A daily study of the Network’s diverse faiths

Great and Holy Friday. On Great and Holy Friday, the Orthodox Church commemorates the death of Christ on the Cross, the culmination of the observance of the Passion of our Lord when he died for our sins. The sufferings of Christ included mockery, a crown of thorns, scourging, the nails, the thirst, the vinegar and gall, the cry of desolation and all else that the Saviour endured on the Cross. This commemoration begins on Holy Thursday evening with the Matins of Holy Friday and on the Friday morning the services of the Royal Hours are observed, the Vespers of Friday afternoon being a continuation, concluding with the observation of the unnailing of Christ from the Cross and the placement of His body in the tomb. Orthodox churches display the Axra Tapeinosis (Extreme Humility) icon depicting the crucified dead body of Christ upright in the Tomb, combining the 2 awesome events of Great Friday, the crucifixion and burial of Christ. This is a strict fast day, on which the faithful who are physically able should eat nothing and some even fast from water, at least until after the evening Vespers service. The day of Christ’s death is a day of sin, the sin that polluted God’s creation from the beginning of time reaching its frightful climax on the hill of Golgotha. There, sin and evil, destruction and death came into their own when ungodly men had Him nailed to the Cross in order to destroy Him. However, His death condemned irrevocably the fallen world by revealing its true and abnormal nature. In Christ, who is the New Adam, there is no sin, no death. He accepted death because He assumed the whole tragedy of our life. His death is the final and ultimate revelation of His perfect obedience and love. At the Ninth Hour, He suffered for us the excruciating pain of absolute solitude and alienation: “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” and then the agonising cry: “It is finished”. From Christian antiquity, the Church has observed an annual commemoration of the decisive and crucial 3 days of sacred history, Great Friday, Great Saturday and Pascha (Easter). Great Friday and Saturday have been observed as days of deep sorrow marked by a particular silence, the absence of a eucharistic celebration, the only 2 days of the year when none has been held since the 12th Century. Image: johnsanidopoulos.com.

Prayer As we commemorate Your crucifixion and burial before the coming Resurrection, we recall that the noble Joseph, when he had taken down Thy most pure Body from the tree, wrapped it in fine linen, anointed it with spices and placed it in a new tomb. Then the angel came to the myrrh-bearing women at the tomb and said: “Myrrh is fitting for the dead, but Christ has shown Himself a stranger to corruption.” Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen

Beltaine (Bright fire). From Sunset today to Sunset on 1 May, Beltaine is one of the 4 Quarter Day festivals, honouring Life and representing the peak of Spring and the beginning of Summer. Earth energies are at their strongest and most active and all life is bursting with potent fertility at this point on the Wheel of the Year. The Maiden Goddess has reached her fullness as the manifestation of growth and renewal, Flora the Goddess of Spring (May Queen, May Bride). The Young Oak King as the Green Man (Jack-in-the-Green) falls in love with her and wins her hand. Together, the May Queen and King are symbols of the Sacred Marriage (Heiros Gamos, ἱερὸς γάμος) where human participants represent the deities, the ancient union of Earth and Sky that brings ideas, hopes and dreams into action. Many pagans celebrate the ancient Iron Age Celtic, Druid and Wiccan Beltaine by organising maypole dances and walking round or jumping over fires lit to celebrate the return of life and the burning away of winter, and to cleanse, purify, heal, increase fertility and bring good fortune and happiness through the coming year. Farmers originally drove their cattle through the smoke of bonfires to cleanse and protect them before being put out into the fields. In ancient communities, to cast off darkness and celebrate light, all hearth fires were extinguished and a new community neid fire was lit to be used to relight people’s hearths and lamps, thus connecting the community by a sacred fire that was central to all. The festival was originally to worship the Celtic God Belenus, the Bright One, and ask him to bring the Sun’s light to nurture the future harvest and protect the community. Beltane was a popular time for pagan weddings (handfastings, tying the knot) with a red cord symbolising the union and its untying meaning that it was by free will. The similar jumping the broomstick avoided the cost of a church ceremony by using a broom laid on the floor to mark a threshold between an old life to a new one. Mead (the Brew of the Divine) and cakes were often shared. Image: onceandfuturerunner.blog.

Maidyozarem Gahambar (mid-spring feast). Start of ancient Zoroastrian festival to 4 May, one of 6 ancient Gahambars (proper season 5-day festivals of obligation) during the year, reflecting the 6 primordial creations of Ahura Mazda, the religion’s highest divinity. They are Amesha Spentas, immortal holy, bounteous and furthering the divine entities emanating from Ahura Mazda and may be celebrated months in advance, depending on which of the Parsi calendars (Shenshai, Kadmi, or Fasli) is used. Each Gahambar focusses on worship and those celebrating will perform only necessary work, the last day usually being observed. Worshippers celebrate with a Jashan rite, a Zoroastrian liturgy that can be performed outside the confines of a fire temple. Jashan is derived from the Avestan yasna and denotes a ceremony with offerings for the wellbeing of both the spiritual and physical worlds with the priestly exchange of flowers symbolising the passage of the soul (urvan) from one life to the next. Rich and poor normally worship together, joyously sharing communal food, forming new friendships and resolving old disputes. Image:youtube.com.