Your Cross is Life and Resurrection: Holy Friday and the Crucifixion of Christ

Even dead on the Cross, You as God are living,
O naked corpse and living God's Logos.

-Synaxarion of Holy Friday Orthros
Icon of the Crucifixion
Holy Friday is the day on which the creator of all things willingly accepted death for the salvation of his creation. It is on this day that the Word of God "for whom and by whom all things exist" (Hebrews 2:10) offered his own life to us in the ultimate act of self-empyting. The Synaxarion reading for the Orthros service of Holy Friday tells us the gravity of this day:
"On this day, Holy and Great Friday, we celebrate the awesome, holy, and saving Passion of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ: the spitting, the blows, the buffeting, the mockery, the reviling, the purple robe, the reed, the sponge, the vinegar, the nails, the spear, and above all, the Cross and Death which He condescended to endure willingly for our sakes."
The Orthros service, often referred to as the 'Twelve Passion Gospels Service' includes twelve Gospel readings that narrate for us all of the details of Christ's suffering and death. As with all of the Orthros services of Holy Week, the Holy Friday Orthros is observed the evening before.

For this blog post, we will follow the narrative through each of these Gospel readings. Where applicable, I have included photographs of the sites where these events occurred. I hope that this post can provide a mini-pilgrimage through these sacred sites and events. On Holy Thursday evening, then, the following Gospel readings take place:
First Gospel Reading
John 13:31-18:1
This long Gospel reading begins with Christ teaching his Apostles. This conversation is taking place in the Upper Room at the time of the Mystical Supper. By this point, Judas has already left to betray Jesus. The focus of Jesus' teaching in this reading is to comfort his Apostles before his suffering. He tells the Apostles that he is going to be with the Father, and that they will follow him to the place where he is going:
"Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also."
Jesus tells the Apostles about the coming of the Holy Spirit, which he will send to them from the Father on the day of Pentecost. Although there is much that the Apostles have still not understood, Jesus reassures them that the Holy Spirit "will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you."
Jesus predicts also the persecution that the Apostles will face on his account. He tells them that they will be scattered, removed from the Synagogue, and put to death because of their belief in him. Despite the hatred that they will face, Jesus tells them that they are to act always with love.
"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. This I command you, to love one another."
Their conversation ends with Jesus praying at length for the Apostles. He asks God to sanctify and consecrate them for the task that they will have to accomplish. His prayer for the Apostles becomes a prayer also for us and for the whole Church through the ages, as he prays for "those who believe in me through their word."
This reading ends with Jesus departing for the Garden of Gethsemane. 
Second Gospel Reading
John 18:1-28
This reading relates to us Jesus' arrest at the Garden of Gethsemane. Judas arrives with a mob including soldiers and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees. Peter draws a sword and strikes Malchos, the slave of the high priest. Jesus instructs them not to resist his arrest: "Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup which the Father has given me?"
He is taken first to Annas, the father-in-law of the high priest Caiaphas. It is in the courtyard of Caiaphas' house that Peter's three-fold denial of Christ takes place, as we saw yesterday.
Third Gospel Reading
Matthew 26:57-75
The third Gospel reading has Christ's trial beginning at the house of Caiaphas. False witnesses are sought to accuse Jesus. Two witnesses are found who heard Jesus say that the Temple will be destroyed and rebuilt by him in three days. This prophecy of Christ's resurrection is not understood by Caiaphas, who says:
"I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God." Jesus said to him, "You have said so. But I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven." Then the high priest tore his robes, and said, "He has uttered blasphemy. Why do we still need witnesses? You have now heard his blasphemy. What is your judgment?" They answered, "He deserves death."
Jesus' suffering begins now in earnest, as the high priests begin to beat and mock him.
The prison in which Christ was held, Jerusalem
Fourth Gospel Reading
John 18:28-40; 19:1-16
In this reading, Jesus is moved from the house of Caiaphas to the praetorium to be judged by Pontius Pilate. Jesus' case has now been transferred from the local religious authorities to the representatives of the Roman Empire.
Pilate does not understand the charges against Jesus. He is unsure why the Jewish religious authorities have brought Jesus to be judged. There was a local custom that every year on the Passover, Pilate would release one prisoner to the local Jews. Pilate, then, asks a crowd that has gathered whether he should release Jesus to them. They demand instead that a robber named Barabbas be released to them. After his guards beat Jesus, Pilate brings him again before the crowd. They demand Jesus' crucifixion.
He said to the Jews, "Behold your King!" They cried out, "Away with him, away with him, crucify him!" Pilate said to them, "Shall I crucify your King?" The chief priests answered, "We have no king but Caesar." Then he handed him over to be crucified.
The praetorium, site of Jesus' trial by Pontius Pilate
Fifth Gospel Reading
Matthew 27:3-32
In this reading, we see Judas returning the silver for which he handed over Jesus to the high priests. Judas then departs and, in his despair, he hangs himself.
After Jesus' trial by Pilate, he is dressed in a purple robe, and a crown of thorns is placed on his head to mock the claim that he is the "King of the Jews." The procession to Gologtha begins, and the crowd forces Simon of Cyrene to carry Jesus' Cross.
Simon of Cyrene carries Christ's Cross
After this Gospel reading, the priest takes a large cross with an icon of Christ hanging on it, and processes this Cross around the Church while chanting the 15th Antiphon:
Today, He who suspended the earth in the waters is suspended on a cross.
The King of the Angels wears a crown of thorns.
He who wraps the sky in clouds is wrapped in a fake purple robe.
He who freed Adam in the Jordan accepts to be slapped.
The Bridegroom of the Church is fixed with nails to the cross.
The Son of the Virgin is pierced with a spear.
We worship Your Passion, O Christ.
Show us also Your glorious Resurrection.

