Holy and Great Thursday
THE GOSPELS OF HOLY and Great Thursday are the testament of our Lord’s Passion. They tell how our Savior and His disciples came to Jerusalem to celebrate His last feast of the Passover, how He washed their feet. They tell the account of that Mystical Supper when our Lord ordained the Mystery of His Most Holy Body and Blood “for the remission of sins and life everlasting.” They speak of Christ’s instruction to the Apostles, and how He told them that they would all forsake Him that night; they speak of Peter’s rash promise that he would always remain faithful; of Christ’s vigil in the garden; of how He was seized and led away to the high priest’s court; of the scene in the courtyard; of Peter’s three-fold denial and his grief; of the high priest’s mocking questions; and of how our Savior Christ God, wearing the crown of thorns, beaten and insulted by the soldiers, was led before Pilate.
The readings and hymns of the Matins service dwell on Judas’ betrayal, on “the dark night” which settled in his soul. We pray that we may keep ourselves from greed and deceit, and be made pure by partaking of the holy Mysteries of Christ’s Body and Blood. The Dismissal Hymn after the “Alleluia” at Matins speaks of this:
The Dismissal Hymn
When the glorious disciples were enlightened at the washing of the feet, then Judas the ungodly one was stricken and darkened with the love of silver. And unto the lawless judges did he deliver Thee, the righteous Judge. O thou lover of money, behold thou him that for the sake thereof did hang himself, flee from that insatiable soul that dared such things against the Master. O Thou Who art good unto all, Lord, glory be to Thee.
The Synaxarion and the Kontakion also reiterate the themes of Christ God’s betrayal at the hands of “an incorrigible disciple:”
“On the evening of this day, which was the eve of the feast of unleavened bread (that is, the Passover), Jesus supped with His twelve disciples in the city. He blessed the bread and the wine, and gave us the Mystery of the Divine Eucharist. He washed the feet of the disciples as an example of humility. He said openly that one of them was about to betray Him, and He pointed out the betrayer by revealing that it was he “that dippeth his hand with Me in the dish.” And after Judas had straightway gone forth, Jesus gave the disciples His final and sublime instructions, which are contained in the first Gospel reading of the Holy Passion. After this the God-man went forth to the Mount of Olives, and there He began to be sorrowful and in anguish. He went off alone, and bending the knees He prayed fervently. From His great anguish, His sweat became as it were great drops of blood falling to the ground. As soon as He had completed that anguished prayer, lo Judas came with a multitude of soldiers and a great crowd, on greeting the Teacher guilefully with a kiss, he betrayed Him.
Jesus was then apprehended and taken prisoner to the high priests Annas and Caiaphas. The disciples dispersed, but Peter, who was more fervent than the others, followed Him even into the court of the high priest, but in the end denied that he was His disciple.
Then our divine Teacher was brought before the lawless Sanhedrin and was interrogated concerning His disciples and His teaching. The high priest adjured Him before God that He tell them whether He was truly the Christ. And having spoken the truth, He was judged guilty of death, supposedly as one who had blasphemed. Then they spat in His face, beat Him, smote Him with the palms of their hands, and mocked Him in every way, throughout the whole night until the morning.”
Taking the bread into his hands, the betrayer stretcheth them forth secretly and receiveth the price of Him That with His own hands, fashioned man. And Judas, the servant and deceiver, remained incorrigible.
Concerning the Matins service
The whole narration of our Lord’s Passion is given at the Matins of Great Friday, sung on Thursday evening. It is commonly called “the Service of the Twelve Gospels.” A tall Crucifix usually stands in the middle of the church with many candles lighted round it. After the Six Psalms and the Great Litany, the choir chants, “Alleluia” and the Troparion of Holy and Great Thursday. The priest and deacon come out of the Sanctuary carrying the Book of Gospels. It is placed on a podium and the priest begins the reading. The whole story of the Passion is read from the four evangelists and is divided into twelve parts. It begins with the “Gospel of the Testament” and the prayer at the Mystical Supper, from Saint John’s Gospel, and continues through the four Gospels to the burial of Christ by Joseph of Arimathea.
After each reading the choir chants, “Glory to Thy longsuffering, O Lord, glory to Thee.” Between the readings special antiphons and hymns are chanted. They speak of Judas’ betrayal; of the cruelty of the Jews; of our Savior’s infinite patience and meekness; of the awe of all creation when the Lord of all was nailed to the Cross between two thieves. The canon has only three odes. All recount the Passion and foretell the glory of the Resurrection. Matins ends shortly after the twelfth Gospel.