Good Friday, Part 1: Stripped

Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. And they stripped him . . .

And when they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots.

—Matthew 27:27–28, 35

LOOK: Denis Sarazhin (Ukrainian, 1982–), Pantomime 6, 2015. Oil on canvas, 130 × 150 cm.

Sarazhin, Denis_Pantomime 6

LISTEN: “They have stripped me of my garments,” Byzantine hymn in plagal second tone, chanted by Vassilis Hadjinicolaou [HT: Global Christian Worship]

This doxastikon (a type of hymn) is sung during the Orthros (Matins) of Great and Holy Friday, which is prayed on the night of Holy Thursday. Note that because they follow the Julian calendar rather than the Gregorian, Orthodox Christians celebrate Good Friday on April 30 this year (and Easter on May 2).

If you’re wondering where the (for me, uncomfortably) violent image in the last line comes from, it’s from Psalm 2:9 (cf. Rev. 19:15). Its insertion into the episode of Christ’s being mocked seems to me an odd choice, seeing as the whole passion narrative is about God the Son absorbing violence rather than enacting it, and we know from his issuance of forgiveness from the cross that he did not have a vengeful attitude toward his tormenters. I speak from outside the Orthodox tradition, though.

Otherwise I find this hymn very moving. Its first line is what inspired the image I chose—of numerous hands clawing at cloth. Nakedness is one of the many indignities Jesus faced on Good Friday; he was stripped, dressed parodically in purple, reclothed with his personal garments, and then stripped again before being crucified. As he hung dying, exposed to the public, the Roman soldiers gambled for his clothing, souvenirs from the high-profile execution. Again, the soldiers’ bestiality is reflected in Sarazhin’s painting.

For more songs for Holy Week, see the Art & Theology Holy Week Playlist.