in Jerusalem” based on the translation reproduced in Louis Duchesme's Christian Worship (London, 1923), published online by Michael Fraser, Department of Theology, University of Durham. June 1994, users.ox.ac.uk ]

“2. Then, after the dismissal at the martyrium, they arrive behind the Cross, where only one hymn is said and prayer is made, and the bishop offers the oblation there, and all communicate. Nor is the oblation ever offered behind the Cross on any day throughout the year, except on this one day. And after the dismissal there they go to the Anastasis, where prayer is made, the catechumens and the faithful are blessed according to custom, and the dismissal is made.

Night Station on the Mount of Olives in the 4th Century


Maudy Thursday ceremony

Egeria wrote in the A.D. 380s: “And so every one hastens back to his house to eat, because immediately after they have eaten, all go to Eleona to the church wherein is the cave where the Lord was with His Apostles on this very day. [Source: “Egeria's Description of the Liturgical Year in Jerusalem” based on the translation reproduced in Louis Duchesme's Christian Worship (London, 1923), published online by Michael Fraser, Department of Theology, University of Durham. June 1994, users.ox.ac.uk ]

“3. There then, until about the fifth hour of the night, hymns and antiphons suitable to the day and to the place are said, lessons, too, are read in like manner, with prayers interspersed, and the passages from the Gospel are read where the Lord addressed His disciples on that same day as He sat in the same cave which is in that church.

“4. And they go thence at about the sixth hour of the night with hymns up to the Imbomon, the place whence the Lord ascended into heaven, where again lessons are read, hymns and antiphons suitable to the day are said, and all the prayers which are made by the bishop are also suitable both to the day and to the place.

Stations at Gethsemane in the 4th Century

Egeria wrote in the A.D. 380s: “XXXVI And at the first cockcrow they come down from the Imbomon with hymns, and arrive at the place where the Lord prayed, as it is written in the Gospel: and He was withdrawn (from them) about a stone's cast, and prayed, and the rest. There is in that place a graceful church The bishop and all the people enter, a prayer suitable to the place and to the day is said, with one suitable hymn, and the passage from the Gospel is read where He said to His disciples: Watch, that ye enter not into temptation; the whole passage is read through and prayer is made. [Source: “Egeria's Description of the Liturgical Year in Jerusalem” based on the translation reproduced in Louis Duchesme's Christian Worship (London, 1923), published online by Michael Fraser, Department of Theology, University of Durham. June 1994, users.ox.ac.uk ]

“2. And then all, even to the smallest child, go down with the Bishop, on foot, with hymns to Gethsemane; where, on account of the great number of people in the crowd, who are wearied owing to the vigils and weak through the daily fasts, and because they have so great a hill to descend, they come very slowly with hymns to Gethsemane. And over two hundred church candles are made ready to give light to all the people.

“3. On their arrival at Gethsemane, first a suitable prayer is made, then a hymn is said, then the passage of the Gospel is read where the Lord was taken. And when this passage has been read there is so great a moaning and groaning of all the people, together with weeping, that their lamentation may be heard perhaps as far as the city.

“From that hour they go with hymns to the city on foot, reaching the gate about the time when one man begins to be able to recognise another, and thence right on through the midst of the city; all, to a man, both great and small, rich and poor, all are ready there, for on that special day not a soul withdraws from the vigils until morning. Thus the bishop is escorted from Gethsemane to the gate, and thence through the whole of the city to the Cross.”

Good Friday

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Good Friday night in Pyrgos, Greece
Good Friday, the Friday before Easter, marks the day Jesus was crucified. It often begin as a solemn affair with funerary-style processions paying homage to the death of Jesus. In Italy a number of cities towns hold Good Friday events. Nemoli in Potenza stages the "Way of the Cross" passion play by torchlight. In Assisi in Perugia the "Agony of the Garden" is recalled in the church of Santa Maria Maggiore and a torchlight procession of the Dead Christ traverses the town from cathedral of San Rufino to the Basilica of San Francisco and back. Bevagna in Perugia is the site of the "Procession of the Dead Christ" which dates back to the 16th and 17th centuries and is organized by the confraternity of the Miseirordia. It ends with a brief evocation of the passion acted on the steps a theater.

According to the BBC: “Good Friday is a day of mourning in church. During special Good Friday services Christians meditate on Jesus' suffering and death on the cross, and what this means for their faith. In some countries, there are special Good Friday processions, or re-enactments of the Crucifixion. The main service on Good Friday takes place between midday and 3pm. In many churches it takes the form of a meditation based on the seven last words of Jesus on the cross, with hymns, prayers, and short sermons.

