Good Friday is a special day celebrated by Christians on the Friday before Easter or Pascha. It commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Special prayer services are often held on this day with readings from the Gospel accounts of the events leading up to the crucifixion. Mainstream Christian churches view Christ's crucifixion as a voluntary and vicarious act, and one by which, along with his resurrection on the third day, death itself was conquered.
Catholic and Orthodox Christians treat this day as a fast day. Orthodox Christians spend all this day in fasting from all food, to the extent that their health permits. Catholics also refrain from more than one normal meal, though they may add up to two small meals as required for good health.
This day is also the one day that the Divine Liturgy or Mass is not celebrated in those churches. Catholics, however, can still receive the Eucharist consecrated the previous day at the Holy Thursday Mass.
Instead of the Divine Liturgy, the Orthodox meet up to three times during the day for prayer: in the forenoon, to pray the Royal Hours appointed for that day; in the afternoon, the Vespers of Holy Friday; and in the evening, the Matins of Holy Saturday.
The people relive the events of the day through public reading of the Psalms, Gospels, and singing the hymns about Christ's death. Visual imagery and symbolism is also often used: in the morning, a large cross is moved to the front or center of the nave (where the congregation gathers), and a two dimensional painted body of Christ or corpus is placed on it. During the afternoon prayers, it is removed from the cross and taken to the altar in the sanctuary, and an epitaphion is brought down to a low table in the nave representing the tomb; it is often decorated with an abundance of flowers. The epitaphion itself represents the body of Jesus wrapped in a burial shroud, and is a roughly full-size cloth icon of the body of Christ. During the evening prayers, the shroud is part of a procession outside the church, and is then returned to the tomb.
During this reliving of Christ's death, the hymns do not forget the coming resurrection. Holding both events in tension, the following troparion (type of hymn) is sung during the afternoon prayers while the shroud is being carried to the tomb:
- The noble Joseph, when he had taken down Thy most pure Body from the tree, wrapped it in fine linen, and anointed it with spices, and placed it in a new tomb.
- Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.
- The angel came to the myrrh-bearing women at the tomb and said:
- Myrrh is fitting for the dead, but Christ has shown Himself a stranger to corruption.
Many Protestant churches hold special services on this day as well.
In many historically Christian countries, such as New Zealand, the day is celebrated with the eating of hot cross buns, the withdrawal of advertising from television and radio, and the closure of most shops for the day. Eastern Orthodox Christians eat as little as possible on this day.