A Sabbatical Good Friday

(c) Ben Gray’s wonderful picture of the light over the Edicule of the Holy Tomb

You have certainly noticed that Israeli society develops new view about what European cultures used to call “weekend”, definitely influenced by the Christian tradition. Apparently, the Christian weekend consists in a secular understanding of two non-working days, e.g.: Saturday and Sunday that may start on Friday afternoon. With regards to the Work regulations in force in most countries, the obligation to stop any activity on one day of the week has not been very constant. Until nowadays, a lot of people throughout the world would not really benefit from any day-off, and this affects them for the better part of the year. Some cultures would simply ignore the right to get some rest. Even in dire times of pandemics.

In this respect, Judaism has introduced the Shabbat day-off, with the obligation to rest, not to accomplish 37 sorts of activities for a very special reason: it is a real “imitatio Dei” – the Jew and the strangers who abide in the midst of the Jewish community have been created at the Image and Likeness of God Himself. And, when God finished His labor that was the creation and fashioning of the world and its inhabitants, he rested from all the work that He had done while continuing to develop and create it (asher bara Elohim la’asot/אשר ברא לעשות) (Gen. 2:3). When entering the seventh day eve when sun sets on the sixth day, the prayer quotes the verse of the TaNaKh that explains why all activities should be stopped. “Yom shishi : sixth day. and, thus, were achieved, the heaven and the earth and all their array (Bereishit 2:1).

God made them to the fullest of their plenitude, which is explicit in the verb “Vayechullu\ויכולו”. It does not mean that He had “finished” a task, a work. It states that the six day intense activity was a time of conceiving, constructing, shaping, breathing-in life and bringing-in a full autonomous and systematic. It could also function and be self-sufficient. This is why “asher bara la’asot – which He created in a continual process” is meaningful. Let’s say that, God could have gone for a nap or a rest, not even the supposed 24 hours of Shabbat. The whole system and their numerous living, procreating devices and creatures could have stopped. We are perfectly aware that we exist and survive day by day, generation after generation by some automatically scheduled table that requires a repair or some adjustment from time to time. This is puzzling, precisely because God has accomplished, achieved His creation work. The root comes from “KOL/kolel/klal\כל-כול-כולל-כלל = fulfill, fulfillment. wholeness, entirety”.

“Vaykhullu” has another meaning linked to what shows fulfillment according to the Jewish tradition. God “achieved” His work on the sixth day in the sense that it was “total and one, unique”. So God shaped the universe, heaven and earth, with the substance of being a “bride – kallah\כלה” in two ways. Firstly, to be like a crown that ornaments the nature of the worlds as in Isaiah 49:18. Secondly, the perfect crown is figured out as the bride because she allows the bridegroom to continue this systematic action of creativity based on uniqueness and love. “The bride/kallah is to be found perfect in the house of her father-in-law” (Pessahim 87a). Kallah is also the name of the Great Assembly of the students who, like those in Babylon, study the Torah during the months of Adar and Ellul. God’s Presence is spicy as the k’lah/uchla – the full measure of spices (Bava Betza III.62b).


This is why the sixth day is so meaningful for the Jewish tradition. It realizes to the whole what was already unique and one, singular on the first day, “yom echad\יום אחד – day one” and not “yom rishon\יום ראשון” as we have it today for our weekly delays. In Hebrew (as in all Semitic languages), days are named by numbers from one to six. Modern Hebrew lined the initial creation day on the second, “rishon = first” sounds more coherent. And we have been launched in the whirling development of time in space. We may consider the biblical account of the 6 day creation as a tale. Still, it is certainly the best way to describe what happened in the realm of God’s big bang. The seventh day or “yom hashevi’i – Shabbat” implements and clarifies additional features of a “creative launching process”. As if the “day one/yom echad” might, in the future, appear as the one and eighth day in terms of symbolic existence. Biblical Greek (Septuagint) and Latin (Vulgata) are of course based on the Hebrew day compute. There is no Sun-day, Moon-day, Fri-day (Frijadagur – (Freyja/Venus) wooing day) or Satur(ne)-day) = Laugardagur in Icelandic: “laundrying, washing, bathing day –Dan. Lørdag”. Christianity – this is barely known even by the believers – has kept until now the Hebrew weekly compute to define the days and the hours for the prayers.