In Calitri in Avellino Good Friday begins at dawn with a procession lead by members of a religious confraternity who wear white hoods surmounted by crowns of thorns and carry crosses on their shoulders, accompanied by choirs singing palms and folk songs. Cheiti commemorates Good Friday with one of Italy's oldest and most evocative processions that features followers in black tunics and grey cloaks, the traditional garments of penitents. Civitavecchia near Rome hosts a procession where penitents in white robes drag chains fixed to their ankles.

Gubbio in Perguria holds a procession that dates back to the 13th century that is accompanied by melancholy penitential chants handed down by oral tradition and sung alternately by two choirs. Lapio honors Good Friday with groups of life-size papier-mâché statues that depict episodes of Christ's Passion and Crucifixion .Mirabella Eclano depicts episodes of the passion with very old and unusual statues of wood and papier mâché. Vercelli has a Good Friday procession of large wooden statue groups representing the Passion of Christ. This event is considered one of the most authentic expressions of religious devotion.

Good Friday is observed throughout Greece with the procession of the "Epitaph" where devoted followers carry lighted candles and chant laments.The Epitaph, a golden embroidered pall symbolizing the body of Christ, is prepared by being literally smothered with flowers and perfume. The faithful kiss the pall and pass underneath it to be touched by grace. At night a solemn procession led by a priest dressed in black begins and ends at a cemetery. Marching along to slow beats of drums the procession stops at squares and crossroads where short prayers are said. Pictures of loved ones who have died that year are sometimes placed inside wreaths that in turn are sometimes placed on the pall.

See Via Dolorosa

Good Friday: Service at Daybreak in the 4th Century


Egeria wrote in the A.D. 380s: “4.. And when they arrive before the Cross the daylight is already growing bright. There the passage from the Gospel is read where the Lord is brought before Pilate, with everything that is written concerning that which Pilate spake to the Lord or to the Jews; the whole is read. [Source: “Egeria's Description of the Liturgical Year in Jerusalem” based on the translation reproduced in Louis Duchesme's Christian Worship (London, 1923), published online by Michael Fraser, Department of Theology, University of Durham. June 1994, users.ox.ac.uk ]

“5. And afterwards the bishop addresses the people, comforting them for that they have toiled all night and are about to toil during that same day, (bidding) them not be weary, but to have hope in God, Who will for that toil give them a greater reward. And encouraging them as he is able, he addresses them thus: " Go now, each one of you, to your houses, and sit down awhile, and all of you be ready here just before the second hour of the day, that from that hour to the sixth you may be able to behold the holy wood of the Cross, each one of us believing that it will be profitable to his salvation; then from the sixth hour we must all assemble again in this place, that is, before the Cross, that we may apply ourselves to lections and to prayers until night."

“Column of the Flagellation XXXVII After this, when the dismissal at the Cross has been made, that is, before the sun rises, they all go at once with fervour to Sion, to pray at the column at which the Lord was scourged. And returning thence they sit for awhile in their houses, and presently all are ready.

Veneration of the Cross in the 4th Century

Egeria wrote in the A.D. 380s: “Then a chair is placed for the bishop in Golgotha behind the Cross, which is now standing; the bishop duly takes his seat in the chair, and a table covered with a linen cloth is placed before him; the deacons stand round the table, and a silver-gilt casket is brought in which is the holy wood of the Cross. The casket is opened and (the wood) is taken out, and both the wood of the Cross and the title are placed upon the table. [Source: “Egeria's Description of the Liturgical Year in Jerusalem” based on the translation reproduced in Louis Duchesme's Christian Worship (London, 1923), published online by Michael Fraser, Department of Theology, University of Durham. June 1994, users.ox.ac.uk ]


“2. Now, when it has been put upon the table, the bishop, as he sits, holds the extremities of the sacred wood firmly in his hands, while the deacons who stand around guard it. It is guarded thus because the custom is that the people, both faithful and catechumens, come one by one and, bowing down at the table, kiss the sacred wood and pass through. And because, I know not when, some one is said to have bitten off and stolen a portion of the sacred wood, it is thus guarded by the deacons who stand around, lest any one approaching should venture to do so again.

“3. And as all the people pass by one by one, all bowing themselves, they touch the Cross and the title, first with their foreheads and then with their eyes; then they kiss the Cross and pass through, but none lays his hand upon it to touch it. When they have kissed the Cross and have passed through, a deacon stands holding the ring of Solomon and the horn from which the kings were anointed; they kiss the horn also and gaze at the ring . . . all the people are passing through up to the sixth hour, entering by one door and going out by another; for this is done in the same place where, on the preceding day, that is, on the fifth weekday, the oblation was offered.

