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[[Image:Epitaphios procession.jpg|right|thumb|200px|Priests carrying an epitaphios in a [[Holy Friday]] procession at the [[Monastery of Our Lady of Balamand]].]]
The '''Epitaphios''' (
[[Greek language|Greek ]]: Επιτάφιος, ''epitaphios'', or Επιτάφιον, ''epitaphion''; [[Church Slavonic language|Slavonic ]]: Плащаница, ''plashchanitsa''; [[Arabic language|Arabic ]]: نعش, ''naash'') is an [[icon]], today most often found as a large cloth, embroidered and often richly adorned, which is used during the services of [[ Good Friday|Great Friday]] and [[Holy Saturday]] . It also exists in painted or [[mosaic ]] form, on walls or panels.
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]]; [[John
the Evangelist|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.
Usually, the [[troparion]] of the day is embroidered around the edges of the icon:
===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.
Near the end of Matins, during the [[Great Doxology]], a solemn procession with the Epitaphios is held, with bells ringing the funeral toll, commemorating the burial procession of Christ. In Slavic churches, the Epitaphios alone is carried in procession with candles and incense.[http://www.saintelias.com/foto/big/gtfrivespprocessplasfrdav.jpg] It may be carried by hand or raised up on poles like a canopy. Many Greek churches, however, will carry the entire bier, with its carved canopy attached.[http://www.greektravel.com/greekislands/kea/easter/DSC09111_JPG_view.htm] In societies where Byzantine Christianity is traditional, the processions may take extremely long routes through the streets, [http://www.greecetravel.com/easter/epitaphios.jpg] with processions from different parishes joining together in a central location. Where this is not possible, the procession goes three times around the outside of the church building. The procession is accompanied by the singing of the [[Trisagion]], typically in a melodic form used at funerals. Those unable to attend the church service will often come out to balconies where the procession passes, holding lit candles and sometimes hand-held [[censer]]s. In many Greek villages the Epitaphios is also paraded in the cemetery, among the graves, as a covenant of eternal life to those who have passed away.
At the end of the procession, the Epitaphios is brought back to the church. Sometimes, after the clergy carry the Epitaphios in, they will stop just inside the entrance to the church, and hold the Epitaphios above the door, so that all who enter the church will pass under it (symbolically entering into the grave with Christ) and then kiss the Gospel Book. In Greek churches, the Epitaphios is then brought directly to the sanctuary, where it remains on the Holy Table until [[Ascension]] Thursday. In Slavic churches, it is brought back to the catafalque in the middle of the church (and honored further with more petals, rosewater and incense), where it remains until the Midnight Office at the Paschal Vigil on Great Saturday night. Where the Epitaphios remains in the center of the church, the faithful will continue to venerate it throughout Great Saturday.
==Epitaphios of the Theotokos==
An Epitaphios of the [[Theotokos]] also exists. This too is a richly embroidered cloth icon, but depicting instead the body of the [[Theotokos]] lying in state. [http://www.uncutmountainsupply.com/prodimages/lg/epitaph.jpg] This is used on the feast of the [[Dormition]] of the Theotokos on 15 August, known in the West as the Assumption of Mary. The
Epitaphos of the Theotokos is used with corresponding hymns of lamentation, placed on a bier, [http://home.clara.net/orthodox/theotokos_shroud.jpg] and carried in procession in the same way as the Epitaphios of Christ, although it is never placed on the Holy Table.
The Rite of the "Burial of the Theotokos" began in Jerusalem, and from there it was carried to Russia, where it was used in the [[W:Cathedral of the Dormition|Uspensky]] (Dormition) cathedral in Moscow. Its use has slowly spread among the Russian Orthodox, though it is not by any means a standard service in all parishes, or even most cathedrals or monasteries. In Jerusalem, the service is chanted during the [[All-Night Vigil]] of the Dormition. In some Russian
churhes and monasteries, it is served on the third day after Dormition.