His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros
Homily for the Service of the Lamentations at the Tomb
The Matins of Holy and Great Saturday
April 14, 2023
Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Shrine Church
Flushing, New York
My Beloved Christians,
Tonight, our holy Epitaphios Service is an invitation to join in the procession of the countless Christians who have come before us – across all the generations, in the Burial of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the retinue of the Kouvouklion, we all participate in the funeral cortege of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Lord is brought down from the Cross by the hands of Joseph. His Holy Mother and the other Women Disciples wail and lament as they embrace His dead body, so deeply wounded and bloodied for our salvation. They begin to anoint His divine Body for burial, with the myrrh and aloes brought by Nikodemos.
But the sun is setting. So, as observant Jews obedient to the Sabbath – not yet understanding that this is the Great and Holy Sabbath – they hasten to carry the body of the Lord and lay it in a new tomb - ἐν μνήματι καινῷ κηδεύσας ἀπέθετο, just as we chanted at the Apokathelosis this afternoon, and just a little while ago at the beginning of this Service.
We read what happened in Saint John’s Gospel:
They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it in grave-linens with the aromatic spices, as is customary in Jewish burials. Now there was a garden in the place where Jesus was crucified, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had ever been buried. Therefore, on account of the Jewish Day of Preparation and because the tomb was close by, they buried Jesus there.*
This is our journey tonight! This is the path we are following behind the Sacred Kouvouklion in our Holy Procession.
To that Garden, where the sin that marred the Garden of Eden will be wiped away.
To that Garden, wiping away the sweat of our Lord Jesus that had rained down like the great drops of Blood, watering the Garden of Gethsemane.†
To that Garden, where our Lord Jesus Christ now rests from His labors, which, by the bloody sweat of His Passion, will now feed the entire world as the Bread of Heaven. How the Lord reverses the struggle that Adam endured, when he was cursed to bring forth bread from the earth by the sweat of his brow!‡
To that Garden, where He Who is the Root of Jesse§ plants a new humanity, which will live eternally with God in His Heavenly Kingdom by His Resurrection.
My Beloved Christians:
Our journey tonight is to that Garden, carrying the Body of our Lord, because we are His Body, His Church.
Like the Holy Women, with Joseph and Nikodemos, we are outside the established order of things; outside the City, outside the camp, outside the conventions of this world.
As it says in the Letter to the Hebrews:
Therefore Jesus, that He might sanctify the people with His own Blood, suffered outside the gate. Let us go forth therefore unto Him outside the camp, bearing his reproach. For here, we have no continuing city, but we seek one to come.**
We walk tonight in this Epitaphios Service as did those Faithful Disciples who took the Lord to His Tomb. We walk with love, with emotion, and with confidence in His victory over sin and death. We walk as those who understand that our lives are not permanent in this world. They are eternal in the next world, as the Apostle says, the “one to come.”
Therefore, dear Sisters and Brothers, let us continue on our journey tonight with all those who love the Lord. Let us never be ashamed of our Faith in the One Who was Crucified for us. And in that Garden, where the empty rich man’s tomb waited for the Body of the Lord, let us plant the seed of New Life in Christ. For that Garden is inside each one of us; in our hearts, where, like an empty tomb, we await the Body of Christ to fill us with newness of life, that will be everlasting, unto ages, of ages. Amen.
* John 19:40-42.
† Cf. Luke 22:44.
‡ Cf. Genesis 3:19.
§ Cf. Isaiah 11:10.
** Hebrews 13:12-14.