Great and Holy Thursday | Orthodox Times


On Thursday of Holy Week, four events are commemorated: the washing of the disciples’ feet, the institution of the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist at the Last Supper, the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane and the betrayal of Christ by Judas.

Maundy Thursday Commemorations

The institution of the Eucharist

At the mystical Supper in the Upper Room, Jesus gave a radically new meaning to the food and drink of the sacred meal. He identified with bread and wine: “Take, eat; It’s my body. Drink it all; for this is my New Covenant Blood” (Matthew 26:26-28).

We have learned to equate food with life because it sustains our earthly existence. In the Eucharist, the distinctly unique human food – bread and wine – becomes our gift of life. Consecrated and sanctified, the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. This change is not physical but mystical and sacramental. As long as the qualities of bread and wine remain, we participate in the true Body and Blood of Christ. In the Eucharistic meal, God enters into such a communion of life that he nourishes humanity with his own being, while remaining distinct. In the words of Saint Maximus the Confessor, Christ “transmits divine life to us, making itself edible”. The Author of life breaks the limits of our creation. Christ works so that “we become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).

The Eucharist is central to the life of the Church. This is his deepest prayer and his main activity. She is both the source and the summit of his life. In the Eucharist, the Church manifests her true nature and is continually transformed from a human community into the Body of Christ, Temple of the Holy Spirit and People of God. The Eucharist is the sacrament par excellence. It completes all the others and sums up the whole economy of salvation. Our new life in Christ is constantly renewed and increased by the Eucharist. The Eucharist gives life and the life it gives is the life of God.

In the Eucharist we receive and share the risen Christ. We share his sacrificed, risen and deified Body, “for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life” (Divine Liturgy). In the Eucharist, Christ pours into us – as a permanent and constant gift – the Holy Spirit, “who testifies by our spirit that we are children of God – and if children – then heirs with Christ (Romans 8: 16 -17).

The washing of the feet

The events initiated by Jesus to the Mystic. The supper was deeply meaningful. By teaching and giving the disciples his final instructions and also praying for them, he again revealed his divine parentage and authority. By instituting the Eucharist, he consecrates to perfection the most intimate designs of God for our salvation, offering himself as communion and life. By washing the feet of his disciples, he summed up the meaning of his ministry, manifested his perfect love and revealed his deep humility. The act of foot washing (John 13:2-17) is closely related to the sacrifice of the Cross. Both reveal aspects of the kenosis of Christ. While the cross constitutes the ultimate manifestation of Christ’s perfect obedience to his Father (Philippians 2:5-8), the washing of the feet signifies his intense love and the gift of self to each according to his ability to receive it (John 13:6-9).

prayer in the garden

The Synoptic Gospels have preserved for us another significant episode in the series of events leading up to the Passion, namely the agony and prayer of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26, 36-46; Mark 14, 32-42 ; Luke 22:39-46).

Although Jesus is the Son of God, he was destined as a man to fully accept the human condition, experience suffering and learn obedience. Stripping himself of divine prerogatives, the Son of God assumes the role of servant. He lived a truly human existence. Although he himself was without sin, he allied himself with the whole human race, identified himself with the plight of man and suffered the same trials (Philippians 2:6-11; Hebrews 2 : 9-18).

The moving events in the Garden of Gethsemane dramatically and poignantly revealed the human nature of Christ. The sacrifice he had to endure for the salvation of the world was imminent. Death, with all its brute force and fury, was staring directly at him. His terrible burden and fear – the calamitous results of ancestral sin – caused him intense pain and pain (Hebrews 5:7). Instinctively, as a man, he sought to escape it. He found himself in a moment of decision. In his agony, he prayed to his Father: “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you; remove this cup from me; yet not what I want, but what you want” (Mark 14:36).

Her prayer revealed the depths of her agony and sorrow. He also revealed his “incomparable spiritual strength (and) unwavering desire and decision. . . to do the will of the Father. Jesus offered his unconditional love and trust to the Father. He has reached the extreme limits of “not what I want” self-sacrifice – in order to do his Father’s will. His acceptance of death was not some kind of stoic passivity and resignation but an act of absolute love and obedience. At that moment of decision, when he declared that his acceptance of death was in accordance with the will of the Father, he broke the power of the fear of death with all the uncertainties, anxieties and limitations that come with it. He learned obedience and fulfilled the divine plan (Hebrews 5:8-9).

The treason

Judas betrayed Christ with a kiss, a sign of friendship and love. The betrayal and crucifixion of Christ took ancestral sin to its extreme limits. In these two acts, the rebellion against God has reached its maximum capacity. The seduction of man into paradise resulted in the death of God in the flesh. To be victorious, evil must extinguish the light and discredit good. In the end, however, it turns out to be a lie, nonsense, and sheer madness. The death and resurrection of Christ rendered evil powerless.

On Great Thursday, light and darkness, joy and sorrow are so strangely intertwined. In the Cenacle and in Gethsemane, the light of the kingdom and the darkness of hell shine through simultaneously. The path of life and the path of death converge. We meet them both on our journey through life.

