Holy Friday is one of the most solemn days within the life of the Orthodox Church. On this day, we witness our Lord willingly give His life for our sake. We watch our Lord’s crucifixion by the hands of those He came to save.
An ancient tradition in the Orthodox Church is the Holy Vigil at the Tomb of Christ also referred to as Grave Watch. After our Lord died on the Cross, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea took the body of Jesus, bound it in linen cloths with spices and buried it in a new tomb. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary sat opposite the tomb watching as their Lord was buried. The Church has joined with these two women in keeping watch over Jesus’ tomb. The Holy Vigil is our opportunity to help keep watch over our Lord’s body as He descends into Hell to loosen the bonds of death. What better way to understand the death and resurrection of Jesus than to participate in the Vigil by His tomb?
The Church has given us this opportunity to watch and wait with the countless saints and myriads of angels as our Lord conquers death. As we read from the Holy Gospel at the tomb of our Lord throughout the night of Great and Holy Friday through the beginning of the Vesperal Liturgy on Holy Saturday.
Individuals or families may sign up for one-hour blocks of time throughout the evening and night of Great and Holy Friday and then the following morning and day of Holy Saturday.
Exactly what is a Vigil?
A Vigil is a time of watching, waiting and preparing. We watch over the Lord’s tomb, remembering His sufferings and death for our salvation. We take time out of our often too hectic schedule to wait with expectation for our Lord’s Resurrection from the dead. It is an excellent time to take account of our lives in the light of Jesus’ life and teachings, preparing ourselves to be able to behold the glory of His triumph over death. In a very real sense, the Holy Vigil is the final opportunity of getting ready for Pascha (Christ’s Passover from Death to Life) – the Resurrection of Christ!
What do I do at the Vigil?
In practical terms, a vigil is spent in meditation and prayer while one or more people read the Holy Gospel, such as the Psalms, before the Tomb of Christ in the Church. The majority of Eastern Orthodox Churches practice this during the night so that there is someone constantly watching over the Tomb.
Do I have to spend the whole night at the Church?
Time is separated by one-hour increments; however, you are welcome to stay and pray or reflect as long as you would like. After spending some time at Christ’s tomb, you may find yourself wanting to stay. In most places, people sign up to keep vigil at the Church at a specific time. This is such a mystical and awesome gift from our Church. To be able to sit in church and reflect during this time is an experience you will not forget.
How long is the Vigil?
The Vigil at Saint Elia begins on Holy Friday evening and concludes before the Liturgy of St Basil the Great on Holy Saturday morning.