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." (Matthew 27:50-51)

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 mighty action?

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)