Friday, April 02, 2021

The Royal Hours of Good Friday

The Royal Hours are a special service which is held three times a year in the Byzantine Rite, on Christmas Eve, Epiphany Eve, and Good Friday. It consists of the Hours of Prime, Terce, Sext and None, followed by a service called the Typika, the closest parallel to which in the Roman Rite would be the so-called dry Mass, although it has no Scriptural readings; these five parts are said one after the other without interruption. Those of Good Friday are the oldest ones, the other two being modeled after them. (Royal Hours services have been composed for some other important liturgical days such as Holy Thursday and Pentecost, but have never caught on.) They are known as “Royal” from the tradition that the Byzantine Emperor and his court would attend them at Hagia Sophia in Constantinople; a memory of this is preserved in the singing of “Many Years” during the service in cathedrals and monasteries, now in a modified form, but originally for the Emperor, whose presence was understood to be an act of submission to Christ the King, and also for the imperial court and the ecclesiastical hierarchy.

Royal Hours of Good Friday at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation in Toronto in 2014. (Photograph from Wikipedia by ΙΣΧΣΝΙΚΑ-888)
Several features mark the Royal Hours off from the service of the same Hours on other days. It is served by a priest and deacon in their sacred vestments, where these Hours are usually sung by a reader, with a priest saying only the conclusions of the prayers (e.g. “for Thine is the kingdom…”) and the blessing at the end. A bell is rung at the beginning of each Hour, once for Prime, thrice for Terce, etc., and twelve times for the Typika.

In addition to a large number of very beautiful proper chants, a group of Scriptural readings, consisting of a prophecy from the Old Testament, a New Testament epistle (called “the Apostle” in Byzantine terminology) and a Gospel, are added to each Hour as well. (Normally, there are no Biblical readings at the minor Hours; however, they are often done at Vespers.)
Prime starts with the group of prayers that are normally said at the beginning of the Hours, helpfully named “The Usual Beginning.” Whenever Hours are said together as a group, at those that follow the first one, this is reduced to just its final element, “Come, let us worship etc.” In either case, there immediately follows a group of three Psalms, which are said by a single reader. The Byzantine Rite does not have antiphons for the psalmody analogous to those of the Roman Rite, but after the third Psalm are said the doxology, and three repetitions of “Alleluja, alleluja, alleluja, glory to Thee, o God!”

Ordinarily, the psalms of the Hours are the same every single day outside of Easter week, but at the three sets of Royal Hours, special ones more appropriate to the day are chosen to replace two of the regular psalms, with one of the daily ones retained. For those of Good Friday, at Prime, Psalms 5, 2, and 21 are said, instead of 5, 89 and 100; at Terce, 34, 108 and 50, instead of 16, 24 and 50; at Sext, 53, 139, and 90, instead of 53, 54 and 90; and at None, 68, 69 and 85 instead of 83, 84 and 85. (Several of these are also found in the Roman Office of the Triduum, either at Tenebrae or Vespers; Psalm 108, the best known of the so-called “imprecatory” Psalms, is said at Matins on Holy Monday and each day of the Triduum in the Ambrosian Rite.)

There follow the first part of the doxology, and a chant called a troparion; on Christmas and Epiphany Eves, it is the same at each of the four Hours, but on Good Friday, each Hour has its own.
At Prime: When Thou wert crucified, o Christ, the tyranny of the enemy was taken away, his power trod down; for not as an angel, nor as (only) a man, but as the Lord didst Thou save us; glory to Thee!
At Terce: O Lord, the Jews condemned Thee, the Life of all, to death; they that crossed the Red Sea on foot by a rod, nailed Thee to the Cross, and they that suckled on honey from the rock, brought Thee gall; but willingly didst Thou endure, that Thou might deliver us from the slavery of the enemy; o Christ God, glory to Thee!
At Sext: Thou didst work salvation in the midst of the earth, o Christ God, upon the Cross, Thou didst stretch out Thy immaculate hands, gathering together all the nations, which cry out, “O Lord, glory to Thee!” (A concert performance of this text in Church Slavonic, by the composer Pavel Chesnokov.)
At None: On seeing the originator of life hanging on the Cross, the thief said, “If this were not God incarnate Who is crucified with us, the sun would not hide away its rays, nor would the earth be shaken and heave. But Thou who sustainest all things, remember me, o Lord, in Thy kingdom.”
Icon of the Crucifixion by Andreas Pavias, second half of the 15th century. (Public domain image from Wikipedia.)
Next are sung a group of three chants called Idiomels, with two Psalm verses and the doxology between them. The rubric in the liturgical books says that each chant is done twice, the second after each of the two psalm verses, the third after each part of the doxology. In practice, they are usually just sung once as noted here.

