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The icon depicts [[Christ]] after he has been removed from the cross, lying supine, as his body is being prepared for burial. The scene is taken from the [[Gospel]] of St. John 19:38-42. Shown around him, and mourning his death, may be his mother (the [[Theotokos]]; [[Apostle John|John]] the beloved disciple; [[Joseph of Arimathea]]; and [[Mary Magdalene]], as well as angels. [[Nicodemus]] and others may also be depicted. Sometimes, the body of Christ appears alone, except for angels, as if lying in state.[http://www.shroudforum.com/exhibit/images/simplezoom.jpg] The oldest surviving embroidered icon, of about 1200 (Venice) is in this form. The equivalent subjects in the West are called the "Anointing of Christ's body", or ''Lamentation'' (with a group present), or the ''Pietà'', with just Christ held by Mary.
===Vespers on Good Friday===
'''The Deposition from the Cross.''' Prior to the ''Apokathelosis'' (lit. "taking-down from the tree") [[Vespers]] on the afternoon of Great Friday, the priest and deacon will place the Epitaphios on the Holy Table. The priest may also anoint the Epitaphios with perfumed oil. A chalice veil and the [[Gospel Book]] is placed on top of the Epitaphios. This may be either the large Gospel Book used at the [[Divine Liturgy]], or it may be a small one.
During the reading of the Gospel lesson (compiled from selections of all four Gospels) which recounts the death of Christ, an icon depicting the ''soma'' (corpus) of Christ is taken down from a cross which has been set up in the middle of the church. The ''soma'' is wrapped in a white cloth and taken into the sanctuary.
Near the end of the service, the priest and deacon, accompanied by [[acolyte]]s with candles and incense, bring the Epitaphios in procession from the Holy Table into the center of the church and place it on a table which is often richly decorated for that purpose. [http://www.saintelias.com/foto/big/gtfrivespsermon.jpg] The Gospel Book is laid on top of the epitaphios. In some Greek churches, an elaborately carved canopy stands over the Epitaphios. This [[bier]] or catafalque represents the Tomb of Christ. The Tomb is often sprinkled with flower petals and rosewater, decorated with
candles, [http://xeniteia.typepad.com/photos/orthodoxy_in_korea/epi.html] and ceremonially censed as a mark of respect. The bells of the church are tolled, and in traditionally Orthodox countries, flags are lowered to half-mast. Then the priest and faithful venerate the Epitaphios as the choir chants hymns. In Slavic churches, the service of [[Compline]] will be served next, during which a special [[Canon]] will be chanted which recalls the lamentations of the Theotokos.
The faithful continue to visit the tomb and venerate the Epitaphios throughout the afternoon and evening, until [[Matins]] -- which is usually served in the evening during Holy Week, so that the largest number of people can attend. The form which the veneration of the epitaphios takes will vary between ethnic traditions. Some will make three [[prostration]]s, then kiss the image of Christ on the Epitaphios and the Gospel Book, and then make three more prostrations. Sometimes, the faithful will crawl under the table on which the Epitaphios has been placed, as though entering into death with Christ. Others may simply light a candle and/or say a short prayer with bowed head.
===Matins on Holy Saturday===
'''The Burial of Christ'''. During Matins, ''Lamentations'' (Greek: Επιτάφιος Θρήνος, ''epitaphios thrênos'', lit. "winding-sheet lamentation"; or Εγκομια, ''enkomia'', "praises") are sung before the Epitaphios as at the tomb of Christ, while all hold lighted candles. The verses of these Lamentations are interspersed between the verses of Psalm 118 (the chanting of this psalm forms a major part of the Orthodox funeral service). The psalm is divided into three sections, called ''stases''. At the beginning of each stasis, the priest or deacon will perform a censing. At the third and final stasis, the priest will sprinkle rosewater on the Epitaphios and the congregation, symbolizing the anointing of Christ's body with spices.