Station before the Cross. The Three Hours in the 4th Century

Egeria wrote in the A.D. 380s: “4. And when the sixth hour has come, they go before the Cross, whether it be in rain or in heat, the place being open to the air, as it were, a court of great size and of some beauty between the Cross and the Anastasis; here all the people assemble in such great numbers that there is no thoroughfare. [Source: “Egeria's Description of the Liturgical Year in Jerusalem” based on the translation reproduced in Louis Duchesme's Christian Worship (London, 1923), published online by Michael Fraser, Department of Theology, University of Durham. June 1994, users.ox.ac.uk ]

“5. The chair is placed for the bishop before the Cross, and from the sixth to the ninth hour nothing else is done, but the reading of lessons, which are read thus: first from the psalms wherever the Passion is spoken of, then from the Apostle, either from the epistles of the Apostles or from their Acts, wherever they have spoken of the Lord's Passion; then the passages from the Gospels, where He suffered, are read. Then the readings from the prophets where they foretold that the Lord should suffer, then from the Gospels where He mentions His Passion.

“6. Thus from the sixth to the ninth hours the lessons are so read and the hymns said, that it may be shown to all the people that whatsoever the prophets foretold of the Lord's Passion is proved from the Gospels and from the writings of the Apostles to have been fulfilled. And so through all those three hours the people are taught that nothing was done which had not been foretold, and that nothing was foretold which was not wholly fulfilled. Prayers also suitable to the day are interspersed throughout.

“7. The emotion shown and the mourning by all the people at every lesson and prayer is wonderful; for there is none, either great or small, who, on that day during those three hours, does not lament more than can be conceived, that the Lord had suffered those things for us. Afterwards, at the beginning of the ninth hour, there is read that passage from the Gospel according to John where He gave up the ghost. This read, prayer and the dismissal follow.

Evening Offices in the 4th Century

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Carrying the Cross in Stuttgart
Egeria wrote in the A.D. 380s: “8. And when the dismissal before the Cross has been made, all things are done in the greater church, at the martyrium, which are customary during this week from the ninth hour — when the assembly takes place in the martyrium — until late. And after the dismissal at the martyrium, they go to the Anastasis, where, when they arrive, the passage from the Gospel is read where Joseph begged the Body of the Lord from Pilate and laid it in a new sepulchre. And this reading ended, a prayer is said, the catechumens are blessed, and the dismissal is made. [Source: “Egeria's Description of the Liturgical Year in Jerusalem” based on the translation reproduced in Louis Duchesme's Christian Worship (London, 1923), published online by Michael Fraser, Department of Theology, University of Durham. June 1994, users.ox.ac.uk ]

“9. But on that day no announcement is made of a vigil at the Anastasis, because it is known that the people are tired; nevertheless, it is the custom to watch there. So all of the people who are willing, or rather, who are able, keep watch, and they who are unable do not watch there until the morning. Those of the clergy, however, who are strong or young keep vigil there, and hymns and antiphons are said throughout the whole night until morning; a very great crowd also keep night-long watch, some from the late hour and some from midnight, as they

Holy Saturday

Easter Saturday is day of silence, waiting and hope. For Catholics the celebration of the resurrection begins with the Easter Vigil on Saturday evening, with the blessing of the newly kindled fire and the Paschal Candle, followed by some lengthy readings and a mass.

The Orthodox Christian Holy Saturday celebration is more dramatic. In Greece it is observed with the ceremony of resurrection which begins is a dimly-lit church, symbolizing the darkness in the grave. At ten minutes before midnight a priest dressed in scarlet and gold bursts through the door with lighted candle chanting that Christ has risen. In some churches he kicks open the door, symbolizing the dispersal of demons and evil spirits. The members of the church then light their candles off the candle belonging to the priest.

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Jerusalem, Old City Pilgrims
When all the candle are lit the congregation enters the streets chanting "Christ has risen" over and over while they swing their candles to the rhythm of tolling church bells. On the streets the people give each other the "kiss of love" while chanting "He has risen indeed." In ports ship blow their whistles. In some places people give out anise-scented Easter bread and red-and-gold Easter eggs. In many towns children shoot pop guns and fireworks are set off to frighten away the devil (sometimes on the island of Symi hundreds of pounds of dynamite was detonated on a cliff above the harbor for the same purpose). Church bells ring and sometimes "Judas" figures are burnt in huge bonfires.

On the way home from church members try not to extinguish their candles. The candle are used trace a cross inside the house and to light a small candle in front of the family alter. At home a special meal is prepared which features eggs boiled in red dye. It is customary to tap eggs with another person. Whoever's egg doesn't crack will have good luck throughout the year.

