The sorrow and sadness of Holy Week turns to a vivid "joyful sadness" on Holy Friday Night. The symbolic tomb of Christ is in the center of the Solea at the Altar area adorned with flowers. The Epitafios icon of cloth depicting Christ at His burial along with Nicodemos and Joseph of Aremathea is within the tomb (Kouvouklion). The vestments of the clergy are now bright colored instead of the dark purple. We contemplate the mystery of the Lord's descent into Hades, the place of the dead. Death will be defeated from within.
Traditionally this service is designated to be late Friday night (often beginning at midnight) into the wee hours of the morning. (In common practice in the USA it has become an evening service.) It is a service that developed in the 13th century and in its present form since the 16th century. It is patterned on the Orthros Service (morning prayer, the Matins) and has 5 distinct portions...
* the reading of Old Testament Psalms,
* the chanting of the Kathismata & the Canon,
* the chanting of the Enkomia (Lamentations) at the tomb (along with other hymns...Evlogetaria, Ainoi & Doxology); candles are held,
* the Procession of the Epitafios around the Church (or in Orthodox lands through the city streets),,
* and upon returning to the church, the reading of the Scriptures.. .an Old Testament Prophecy, a New Testament Epistle, and a Gospel Pericope.
(There is also an additional section, (the Amomos-Psalm 118 (119) that is offered
in the monasteries but not in the parish setting in today's practice.)
The Lamentations are the unique portion of this service. These are short poetic verses divided into 3 sections. The first two lament the Lord's passion, death and burial. The third section begins to speak of the anticipated resurrection ahead in a more joyful melody than the melody of the first 2 sections. In total, there are 185 verses, but the number chanted varies from parish based on local practice.
At the close of the service as people depart, a flower is given to each participate from the symbolic decorated tomb. This tomb is no ordinary tomb. It is not the place of corruption, decay or defeat. It is life-giving (zoopios), a source of power, victory and liberation. Thus we take a flower from it, as opposed to the tomb of our loved one, when we place a flower as we depart from it.
Beloved, come and decorate the tomb of Christ with your presence and participation}
As you arrive, after lighting your candle in the narthex and before going to your seat, you should approach the Kouvouklion to venerate the Epitafios Cloth within.