The Idiomels at Prime: Today the veil of the temple is rent in reproof of the lawless, and the sun hides its rays, seeing the Lord being crucified. Ps. 2 Why have the gentiles raged, and the peoples devised vain things?
Like a sheep wast Thou led to the slaughter, o Christ the King, and like a blameless lamb, Thou wast nailed to the Cross by lawless men for our sins, who lovest mankind. Ibid. The kings of the earth stood up, and the princes met together. Glory to the Father...
Bearing with the lawless that seized hold of Thee, thus didst Thou cry out, o Lord: “Even if ye strike the shepherd, and scatter the twelve sheep, My disciples, I could bring to my side more than twelve legions of Angels; but I forebear, that those things (revealed) through the Prophets unclearly and in hidden way, which I made clear to you, may be fulfilled.” O Lord, glory to Thee!
The three Scriptural readings that follow are introduced by a brief psalmodic chant called a prokimen, but there is no Alleluja before the Gospel. During the reading of the Apostle, there is always an incensation of the Church, whether at this or any other service; some churches add an extra incensation at the beginning of Prime and at the end of the Typika service as well.
The readings at Prime:
Zachariah 11, 10-13 (The prophecy about the thirty pieces of silver mentioned in the Gospel reading.)
Galatians 6, 14-18 (“God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ...”)
Matthew 27, 1-56. (The Passion, from the council of the chief priests and elder “when the morning was come”, to the naming of the women at the Cross.)
The Idiomels at Terce: For fear of the Jews, Thy friend and companion Peter denied Thee, o Lord, and grieving, cried out thus: “Do not pass over my tears in silence; for I said would keep the faith, o compassionate one, and I did not keep it.” Receive Thou also our repentence and have mercy on us. Ps. 5 Give ear, O Lord, to my words, understand my cry.
The Repentant St Peter, by El Greco, ca. 1590. Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.
Before Thy honorable Cross, o Lord, as the soldiers mocked Thee, the spiritual hosts were astonished; for Thou wast weathed in a crown of violence, who didst adorn the earth with flowers, and didst bear the cloak in mockery, who girdest the firmament with clouds; for by such a dispensation was Thy compassion made known, o Christ, and great mercy; glory to Thee! Ibid. Hearken to the voice of my prayer, O my King and my God. Glory to the Father...
As Thou wast being drawn to the Cross, o Lord, so didst Thou cry out: “For the sake of what work do ye wish to crucify Me, ye Jews? Because I healed the paralyzed among you? Because I raised up your dead from sleep? I healed the one with the issue of blood, I had mercy on the Chanaanite woman; for which work do ye wish to kill me, o Jews? but ye shall look upon Him whom ye now pierce, o ye lawless.”
The readings:
Isaiah 50, 4-11 (The third of the Sufffering Servant passages.)
Romans 5, 6-10 (“For why did Christ, when as yet we were weak, ... die for the ungodly?”)
Mark 15, 16-41. (The Passion, from the mockery of the soldiers to the naming of the woman at the Cross.)
The Idiomels at Sext: Thus saith the Lord to the Jews: “My people, what have I done to thee, or how have I wearied thee? I enlightened your blind, I healed your lepers, I raised up the man upon his bed. My people, what have I done to Thee, and how hast thou repaid me? gall in place of the manna, vinegar in place of the water. Instead of loving Me, ye did fix me to a cross. No longer do I endure; I will call my nations, and they will glorify Me with the Father and the Spirit; and I will grant them eternal life.” (The switch between the singular and plural in those addressed in this text, which is very similar to a passage of the Roman Improperia, is in the original.) Ps. 68 They gave me gall for my food, and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.
O ye lawmakers of Israel, ye Jews and Pharisees, the choir of the Apostles cries out to you “Behold the temple, which ye destroyed, behold the lamb, which ye crucified; ye gave Him over to burial, but He rose of His own power. Be ye not deceived, o Jews, for He is the one that saved (you) in the sea and fed (you) in the desert; He is the life and the light, and the peace of the world.” Ibid. Save me, o God, for the waters are come in even unto my soul. Glory to the Father...
Come, ye Christ-bearing peoples, let us see what counsel the betrayer Judas takes with the lawless priests against our Savior; today, they make the immortal Word liable to death, and having delivered Him to Pilate, they crucified Him in the place of the skull; and suffering these things, our Savior cried out, saying, “Forgive them, Father, this sin, that the nations may know My Resurrection from the dead.”
The Readings:
Isaiah 52, 13 - 54, 1 (The fourth of the Suffering Servant passages.)
Hebrews 2, 11-18 (“He that sanctifieth, and they who are sanctified, are all of one.”)
Luke 23, 32-49 (The Passion, from the walk to Calvary to the mention of the women who stood at the Cross.)

