The death and burial of Jesus was the focus of vesper services on Holy Friday, also known as Good Friday, at Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Akron.
Parishioners spent hours during the late morning and early afternoon decorating a large wooden structure, known as the Kouvouklion, with flowers. The Kouvouklion, symbolic of the tomb in which Jesus Christ was buried, was the focal point of a mid-afternoon service commonly called the vespers of the un-nailing.
During the service, the image of Christ is removed from the cross, wrapped in a white cloth and taken to the altar. A cloth icon — the Epitaphios, which depicts Christ entombed — is placed in the symbolic tomb.
“It’s a very powerful service because it brings our Lord’s death and burial into the person’s conscience and it goes straight to the heart. There is a real sense of the Lord’s death and burial,” said the Rev. Jerry Hall, pastor at Annunciation. “Between the hymns and the readings, we hope people get a sense of awe and gratitude to our Lord for his act of sacrifice and a sense of anticipation of the coming of the Resurrection of Christ.”
Holy Saturday, which is today, is observed as the day Jesus rested in the tomb. It is traditionally marked with meditation as Christians contemplate the darkness of a world without a future and without hope apart from God and his grace.
During the morning Holy Saturday service at Annunciation, Hall will scatter bay leaves and flowers around the church to symbolize Christ’s victory over death. Parishioners will return to church before midnight tonight for the Easter Resurrection service.
In the Orthodox tradition, the church is darkened at midnight and the priest or bishop comes forth carrying a white candle and chanting, “Come receive the light, the light of the Resurrection.”
The light is passed to the congregation until the church is glowing. A procession of altar boys, the choir, chanters, clergy and parishioners moves outdoors, where the gospel proclaiming the Resurrection of Christ is read.
At Annunciation, the reading is followed by a triumphant hymn, Christ is Risen. At the conclusion of the Resurrection Liturgy, red Easter eggs, which symbolize the Resurrection, are distributed to the congregation.
Parishioners will return to church Sunday morning to celebrate the Vespers of Love with the reading of the gospel of the Resurrection.
Easter — Resurrection Sunday — will be observed by Christians in both eastern and western traditions Sunday. In general, Western Christianity observes Easter on the Sunday immediately after the first full moon of spring, and it can fall anytime between March 22 and April 25. Orthodox Easter, or the Feast of Pascha, can fall between April 4 and May 8, and it always follows Jewish Passover, which this year began at sundown Monday.