Holy Saturday Service

According to the BBC: “Holy Saturday is the Saturday after Good Friday which is often, but wrongly, called Easter Saturday. The Easter vigil service is the first Easter service, and takes place on the night of Holy Saturday. The idea behind the service is for faithful Christians to wait and watch, hopeful and confident that Christ will return at midnight. The Easter, or Paschal, candle is lit during this service. The service traditionally begins outside the church, where minister and some worshippers gather around a fire - a charcoal brazier is common. Holy Saturday is followed by Easter Sunday. [Source: October 7, 2011 BBC |::|]

“The service begins with words like these: Brothers and sisters in Christ, on this most holy night, in which our Lord Jesus Christ passed over from death to life, the Church invites her members, dispersed throughout the world, to gather in vigil and prayer. For this is the Passover of the Lord, in which through word and sacrament we share in his victory over death. |After readings and prayers, the Paschal candle is lit from the fire using a taper, while a prayer like the one below is said. “May the light of Christ, rising in glory, banish all darkness from our hearts and minds.” — Traditional Easter vigil prayer |::|

“The lit candle is now a symbol of Christ, risen as the light of the world, and come into the midst of the people. After being lit outside, the candle is carried into the church, where most of the worshippers are waiting in darkness, which symbolises the darkness of Christ's tomb. After more prayers and readings, the candles held by the congregation are lit from the Paschal candle. The symbolism of the candle is made very clear by words such as: “Grant that this Easter candle make our darkness light; for Christ the morning star has risen, never again to set, and is alive and reigns for ever and ever.” The readings at the service tell of the creation of humanity, how humanity fell from grace, and was repeatedly rescued by God. The readings remind people of God's promise to be with them always. |::|

“The Paschal candle is made of pure white wax and is marked with a cross, an Alpha, and an Omega, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. The 4 numbers of the year are marked between the arms. This symbolises that Christ has been, is now and always will be with humanity. |Paschal candles are usually large, and can cost over £100. For much of the year many churches stand the paschal candle near the font used for baptisms. Here it provides a reminder that baptism is a symbolic death and rebirth with Christ; just like Christ's death and Resurrection. |::|

On Holy Saturday in Jerusalem, worshipers celebrate the Miracle of the Holy Fire at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. A flame is said to spontaneously emanate from the stone slab inside the chapel, or Edicule, marking the site of Christ's burial and Resurrection. See Church of the Holy Sepulcher

Easter Ceremony of Fire at the Holy Sepulcher


Easter Saturday at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Easter Ceremony of Fire at the Holy Sepulcher is the church’s biggest ceremony and the most sacred ritual for Orthodox Christians. Inside the church the floor space within the rotunda is dived up among the Greeks, Armenians and Syrian Orthodox Christians. For along time the Copts had to hang from scaffolding used to shore up the walls after a 1927 earthquake. The Catholics schedule their ceremony at a different time.

The celebration begins on Friday evening when pilgrims from all over the world amass around the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. By noon Saturday police are called in to control the crowd. By Saturday evening about 30,000 or 40,000 people line up outside the church and police have cordoned off the area and subdue pilgrims who scramble to get inside

Only about 15,000 screaming and shouting pilgrims are let inside. They are squeezed into the church so tightly there is little breathing room. Many of them hold burning candles. Police form a circle around Christ's tomb. One journalist saw a man who suffered a heart attack get passed above the crowd like a slam dancer at a punk rock concert.☺

A procession of Armenian, Coptic and Syrian Police thread around the tomb while Copts clap their hands rhythmically. "Just when it seemed impossible for the place to hold any more people," Alan Mairson wrote in National Geographic, “the Syrians came in a great wave, chanting and banging drums in a loud, primal rhythm. Throwing their fists into the air, they led their countrymen in a boisterous celebration of the Virgin Mary and the immanent arrival of the holy fire, a symbolic representation of the light of Christ."


Holy Fire at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

The climax of the event is when the Greek Patriarch shows up, in a jewel-encrusted, football-shaped crown, and lights a torch that is used to light the candles of the worshipers in the church. He too walks around the tomb while banners of sacred scenes are waved about and the Copts reach out to touch them. Just before one o'clock a hush descends on the church. The Greek patriarch climbs into the tomb of Christ. Suddenly a flame appears, and with it comes pandemonium. Every one has a candle and they are reaching to have it lit as a priest weaves with a candle through the crowd.

"Men carrying lit candles raced from the tomb to each corner of the church," Mairson wrote. "lighting candles thrust forward by the faithful, who in turn passed the light to their neighbor. Within minutes gloom gave away to a golden glow, as a thousand candles flickered in the dark...It was beautiful, but the scene reminded me of a cross between a soccer match and a barroom brawl. As the church becomes a blaze of candles people shout in Greek "Christ is risen" and other answer back "He is truly risen."☺

Image Sources: Wikimedia, Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Christian Origins sourcebooks.fordham.edu “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); King James Version of the Bible, gutenberg.org; New International Version (NIV) of The Bible, biblegateway.com; “Egeria's Description of the Liturgical Year in Jerusalem” users.ox.ac.uk ; Complete Works of Josephus at Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL), translated by William Whiston, ccel.org , Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org, Frontline, PBS, “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018


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