When was the first Good Friday commemoration observed, distinct from Pascha/Passover or Sunday Easter?


What is the origin of the Good Friday tradition?

However, I am not interested in when or where the idea of it being Friday came from, but simply what and when the first record of a "Good Friday" was.


The Didascalia Apostolorum, dated to AD 230, prescribe activities during Holy Week, including a fast on Friday:

Therefore you shall fast in the days of the Pascha from the tenth, which is the second day of the week; and you shall sustain yourselves with bread and salt and water only, at the ninth hour, until the fifth day of the week. But on the Friday and on the Sabbath fast wholly, and taste nothing. [v. 19] You shall come together and watch and keep vigil all the night with prayers and intercessions, and with reading of the Prophets, and with the Gospel and with Psalms, with fear and trembling and with earnest supplication, until the third hour in the night after the Sabbath; and then break your fasts. (v18–19)

Something similar is related in the Apostolic Constitutions (dated to 375–380) for Friday, the sixth day of the week:

But He commanded us to fast on the fourth and sixth days of the week; the former on account of His being betrayed, and the latter on account of His passion. But He appointed us to break our fast on the seventh day at the cock-crowing, but to fast on the Sabbath-day. Not that the Sabbath-day is a day of fasting, being the rest from the creation, but because we ought to fast on this one Sabbath only, while on this day the Creator was under the earth. (5.3.15)

The Pilgrimage of Etheria (or Egeria), dated to a few years later, describes a more elaborate celebration, with five main stages:

  • Service at daybreak
    • "And when they arrive before the Cross the daylight is already growing bright."
  • Column of the flagellation
    • "they all go at once with fervour to Sion, to pray at the column at which the Lord was scourged."
  • Veneration of the cross
    • "The casket is opened and (the wood) is taken out, and both the wood of the Cross and the title1 are placed upon the table. Now, when it has been put upon the table, the bishop, as he sits, holds the extremities of the sacred wood firmly in his hands, while the deacons who stand around guard it."
  • Station before the cross
    • "Thus from the sixth to the ninth hours the lessons are so read and the hymns said, that it may be shown to all the people that whatsoever the prophets foretold of the Lord's Passion is proved from the Gospels and from the writings of the Apostles to have been fulfilled."
  • Evening offices
    • "And after the dismissal at the martyrium, they go to the Anastasis, where, when they arrive, the passage from the Gospel is read where Joseph begged the Body of the Lord from Pilate and laid it in a new sepulchre."

The excerpts above are taken from the full text of The Pilgrimage of Etheria, which is too lengthy to quote here in full. The Encyclopedia of Ancient Christianity briefly summarizes:

Christians spent the time reflecting upon Jesus’ morning appearance before Pilate (Mk 15:2-15 and parallel texts) and the flagellation (Mk 15:16-20 and parallel texts). At noon, the wood of the cross found by Helena was shown to the faithful; then, for three hours, the people read the account of the passion, along with OT prophecies about Christ.

  • That first quote is fascinating on so many levels. Thank you. Is it really suggesting the monthly date and weekly days were locked in the same every year? (would require restarting week on new years day or having a year perfectly divisible by 7) and ninth hour Friday to 3rd hour Sunday, is that Roman or Hebrew reckoning? Either way, on topic, looks like you've covered the first observation distinct on Friday. Any possible reference to the first naming of "Good" Friday (in Latin?) Would just be a bonus as that's not clearly in my original question.
    – Joshua
    Jul 13 '16 at 14:25
  • @Joshua The context indicates that this is using the Hebrew calendar, not unlike our dating of Easter... the date of Easter in our calendar bounces around because it follows (sort of) how Passover is reckoned in the Hebrew calendar. As for times, it seems to be the "Jewish" clock, using sunrise as the first hour, since the document references the times of Matthew 27:45. So they'd be referring to 3pm Friday and 9am Sunday, more or less. Jul 13 '16 at 14:56
  • The issue of the origin of the name "Good Friday" appears to be pretty complex. The Catholic Encyclopedia makes it sound as if it is somewhat unique to English. As such I'd think that'd make more sense as a new question (and see Why is Good Friday called “Good”?). Jul 13 '16 at 15:01
  • Yes but the Hebrew calendar does not have the tenth of Nisan landing on the second day of the week every year. It moves as you say. But unless the quote's context is just one particular year, it seems it's always a Monday 10th. Also, it would be 3pm Friday to 9 pm Saturday (3rd hour of night after sabbath ends) in Hebrew reckoning or 9am Friday to 3am Sunday by Roman (by 3rd century I believe they counted off the top noon/midnight as we do). But hey :) nearly off topic. Can chat if there's more.
    – Joshua
    Jul 13 '16 at 15:03
  • agreed, since it is not easily solved from the answer to this question.
    – Joshua
    Jul 13 '16 at 15:12

I believe that the first instance of Good Friday (called Great and Holy Friday in the Orthodox Church) being recorded was in the diary of a Spanish nun named Egeria, written sometime between 381 and 385 AD, as summarized by Benedictine monk Dom Gregory Dix:

It begins on Passion Sunday with a procession to Bethany where the gospel of the raising of Lazarus is read. On the afternoon of Palm Sunday the whole church goes out to the Mount of Olives and returns in solemn procession to the city bearing branches of palm. There are evening visits to the Mount of Olives on each of the first three days of Holy Week, in commemoration of our Lord’s nightly withdrawal for the city during that week. On Maundy Thursday morning the eucharist is celebrated (for the only time in the year) in the chapel of the Cross, and not in the Martyrium; and all make their communion. In the evening after another eucharist the whole church keeps vigil at Constantine’s church of Eleona on the Mount of Olives, visiting Gethsemane after midnight and returning to the city in the morning for the reading of the gospel of the trial of Jesus. In the course of the morning of Good Friday all venerate the relics of the Cross, and then from noon to three p.m. all keep watch on the actual site of Golgotha (still left by Constantine’s architects open to the sky in the midst of a great colonnaded courtyard behind the Martyrium) with lections and prayers amid deep emotion. In the evening there is a final visit by the whole church to the Holy Sepulchre, where the gospel of the entombment is read. On Holy Saturday evening the paschal vigil still takes place much as in other churches, with its lections and prayers and baptisms….

There is some additional material on the history of Good Friday as well as the other days of Holy Week available from the Antiochian Orthodoox Christian Archdiocese web article, "The Historical Development of Holy Week Services In the Orthodox/Byzantine Rite"

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