Thus, Friday (Gr. Paraskevi/παρασκευη; Rus. Piatnitsa-Пятница/5th day) is of major importance in Christianity since the very foundation of the faith that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead. Good Friday is Gr. Megali Paraskevi- μεγαλη παρασκευη/Great Friday (“Sad” in Arabic) Germ. Karfreitag (Lamentation day) or Slavonic Strasnoi Piatok/stranaia Piatnitsa6срастной Пяток-страстная пятница” (Passion Friday/5th day), Scand. Long Friday. Jesus died at the some hours before the beginning of the Great Feast (Pesach). The Greek word is in the LXX as “the day of preparation to the Shabbat” is referred as Friday in all the Gospel (Matthew 27:62; Mark 15:42; Luke 23:54; John 19:14 (Nisan 14 = Pesach).

It means that the Yom shishi took place in a full Jewish and ritual context, still under control of a foreign occupation Roman Empire governor, soldiers coming from all possible nations of that huge empire. The whole account of Jesus judgment is fascinating because it shows the acuity of Jesus’ words or silence in facing two heads of questionable institutions. Pontius Pilatus condemned him by fear then played the innocent. He sent Jesus to Caiaphas, the high priest but the Sanhedrin could hardly be decisional in the situation of occupation. The context is mostly biased in a unique messianic context. It is impossible to make any comparison with Shabtai Tzvi destiny or other false messiahs. In the case of Good Friday, it does correspond to the bridal end day of the creation of the world and the preparation to resting… thus not dying, but being prolonged over the apparent stop, cease. The women had brought the spices (cf. k’lah) for his embalming (Luke 23:55).

It is quite impossible for the Jewish communities to positively consider in the present any link between Yom shishi/Friday – entrance of the Shabbat and Good Friday. Ecumenical movements showed after World War II with strong interests for the ties that do exist and cannot be cancelled or denied between Judaism and Christianity. In this field, we are lying in some cradle of understanding, at some blurred dawn of a possible encounter that cannot be escaped. It will require centuries of patience and a lot of mutual humbleness.

The split between Judaism and Christianity does show with persistence and violence (bedin: with violence and unwillingly) hesitating between friendship, total ignorance or dreamy love and peace utopia. The recent change that Pope Benedict XVI decided with regards to the classical Good Friday Tridentine prayer mainly tends to ban the reading of the prayer as printed in the old books printed in Latin because it is the standard language of the Roman Church. Pope John XXIII had suppressed the words “Let us pray for the perfidious Jews (pro perfidis Judaeis)” in 1960.

Now, the version of the prayer said on Good Friday in the Roman Catholic Church after the final publication of the text in 1970 (Pope Paul VI) is thus: “1. Let us pray for the Jewish people, the first to hear the word of God, that they may continue to grow in the love of His Name and in faithfulness to His covenant. 2. Almighty and eternal God, long ago you gave your promise to Abraham and his posterity. Listen to your Church as we pray that the people you first made your own may arrive at the fullness of redemption…”

This change only concerns and is only observed by the Latin rite part of the Roman Church. The Oriental Churches have not revised any text. It would have presupposed the union of the Orthodox Churches and their agreement that was not possible for political and mostly theological positions. The new authorized Catholic Tridentine text states: “1. Let us also pray for the Jews: That our God and Lord may illuminate their hearts, that they acknowledge Jesus Christ is the Savior of all men. 2. Almighty and eternal God, who want that all men be saved and come to the recognition of the truth, propitiously grant that even as the fullness of the peoples enters Thy Church, all Israel be saved. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen” (Vatican, 2008).

There are positive expressions scattered in many Latin rite prayers (e.g. “the Israelite dignity” for Easter). All suggest that the Jews should confess and recognize the Savior. Thus, all the Churches call the Jews to convert to the Christian Creed. In this matter, we cannot be blind or keep arguing that this has been canceled. Some Churches would stop baptizing because they are afraid of Israeli or Muslim protests. Fear has nothing to do with faith, freedom of conscience, respect of the souls. Israel still bears, for a long time, the wounds and scars of the nails of the Cross.

This special year is like a Sabbatical year for paschal celebrations. It questions the rituals, the way we meet the days when the Lord is to come, is present indeed. Because, whenever we serve the Services and the Liturgies, He is in our midst. And the virus overshadows both our desire to confess true faith and still our natural tendencies to keep away, distanced from those who do share our own beliefs. The pandemic obstructs clergy people and laity, may stop them stiff in their places, their mental certitudes.

Good Friday remains the full day of silence, from life and moves, words and speech. In the mouth of Jesus of Nazareth, it end with “all is full, achieved, accomplished – tam/תם”. We are granted the privilege of a surplus in the development of redemption. In the Byzantine tradition, we have longed after the coming of the bridegroom during the first days of the Passion Week. May we be given the seal of communion in the Messiah.

Yom shishi – Friday as Good Friday is and remains a bridal day, a day of preparation to rejoicing and faith. Every Friday, Jews enter the time of rest, repose, calm and peace. This remains for all a day of fulfillment.

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