The Epitaphios | Burial of Christ Icon

Epitaphios, from the Stavronikita Monastery, Mt Athos (16th Century)

Epitaphios, from the Stavronikita Monastery, Mt Athos (16th Century)

The Epitaphios (Gr. Επιτάφιος) is a large icon, usually embroidered, that depicts the burial of Christ. The name, epitaphios, literally means “winding-sheet”, and is used in services of Holy (Good) Friday and Holy Saturday to re-present the burial and funeral of Christ. An expanded version of this post, with a gallery of various epitaphios images, will be added here later. In the meantime, I add one of the most well-known icons (actually a fresco) of the epitaphios thrênos; i.e. the Lamentations by the Tomb. I also include some of the hymns from Holy Saturday, which understandably contain much hope mixed with the sorrow of Christ’s passion and death.

By being covered with the dust of the earth,
You renew the nature of mortals, O Creator;
The tomb and the winding-sheet reveal your deepest mystery, O Word;
The noble counsellor renders present the counsel of your eternal Father,
Who renews me in this wondrous way through you.

Glory to You, O God, Glory to You

By your death, you transform that which is mortal;
By your burial, you transform that which is corruptible;
By your divinity, you draw us up from the abyss.
For, that which you assume, you make immortal;
Your flesh, O Master, did not undergo corruption,
And your soul did not remain in Hades where you were a stranger.

Altar cloth from the Bishop's sacristy of Yaroslav (16th Century)

Altar cloth from the Bishop’s sacristy of Yaroslav (16th Century)

The most holy Temple is destroyed,
But he raises up the fallen tabernacle;
For he who dwells in the highest heaven, the New Adam,
Goes down into Hades to raise up the first Adam.
O youths, bless the Lord;
Praise him, you priests;
And let the whole nation exalt him forever…

…O marvelous wonder!
O goodness and condescension beyond description!
He who dwells in the highest heavens
Accepts burial beneath a sealed rock;
And God himself is treated as a deceiver!
O youths, bless the Lord;
Praise him, you priests;
And let the whole nation exalt him forever.

The lamentations of the Mother of God (glass icon, Romania)

The lamentations of the Mother of God (glass icon, Romania)

I conceived you in a wondrous way, O my eternal Son,
And I was happier than all women,
For I did not suffer any pain.
But today I see you lifeless, O my God,
And a sword of sadness pierces me in a most cruel manner;
But arise, O Lord, that I may extol you…

… O Mother, the earth covers me by my own will;
But the guardians of Hades shudder to see me,
Wearing the bloody garment of punishment;
For, on the Cross, I have struck down my enemies;
I shall arise as God, and you shall be exalted…

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This entry was posted in Iconography, Icons of Christ, Icons of the Incarnation, The Theotokos and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to The Epitaphios | Burial of Christ Icon

  1. Reblogged this on The Georgian Church for English Speakers and commented:
    On this Holy Friday and Saturday, one will see the Epitaphios installed in a bier representing the tomb. Different versions on this important icon are presented here, The Lamentations by the Tomb.

  2. As a student of history, rather than of icons, I was very interested in the evidence that has been published suggesting that the Epitaphios and the rituals associated with it may have had their origins in the Shroud of Turin when it resided in Constantinople before the city was sacked by the Crusaders and many important relics were stolen and taken to Western Europe. I wondered if you were familiar with this and if you had an opinion concerning it.

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