In the midst of the snares and temptations that abound in the world around us and within us, we must be willing to live in communion with all that is good, noble, natural and sinless, forming us by the grace of God to likeness of Christ.

Icon of the Mystical Supper – Institution of the Holy Eucharist

Christ is the central figure at the table. Saint John the Beloved [Evangelist, Theologian] sits at the right hand of Christ; as the youngest of the disciples, he is depicted as beardless. Judas Iscariot the Traitor is the third figure from the left of Christ; he is depicted diving into the dish (Matthew 26:20-25). Saint John the Beloved receives in his left hand a piece of the Body of Christ; another piece is on the table in front of Christ. The chalice containing the Precious Blood of Christ is in his left hand.

Holy Thursday orthodox celebration

Several unique services mark the Orthodox celebration of Holy Thursday. The main service of the day is the Vesperal Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil which takes place on Maundy Thursday morning. This Liturgy commemorates the institution of the Holy Eucharist.

The Bible readings for the liturgy are: Exodus 19:10-18; Job 38:1-21, 42:1-5; Isaiah 50:4-11; I Corinthians 11:23-32; and Matthew 26:2-20; John 13:3-17; Matthew 26:21-39; Luke 22:43-45; Matthew 26:40-27:2.

Saint Chrism

In Christian antiquity, it was customary to baptize catechumens on the feast day of Easter. The chrismal oils, used for the anointing of neophytes or newly baptized, were consecrated in advance, on Great Thursday. This practice continued until the end of the Middle Ages. The dedication service was celebrated every year. Over time, however, it began to be celebrated occasionally, as the need arose to replace the Chrism.

Saint Chrism is also called Saint Myron. It is a mixture of olive oil, balsam, wine and about forty aromatic substances symbolizing the fullness of sacramental grace, the sweetness of Christian life and the multiple and diverse gifts of the Holy Spirit. . In the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, and in the centers of the other Patriarchates and Autocephalous Churches, Holy Chrism is blessed during the Liturgy of this day. The rite does not take place every year.

The reserved sacrament

According to custom, two lambs are consecrated during the divine liturgy on Great Thursday. The second Lamb is used as a Reserved Sacrament. The reserved sacrament serves above all to give communion to the sick.

The reserved sacrament of the previous year is consumed by the priest after the liturgy on Great Thursday or Great Saturday in the usual way.

In the event that the reserved sacrament has been exhausted, or for any reason altered, lost or destroyed, or does not exist, for, in the case of the founding of a new church, the priest may consecrate a second lamb to any divine liturgy. , and prepare it in the manner described above, and place it in the Artophorion.

The Service of the Nopter (Washing of the Feet)

It seems that the Church held a foot-washing ceremony every year on Great Thursday in imitation of the event of the Last Supper. For the most part, it was limited to cathedral churches and certain monasteries. Over time, the service fell into disuse except in certain areas. It is now recovered by many dioceses across the Orthodox world. The service is elaborate, dramatic and moving. It is conducted with particular solemnity at the Patriarchate of Jerusalem and at the Monastery of Saint John the Theologian on the island of Patmos. The service is contained in a separate liturgical book.

Maundy Thursday hymns

Troparion (fourth plagal tone)

When the glorious disciples were enlightened at the washing of feet before supper, the impious Judas was darkened with the disease of avarice, and to the lawless judges he betrayed you, the just judge. Behold, this man hanged himself for greed. Flee from the insatiable desire that dared such things against Master! O Lord who treats everything with righteousness, glory to you!

communion hymn

Receive me today, Son of God, as a partaker of Your mystical Supper. I will not reveal Your mystery to Your adversaries. Nor will I give you a kiss like Judas did. But as a thief, I confess to you: Lord, remember me in your kingdom.


  • The Lenten Triod. translated by Mother Mary and Kallistos Ware (South Canaan, PA: St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, 1994), pp. 60-61, 548-564.
  • Calivas, Alkiviadis C. Great Week and Easter in the Greek Orthodox Church (Brookline: Holy Cross Press, 1992), pp. 51-62.
  • Farley, Donna. Seasons of Grace: Reflections on the Orthodox Church Year (Ben Lomond, CA: Conciliar Press, 2002), pp. 133-136.
  • Wybrew, Hughes. Orthodox Lent, Holy Week and Easter: Liturgical Texts with Commentary (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1997), pp. 101-104.
  • Photo courtesy of John Thomas and used with permission. Discover more of Holy Week in pictures thanks to John Thomas’ book “Sacred Light: Following the Paschal Journey”
  • Icon from “The Nipter” courtesy of Theologic and used with permission.
  • Icon of the Mystical Last Supper provided by: ΕΚΔΟΣΗ και ΕΠΙΣΚΟΠΟΥ , ΓΑΛΑΚΤΙΩΝΟΣ ΓΚΑΜΙΛΗ ΤΗΛ. 4971 882, ΕΚΤΥΠΟΣΗ Μ. ΤΟΥΜΠΗΣ Α.Ε.,

Source: Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America

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