By Sergei V. Bulgakov
As the fulfillment of the liturgy is an image of Golgotha's sacrifice or the commemoration of the death of our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross, so on the same day of the sacred commemoration of this worldwide event a full liturgy is not served, neither the Divine Liturgy nor the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, as a sign of the deep lamentation and fervent contrition of believers on this day.
The Royal Hours are served instead of the liturgy: the First, Third, Sixth and Ninth Hours together. Their structure includes psalms, paramoeas, readings from the Epistle and Gospel, troparia and stichera concerning the circumstances of the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. In these Hours not only the story of the Gospel events which occurred on this day is recreated but also the comparison of the Old Testament prophesies and the New Testament sacred reading of the Christian teachings about our redemption by the death of the Savior on the cross is opened in detail.
In the hymns of the Royal Hours the seizing of the Savior by the guards, the dispersal of the disciples, the attempt of zealous defense of the Teacher by the Apostle Peter, his denial of the Savior and then his bitter repenting of that deed, of the suffering on the cross and death of the Savior is represented. The pangs of the perfidious betrayer and the lawless Judeans are heard. The amazement of the whole world from the angelic and earthborn powers to the abased situation of God Incarnate, His thorny crown and desecrated robe is pictured. All this is transmitted so that in the presence of the Very Lord from His abased position, He wished to touch the hardening of human souls, that in the presence of the Apostles He accused the Elders, Jews and Pharisees, who so unmercifully, inhumanely and criminally tortured the Savior. And that, finally, in the presence of all believers whom the Holy Church invites to the horrifying, unprecedented sight, appealing:
O come Christ-bearing people, let us see what the traitor Judas and the lawless priests have plotted against our Savior: today they made the deathless Word subject to death, and delivered Him to Pilate, who crucified Him on the Place of the Skull.
The service of the Hours begins at the second hour of the day, at 8:00 o'clock in the morning according to our reckoning. For the Hours there are "two rings, one prolonged", i.e. first the long ringing of one bell, but then two, in such a way that the impact of the other bell is stronger and longer than the first. At the Hours the priest carries out the Gospel Book to the middle of the church and places it on the Analogion and having begun the reading of the Hours he censes the Gospel, the Iconostasis, the whole temple and the people. The Royal Doors remain open up to the time when the Gospel Book is brought back into the sanctuary after its reading during the Ninth Hour.
The Readings For the Hours
In the First Hour: Psalms 2 and 21 prophetically describe the vain rebellion of the earthly princes against the Savior and His suffering on the cross. In the Paramoea, the Prophet Zechariah announces beforehand the confirmation of the New Covenant sealed by the cross and the betrayal of Judas. The Epistle glorifies the cross of Christ as the greatest power, glory and blessing of the Christian.
In the Third Hour: Psalms 34 and 108 prophesy the unrighteous judgment over the Savior and the perditions of the betrayer. In the Paramoea the Prophet Isaiah prophetically describes the Righteous One of the Most High, Who incontestably goes to his voluntary death as a lamb to the slaughter and Who "gave his back for scourging, his cheeks for smiting, hiding not His face from shame and spitting". The Epistle opens the reason, aim and fruits of the death of the Son of God on the cross.
In the Sixth Hour: Psalms 53 and 139 prophesy the suffering on the cross and the prayer of the Savior. In the Paramoea the Prophet Isaiah prophetically pictures the extremely "despised One by the sons of men" Who "is wounded for our iniquities". The Epistle opens the mystery of the incarnation of the Son of God.
In the Ninth Hour: Psalms 68 and 69 prophetically describe the actions of the crucified one and the prayer in agony of the Savior. The Paramoea is the same as in the First Hour of Great Thursday. The Epistle shows the renewed opened way "in the sanctuary" by the blood of Christ.
The First Hour: Apolytikion in the First Tone
The tyrant has been destroyed by Thy crucifixion, O Christ, the might of the enemy has been trampled down: for neither an angel, nor a man, but Thou Thyself hast saved us, O Lord, glory to Thee.
The Third Hour: Apolytikion in Plagal of the Second Tone
O Lord, the Jews delivered Thee over to death, Life of all, Thou didst lead them through the Red Sea by the rod (of Moses), yet they handed Thee over to be crucified: and Thou didst feed them honey from the rock, they repaid Thee with gall; but Thou didst willingly endure these things, to free us from bondage to the enemy, O Christ God, glory to Thee.
The Sixth Hour: Apolytikion in the Second Tone
Thou hast worked salvation in the midst of the earth, O Christ God, by stretching out thy most pure hands upon the cross, gathering together all the nations who cry out: O Lord, glory to Thee.
The Ninth Hour: Apolytikion in Plagal of the Fourth Tone
When the thief beheld the Author of Life hanging upon the cross, he said: If it were not God in the flesh crucified here with us, the sun would not have hidden its rays, nor would the earth have quaked and trembled; but remember me in Thy kingdom, O long-suffering Lord.