A Meditation for Holy and Great Friday
"And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice
and gave up His spirit. Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two
from the top to the bottom, and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split."
This day in our Holy Orthodox Church is called
in Greek "Megali Paraskevi," in Slavonic "Velikij Pjatok," and in English this
translates "GREAT FRIDAY!" Many of us, of course, know the more common title
derived from the west: "Good Friday," which is also appropriate, but which is
in reality a corruption of the original name: "God's Friday." But our term
"Great Friday" is much more accurate and profound because of the great act of
salvation which has been accomplished on this day! It is "Great" because of
what God the Son did for us and the great benefits that we derive from His
selfless act of love. Some of those benefits include: the forgiveness of our
sins, the healing of our souls, our adoption as sons and daughters of God
Almighty, salvation for of all mankind, and eternal life as a promise to us.
But the benefit that I would like to address this evening is vividly portrayed
in the action that occurs at the very moment of our Lord's Death. The holy
Apostle and Evangelist Matthew informs us that the earth quaked, rocks were
shattered, and most importantly, the veil of the temple was torn in half from
top to bottom. One movie version of the life of our Lord dramatically depicts
this scene and it is indeed a chilling and thrilling portrayal to behold.
But what was this curtain? And what does it
represent? The curtain in some ways is very similar to the iconostas in our
churches; and you may know that in some Orthodox Churches there is also a
curtain behind the Royal Doors. The area behind the iconostas is the holiest
place in the Church, and only those ordained to serve there may enter and those
to whom the blessing has been given. For there in the middle of that sacred
precinct stands the Lord's Throne, the Holy Altar on which the Bloodless
Sacrifice is performed, the Divine Liturgy, which is the height of our worship.
There the angels of God themselves minister alongside the bishop or priest as
he performs his sacred office. There, then, it is HEAVEN ON EARTH!
In the days of Jesus, the veil of the temple
also served a similar purpose. It too separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies; this
most sacred realm housed the Ark of the Covenant in almost total darkness. The
High Priest alone was permitted to enter there but once a year, on the Day of
Atonement! No one else dared to enter for fear of death! This curtain was 30
feet high and was extremely thick and heavy. It would have taken tremendous
power to rend it! And Sacred Scripture does not tell us that it was torn a
little, but rather was that it was ripped in HALF!! Some invisible, spiritual,
and powerful hands brought about the miraculous occurrence! It was the very
hands of God the Father Himself. But WHY?! What was God telling us by this
First, is the announcement that His Son, the
God-Man, Jesus Christ had DIED, THAT HE HAD ACCOMPLISHED THE WORK THAT HE CAME
TO EARTH TO DO! Second, is that He had ATONED FOR OUR SINS. Reminiscent of the
Jewish high priest entering the Holy of Holies to make an offering for the sins
of the people on the Day of Atonement, our HIGH PRIEST JESUS CHRIST made
atonement for our sins by His Death on the Cross! And third, something new had
begun in our covenant with God, new and almost inconceivable to the ancient
religious thought and mind: DIRECT ACCESS TO GOD!
The curtain, the barrier, the wall of enmity as
our sacred hymns tell us, has been broken and taken away! What had separated
man from God has been torn down and demolished!
Let us briefly look back into history in the
Old Testament. When our first father Adam and mother Eve disobeyed God and
sinned against Him, they were cast forth from the Garden of Eden, from the Paradise in which they were privileged to live. The Book
of Genesis records: "He drove out the man, and at the east of the Garden of
Eden He placed the Cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to
guard the way to the Tree of Life." A barrier was set up. And humanity no
longer had direct access or direct communion with God. Yet God did not desert
His beloved people. You only need to recall your Bible stories to see how God
communicated with them. It was no longer one on one, but rather God gave His
word, His instructions to the people, through individuals, intermediaries. For
example, God did not give to the stone tablets of the Law, the Ten
Commandments, directly to the people; He gave them to Moses to give to the
people. And then came the series of prophets and kings who communicated God's
will to His people.
When the people needed help in times of trouble or answers from God to their
questions, they did not dare ask God directly. NO! Instead they went to the
people whom God had appointed to this holy work. As St. Basil the Great says in
the Anaphora of his Liturgy: "You spoke to us by the mouths of Your servants,
the prophets; You gave us the Law as a help; You appointed guardian angels. And
when the fullness of time had come, You spoke to us through Your Son Himself."
And now, because of His Death, we have direct access to God the Father through
the Son! We, mortal beings that we are, can commune with the Almighty and
Immortal God! Jesus spoke of Himself, "I am THE WAY, THE TRUTH, AND THE LIFE.
No one comes to the Father except through ME." (John 14:6) And St. Paul tells his disciple Timothy, and us,
that Jesus is the only Mediator between God and man. (I Timothy 2:5) This does
not, however, as some may say and teach, preclude intercessory prayer, the
prayer of a good and holy person for another, and the prayers of the saints for
us! This kind of prayer is highly beneficial for us! And we still have Church
leaders and authorities who pray for and intercede on our behalf and who
communicate God's will to His people.
We are greatly blessed that because Jesus Christ, the Son of God has died for
us, the barrier between God and man is broken down and obliterated; the veil is
torn is two. Now we can also approach God confidently and boldly. We can
commune with Him directly; we do that every time we partake of the Holy
Eucharist, Holy Communion! And even though His precious Body now reposes in the
tomb, and even though it is dark, and even though we are saddened, we still
come forward now and approach Him in that in that very intimate way, kissing
His wounds, and worshipping Him as the did the Magi so long before. Because
even in death, and especially in death, we see the all-powerful God Who has
broken the bonds of Death and Who will arise on the Third Day!! AMEN!
(Holy Friday 2008)