Sixth Gospel Reading
Mark 15:16-32
In the sixth Gospel reading, the procession arrives at Golgotha. Jesus is crucified, and the crowds divide his garments. Two robbers are crucified on either side of Jesus. Jesus is subjected to mockery by those who pass by:
"Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!" So also the chief priests mocked him to one another with the scribes, saying, "He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe."
Golgotha, also known as the 'Place of the Skull,' was a small hill just outside of Jerusalem. It is not far from Christ's tomb. Today, both these sites are contained within the Church of the Resurrection (also known as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre). This is the place where the God-man Christ was put to death on behalf of his creation.
Golgotha, Church of the Resurrection, Jerusalem
Orthodox icons of the Crucifixion (see above) show a skull underneath the Cross. This is the skull of Adam, whose bones were washed clean by the blood of Christ as it flowed into the ground. The sacrifice of Christ on the Cross undoes the ancient error of our forefather, and opens up the way to new life for us "who were dead in trespasses and sins," (Ephesians 2:1).

Seventh Gospel Reading
Matthew 27:33-54
In this Gospel reading, darkness covers the land. Jesus yields up his spirit, and dies for our salvation:
Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?" that is, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" ... And Jesus cried again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.

And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom; and the earth shook, and the rocks were split; the tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.
In many Churches it is customary for the bells to be rung during this reading.
Some Christians have interpreted the words "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" to mean that God the Father turned his back on Jesus Christ while he hung on the Cross. This understanding of these words is not correct; God the Father never turns his back on his Son. If he had, then Jesus could not have spoken to the Father while on the Cross, saying "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!" God the Father does not forsake his Son on the Cross, just as God does not forsake us in our suffering. Instead, when we suffer we experience God's presence and his embrace all the more.
Eighth Gospel Reading
Luke 23:32-49
In this reading, we see the confession of the thief who was crucified next to Jesus. While one of the two thieves mocks Jesus, the other asks Jesus to receive him into the Kingdom. Jesus accepts the thief's repentance, even at the last hour: "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise."
Luke's Gospel does not name this thief. Later traditions give him a variety of names. An early document of unknown date names him Dismas. Coptic Orthodox Christians name him Demas. Russian Orthodox name him Rakh. Whatever his name may have been, his confession on the Cross is one of the major themes commemorated on Holy Friday. The Synaxarion reading relates his acceptance into the Kingdom to our ancient fall from Paradise:
The Robber opened the locked gates of Eden
Using the key of his confession: "Remember me".
Ninth Gospel Reading
John 19:25-37
In this reading, we see Christ on the Cross giving St. John the Evangelist the task of caring for the Virgin Mary. Following the crucifixion, Mary lived with St. John until her own repose. The home that they lived in is close to the Upper Room to the southwest of the Old City in Jerusalem. The site is today covered by a German abbey dedicated to the Dormition.
German abbey of the Dormition covering the home of St. John the Evangelist and the Virgin Mary
Tenth Gospel Reading
Mark 15:43-47
The tenth Gospel reading shows us Joseph of Arimathea, who is a disciple of Jesus'. Joseph receives permission from Pilate to remove Jesus' body from the Cross. Doing so, he wraps it in a linen cloth and lays it in a tomb. We know from the next Gospel reading that the tomb was nearby the site of the crucifixion.
The tomb of Christ is the central site of Christian pilgrimage in the Holy Lands. This is not so much because it is where the body of Christ was laid, but rather because it is the site where the resurrection took place. This is why Orthodox Christians refer to the Church in which the tomb is located as the "Church of the Resurrection" rather than the more common title "Church of the Holy Sepulchre."
The tomb itself is encased in a structure known as the 'Edicule'. Although most of the structure dates to the 16th-century, restoration work in 2016 uncovered the original limestone bed on which Jesus's body was laid. The Edicule consists of two rooms. The outer room houses a fragment of the large stone that had been rolled in front of the entry to the tomb. The inner room contains the tomb itself. Daily Liturgies are served in the Church of the Resurrection using the Christ's tomb as an altar.
The Edicule containing the Tomb of Christ
Eleventh Gospel Reading
John 19:38-42
The eleventh Gospel reading shows us Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus anointing Jesus' body for burial. This is the same Nicodemus who came to Jesus at night and received his famous teaching "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him," (John 3:16-17).
The stone on which they laid Jesus' body for anointing is preserved in the Church of the Resurrection, as I mentioned in a previous post.
The Anointing Stone
The tombs of Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus are also located in the Church of the Resurrection, in chapels behind the Edicule.
Tombs of Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus
Twelfth Gospel Reading
This final Gospel reading leaves us with the chief priests and Pharisees receiving permission from Pilate to secure and guard the tomb, so that Jesus' disciples cannot remove the body by secret.
The ending to this narrative leaves us waiting. For the rest of Holy Friday and Holy Saturday, we sit in expectation of the coming joy. Christ has entered into Hades, and there he is freeing all who have been bound over the ages. His victory over Hades is victory over death and corruption. Even as he frees the dead from Hades, he frees also our own souls from bondage to sin.
Having been set free, let us await together the joy of the coming resurrection.