- The Golgotha Hymn
This hymn is sung at the end of the Twelfth Hour Prayer of the Good
Friday. The text of this hymn is included in the Deacons’ Service Book
(Page in the Arabic Text).
Language of the Golgotha Hymn:
The words of this Hymn are a mixture of Coptic and Greek languages,
but mostly Coptic except for the phrases that start with “Glory to the Father
… Both now and forever … Holy” which are in Greek (zoxa patri … Ke
nein … Agios).
The Occasion on which the Hymn is Chanted:
It is chanted on the memory of the burial of the Lord Christ, at the end of
the Twelfth Hour Ritual Prayer of the Good Friday, and is called “the Burial
Canon”. While chanting it, the deacons go around the altar. The eldest priest
takes the Burial Icon or the Crucifixion Icon, wraps it with a strip of white
linen and places the cross over it, then he buries it in flowers and fragrant
oils and puts five seeds of carnation or incense. These refer to the nails,
thorn crown and the spear. Then he covers it with the Prospharine and puts
two candlestics with lighted candles on both sides as a symbol of the two
angels who were inside the holy tomb, one at the head and the other at the
- Golgotha in Hebrew – Ikraniune in Greek is the place where the Lord
of Glory was crucified, with His hands stretched between the two
thieves who were crucified with Him, one on His right, and the other
on His left.
- The place of Golgotha was near Jerusalem, but outside its walls, for
St. Paul says, “Therefore, Jesus also, that He might sanctify the
people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate therefore, let us
go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach.” (Heb :
) It seems that it was a spot visible from some distance, because
the Scripture says, “there were also women looking on from afar,
among whom were Mary Magdalene.” (Mk ).
- The word is taken from the Greek word “Ikarniune”. Some think that
this name was given to this place because of the many bare and
unburied skulls. Others say that the place was an open space for
execution. However it is commonly thought as being a hill in the form
of a skull. In the evening, after the Lord Jesus Christ had breathed His
last, Joseph, from the city of Arimathea, who was a rich man and a
disciple to Jesus, came to take the body or the Lord. Joseph was a
good and righteous person who was also rich. He was a councilor: a
member of the Synhedrin. It was said that he refused to attend the trial
of the Lord Christ, and abstained from voting because he was against
their decision and action.
- The rule in the Jewish law was that no dead body remains on the
execution tool. Moreover, the Roman law allowed the household of
the person sentenced to death to ask for the body and take it. So,
Joseph of Arimathea was encouraged and asked Pilate for the body of
Christ to be able to bury it before the Sabbath. He had a garden near
Golgotha where he had engraved a new tomb, so he took the body of
Jesus to bury it, and Nicodemus shared him that honor.
- Nicodemus also was a member of the Synhedrin Council, a Pharisee
and one of the Jews rulers. He is the one who once came to the Lord
Christ by night so as not to be seen by anyone to discuss and learn
from Him about the second spiritual birth. Being convinced by the
Lord’s words, he defended Him at the Synhedrin when the Pharisees
attacked Him. He said to them, “Does our law judge a man before it
hears him and knows what he is doing?” (Jn )
- Joseph and Nicodemus took the body of Jesus and they wrapped it in
strips of pure linen with spices and fragrant oils, laid it in that new
tomb that was hewn out of a rock. While doing this, they were
praising Him with tearful eyes. This same Praise became the Burial
Canon sung by the church up till now.
The Method of Performance:
This Hymn is performed by all the deacons standing around the altar
at the Twelfth Hour of the Good Friday without using the bell or the
Mode and Speed of the Hymn (Tempo):
This hymn dates back to thousands of years. If we listen carefully to
it, we will find it very simple in its musical structure to the extent that the
first stanza seems like an elegy of those common at that time.
Philo of Alexandria, a Philosopher from the first century asserts that
early Christians have taken Ancient Egyptian tunes and added to it the
Christian texts. One of these is the Golgotha Hymn that was chanted by
Pharaohs during the embalming process and at funeral ceremonies.
Therefore, I think that part of this hymn is the same which Joseph and
Nicodemus chanted, for they were in such a mood at the burial moments
as not to be able to compose melodies, but were rather in deep grief,
astonishment and wonder: how could the Life-Giver die? Thus they
probably praised Him with melodies stored in the subconscious, themes
which the conscious mind recalls in similar situations. Afterwards, the
early fathers composed the final form in words and stanzas.
I think therefore that Glogotha is divided into two main musical
- The first main stanza conforms to the philosopher’s view that it is a
Pharaoh theme quoted from Ancient Egypt by early Christians who
provided it with Christian texts. Its simple construction and few tunes:
only four, support the opinion that it is one of the elegies common at that
time. Being of simple lyric tenor, anyone can perform it smoothly even if
weeping, for the level goes up or down gradually. It is not like the low
refrains which require accuracy and caution on its performance, nor like
the sharp responses which require some effort to perform and where the
voice is soft.
- The second main stanza does not conform with Philo’s view for the
* The musical creation and motif forms here differ from those of the first
* Its performance requires excessive care because of the perfect fifth
leaps and swift tunes.
