Holy Friday and our own holy bodies.

On Holy (“Good”) Friday we Orthodox keep vigil next to the “shroud” icon of Christ all night through, until noon on Saturday, remembering our Lord in the tomb.  From the time of His death until His Resurrection on Sunday, we don’t go about our “usual business.” In my parish, parishioners take turns reading or chanting Psalms at a small lectern, with the aid of a candle during the hours of darkness.

This vigil is something we also try to do, if at all possible, for any mere human from whom the spirit has departed, as each one bears the image of Christ. And as He blessed Creation and the material world by becoming part of it in His Incarnation, so each body of flesh is holy and precious.

(I don’t know if I wrote here previously about how we were able to honor my husband this way two years ago, between the time of his death and his burial, as his coffin remained in our house until the day of his funeral, and many people came to pray the Psalms nearby over the course of three days.)

Even if you are not a Christian, or a worshiper of any kind, the body is that aspect of your person with which you have exerted your will to live and love — to stand up, to feed yourself, and even better, to embrace those you love and to express thanks and kindness. All these actions and behaviors build a heritage and a history attached to your physical self, a unique life given by God. It’s not a “shell” or a thing to be discarded as unimportant. You are honorable, every part of you, because of Who made you, and because of His love.

Christians have the added motive to honor the body, that we want to follow the example of our Savior in every way that we can. As His body was lovingly prepared for burial, so we want to do when it is in our power.

I was gratified to read the following explanation of some of these things that was included in a funeral program last summer, when we were saying goodbye to one of our parishioners and laying his body to rest:

“…we believe the body to be an honorable and even a holy thing. For us the body is not something which is dishonorable or defiled, or to be hidden away or hurriedly disposed of. It is less than the soul, and we know that, deprived of the soul, it will dissolve into its elements, but we believe also that on the last day, whether the deceased were a Christian or not, it will be raised up again. We believe that it was part of that person who has died and is therefore to be treated with reverence….

“The body of an Orthodox Christian is a holy thing. It is that body which was washed in Holy Baptism, anointed with holy Chrism, which partook of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist, which was anointed with holy oil, which received the tonsure at Baptism, at Ordination or at monastic profession, which was crowned in marriage, which made the sign of the Cross, which looked at and kissed the holy icons, which reverenced and touched the sacred relics, which stood in prayer, which made prostrations, which listened to the chants and readings, which read the Scriptures and prayers, which smelled the incense and fragrances, which went on pilgrimage, wept, suffered illnesses and pains, suffered in child-birth, which struggled against the passions, which gave alms, which fasted, restrained itself, tried to keep itself pure, indeed which participated in the true worship of the True God.”

Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit? (I Cor: 6:19)

More on this subject is in the article online from which these paragraphs were taken.

11 thoughts on “Holy Friday and our own holy bodies.

    1. Especially early on when he describes his experiences as a med student in anatomy class–dissecting “cadavers,” a word which one of his professors soon told them never to use again since these are persons and the work of doctors transgresses on, or at least participates in, the sacred.

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  1. Christ is Risen!

    I only now read your post. This is so touching that you kept your husband’s body in the house. I often think that this is one of the problems of our society nowadays, that is, that we avoid our encounter with death. Death is always with make-up, or completely absent. We don’t talk about it, we don’t see, and we send it to funeral homes, so that “professionals” deal with it.

    Probably the most “living” moment that I have experienced was in the presence of “death.” It was after Pascha, in a small church in Michigan. In a small coffin, the body of a Romanian monk, Fr. Roman Braga, was facing the altar. And the entire church was chanting, “Christ is Risen from the dead, trampling down death by death.”

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  2. This is a bit off-topic, but I wanted to say that I miss the category of “recipes and vague instructions” you used to have. It seemed so very human!

    That said, I found this post very interesting. Does it imply that Orthodox Christians do not allow cremation?

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    1. Kristi, when I added the page “Weeds and Wildflowers,” it made the previous collection of tabs spill over to a second line very asymmetrically, until I shortened the name of the recipes page to just read plain, dull, “Recipes.” But you will be glad to know that all of the Vague Instructions are still available under that tab!

      About cremation: Yes, while the Orthodox tradition still considers cremation a desecration of the body, it can’t prohibit church members (or more often, their relatives) from cremating. I just read in this article http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/view/wehr-the-orthodox-bioethics-of-cremation that there are no canons against it. The article mentions several reasons against cremation having to do with meaning, metaphor and statements, and I will save it and ask my priest more about the subject. I know that in Japan cremation is the law, so the Orthodox Church in that country has to bend to that unfortunate situation.

      I just returned from a funeral this very evening…

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      1. Thank you for this information…My husband was cremated and I will be also. I think God can manage this. (I did not mean to sound so flip there.)

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I agree so very much, GJ! Often Christians seem confused about their bodies and how to regard them. Afraid to indulge the body as unbelievers sometimes do, but also knowing they should not abuse their bodies, they don’t spend much time thinking about how God feels about their bodies. What a wonderful time Easter is, to ponder such things! It fills my soul with excitement to know that our bodies and the New Earth were most certainly made for each other, and our resurrections will confirm how wonderful and perfect a physical existence is. Thanks for this post!

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