The Idiomels at None:
An astonishment it was to see the Maker of heaven and earth hanging upon the Cross, the sun darkened, and the day turned again into night, and the earth sending back the bodies of the dead from the graves; with whom we worship Thee; save us! Ps. 21 They parted my garments among them, and on my vesture they cast lots.
When the lawless nailed Thee, the Lord of glory, to the Cross, Thou didst cry out to them: “How have I grieved you? or in what have I angered you? Before Me, who delivered you from affliction? And now, what do you repay me? evil things for good. In place of the column of fire, ye nailed Me to a cross; in place of the cloud; ye dug for me a grave; in place of the manna, ye brought Me gall; in place of the water, ye gave me vinegar to drink. Henceforth, I shall call the nations, and they shall glorify Me with the Father and the Holy Spirit.” Ps. 68 They gave me gall for my food, and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink. Glory be to the Father...
(The final idiomel is sung slowly by the leader of the choir, standing in the middle of the church.)
- Today, He that hung the earth upon the waters is hung upon the tree. (thrice)
- The king of angels is arrayed with a crown of throns.
- He that girdeth heaven with clouds is girt with purple in mockery.
- He that freed Adam in the Jordan recevied a slap.
- The Bridegroom of the Church is fixed with nails.
- The Son of the Virgin is pierced with a lance.
- We adore Thy sufferings, o Christ. (thrice)
- Show us also Thy glorious Resurrection.
The readings:
Jeremiah 11, 18-23; 12, 1-4, 9-11, and 14-15 (“I was as a meek lamb, that is carried to be a victim...”)
Hebrews 10, 19-31 (“Having therefore, brethren, a confidence in the entering into the holies by the blood of Christ...“ ”)
John 19, 23-37 (The Passion, from the Crucifixion to the two prophecies.)

The Gospels are, of course, selected to include a part of the Passion of each of the four Evangelists. At the evening Divine Liturgy of Holy Thursday, the Byzantine Rite reads a Gospel of St Matthew, 26, 2 - 27, 2, with two interpolations: John 13, 3-17 after verse 20, and Luke 22, 43-45 after verse 39. A similar composite Gospel is read at Vespers of Good Friday: Matthew 27, 1-61, with Luke 23, 39-43 added after verse 38, and John 19, 31-37 added after verse 54. At the Matins of Good Friday (usually anticipated to the evening of Holy Thursday), Twelve Gospels of the Lord’s Passion are read, the first of which is almost the entire account of the Last Supper from St John, 13, 31 - 18 ,1, (four chapters and change!) There shall therefore be no whining about how long the Passions are in the Roman Rite.
Once the readings are done, the Hours follow their normal pattern: a series of Scriptural verses, which change from Hour to Hour but not from day to day; the Trisagion prayers, which are the same as the Usual Beginning, without its first and last part; then a single chant called the Kontakion, which is the same at all four Hours and the Typika service.
Come, let us all sing in praise of Him that was crucified for us; for Mary saw Him upon the Cross and said “Although Thou sufferest the Cross, Thou art my Son and God.”
Each Hour concludes with the same series of elements as on the other days: Kyrie, eleison 40 times, the Prayer of the Hours, Kyrie, eleison 3 times, Glory to the Father, a brief prayer to the Virgin (“Higher than the Cherubim…”), a conclusion said by the priestly celebrant, and a final prayer said by the reader, after which the next Hour begins.
The full text of all three of these services, (Matins of the Twelve Gospels, Royal Hours, and Vespers of Good Friday) can be read at the following link.

Here is a recording of the Royal Hours of Good Friday celebrated last year at the Sretensky Monastery in Moscow, which is particularly well known for its excellent choir.

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