* The word expression in this second stanza and the tune are congruent;
that is to say, when the tone of the words of the hymn “Avoash Evol Engi
Bi Soni”- which mean “the thief cried out” rises, voice leaps occur and
tones become swift expressing the meaning of the words. This can only
be realized through live musical composition which was impassable at
the time when Joseph and Nicodemus were burying the body of the Lord
* The Greek words in the hymn indicate that it was translated from the
Ancient Egyptian language into the Greek, then into Coptic.
* The mode of the Hymn is the “Agam Mode”, known as the “Great
Tenor”, which is the simplest of the Eastern and Western Modes
* The simple rhythm of the stanza is dual ( / ), only two strokes: the first
strong, and the second weak.
* The speed of the hymn: about beats/minute, is suitable. Had it
exceeded this limit, the tune would have turned into a march and would
have lost the touch of grief which spread throughout its tunes.
Further Explanation and Contemplation:
The music of this Hymn can be summed up in two small stanzas: the
first basic one is composed of eight meters only and four tunes. This is to
show that Joseph and Nicodemus were weeping while putting the spices
over the body of the Beloved, so they could not express their grief except
with these four tunes. Their vocal chords were trembling, they could not
chant with fifth tune. They were looking at the Holy face in astonishment
and wondering how could the Life-Giver die! How could it be that He
dies whom the angels praise continually without languor, saying “Holy
God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal”! Hearing this praise by the angels,
they found themselves praising with a harsh voice “Fioco” crushed by
weeping. Their vocal chords were unable to utter anything except these
four tunes. Thus they kept repeating them ten times.
While wrapping the body and putting spices and fragrant oils on it,
they remembered the cry of the thief on the right side of the Lord on the
cross, saying, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom”.
Realizing that such a cry has rescued the thief from Hades and eternal
perdition and brought him to comfort and eternal kingdom, they tried to
cry out like him in spite of the trembling “Fioco” voice. Therefore a new
fifth tune is introduced that was not before in the first stanza which was
repeated ten times. This fifth tune is the fruit of their struggle and labor,
and of their desire to attain that elevation which the thief had attained!
Here the Praise Song takes another form by a second stanza
introduced actually stronger than the first, yet softer. It begins with a flow
“Glissando” that passes over the five tunes to express the meaning of the
words “Avoash Evol Engi Bi Soni”, i.e. “then the thief cried out”. This
rapid move to a “perfect fifth” layer is not strange because the image
depicted at that moment in the mind of Joseph and Nicodemus was that
of the thief who had attained the kingdom of heaven and Paradise with
those words. Why then would they not lay hold of it by a leaping
melody? Therefore the tune rises to attain to the heavenly orders’ tunes
spreading ringing around the Golgotha.
This image of the thief made them repeat this second stanza four
times, then bow in awe before the dead body full of life to entreat Him,
saying, “Do we not deserve to be like that thief who was on Your right?”
We know that our sins are like crimson, but this Your holy body and the
precious blood pouring from Your stabbed side are capable of making
them as white as snow. Here they return again to the first gentle and soft
but sad stanza of the four tunes, to implore Him, saying, “Eripa Mevei O
Pa Shois”, which words mean: “O Lord, remember me when You come
into Your kingdom”. They kept repeating them four times also till they
receive the voice of the meek Lord saying to that thief, “Today you will
be with Me in Paradise”
Indeed, they will not forget that marvelous voice. Meek, it is true, but
it destroys cedar and extinguishes fire! Meek it is, but it convulses
Kadish wilderness and makes barren the woods! It is the same voice
which cried loudly, “Lazarus, come forth!” the voice of the Lord who
raised Lazarus from among the dead by a cry and is capable of raising us
from the death of sin. Yea, Joseph of Arimathea remembered his sin; how
he dared to come to the Lord secretly in fear of the Jews! He should have
cast fear away, and now he did. He was bold enough to stand before
Pilate and ask him to take the body of the Lord Christ. Fear had no more
a place in his heart. Here the tune can be higher again, and the second
stanza with its five tones and Glissando can return and be repeated seven
times the same way.
The tune continues the same: a mixture of quiet grief one time and
strong grief another time, till the tune ends with the first stanza with its
four tones when they have completed the burial of the dead body of the
Living Christ. Then they bow down before the tomb with tears flowing
heavily until the huge stone conceals the holy body from their sight.
Ye, who have done away with death by Your death after having
suffered, let me cherish Your suffering as my treasure; Your crown of
thorns as my glory; Your pains as my joy; Your myrrh as sweetness in
my mouth and Your love as my honor and gratitude.
O Lord, do not allow blood and flesh to prevail over me, nor Satan
strike me down! Rather, let me taste the joy and beauty with Joseph and
Nicodemus of this solemn tune “Golgotha”.
The “Golgotha” Hymn
Golgotha in Hebrew;
Ikraniune in Greek;
The place where they crucified You, O Lord
You stretched Your hands;
They crucified two thieves with You,
One on Your right, and one on the left;
And You in the middle, O Good Savior.
Glory be to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
The thief on the right cried out:
Remember me, O my Lord;
Remember me, O my Savior;
Remember me, O my King
When You come to Your Kingdom.
The Lord answered him gently:
Today you will be with Me in My Kingdom.
Now and forever and ever. Amen.
The two righteous Joseph and Nicodemus
Took the body of Christ,
They anointed Him, prepared Him for burial
And put Him in the tomb
While praising Him:
Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal
Who was crucified for us, have mercy upon us.
- The Golgotha Hymn