Holy Saturday and Glorious Pascha

Holy Saturday and Glorious Pascha
Saint Barbara Greek Orthodox Church, Orange, CT. Photograph © Patric Marchitto

On Holy Saturday, we begin the day with the Vespers of Pascha.  Christ has been active even though his Body still rests in the sealed tomb.  We cannot yet sing “Christ is risen” for to our physical eyes, Christ appears to be dead in the tomb, but our hearts know that Christ is already destroying Death and Hades.  Some of the Hymns for this service are set as the voice of Hades as it is conquered by Christ.

Today Hades cried out groaning: “Would that I had not received the One born of Mary; for he came upon me and loosed my power.  He shattered the gates of brass; the souls which I held captive from of old, as God he raised up.” Glory O Lord to your Cross and Resurrection.

Today Hades cried out groaning: “My power has been trampled on; the Shepherd has been crucified, and Adam he raised up.  I have been deprived of those over whom I ruled; and all of those whom I swallowed in my power, I have disgorged.  He who was crucified has cleared the tombs.  The dominion of Death is no more.”  Glory O Lord to your Cross and Resurrection.

During this service, traditionally, we baptize the catechumens.  The baptisms are done while Old Testament passages are being read, passages such as the Children of Israel crossing the Red Sea, the Valley of Dry Bones being brought to life, Jonah and the whale, and the Three Hebrew Children in the Furnace.  There are up to fifteen readings, each telling a story of how God miraculously delivered or changed or saved or raised his people from the dead.  For baptism is truly our passing over from an old life to a new.

During the Liturgy, instead of the Cherubic Hymn, once each year, we sing the following majestic hymn.

Let all mortal flesh keep silent, and in fear and trembling stand, thinking not at all of earthly things; for the King of kings and Lord of lords comes forth to be sacrificed and given as food for the faithful.  Before him go the choirs of Angels with all the Principalities and Powers; the many-eyed Cherubim and the six-winged Seraphim covering their faces and chanting their hymn.  Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.

And finally, tonight, a little before midnight, we gather for the saving Pascha itself.  The word Pascha, like many words the Church uses, has more than one meaning.  It refers to the ‘passing over’ of the Death Angel experienced by the Israelites when they put the blood of a sacrificed lamb over the door of their homes.  It also refers to the suffering, the ‘passion’ of Christ. And Pascha refers to the celebration of our own passing over from the dominion of death into eternal life—a life that begins now, even while we are still in this world that is passing away, and a life that will continue forever in a resurrected form in a New Heaven and New Earth.

It is the Day of Resurrection!  Let us be illumined by the feast.  Let us embrace one another and call our brother even those who hate us.  Let us forgive all for the Resurrection, and thus let us cry: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down Death by death, and upon those in the tombs, bestowing life.”

And having sung Christ is risen a hundred or more times, just before we receive Holy Communion, we hear the Pascal homily of St. John Chrysostom.  In this homily we are told that no one should grieve their spiritual poverty, “for the universal Kingdom has been revealed.”  Everyone is welcome to the feast of Faith.

For the Master is generous and accepts the last even as the first. He gives rest to him who comes at the eleventh hour just as to him who has laboured from the first. He accepts the deed, and commends the intention. Enter then, all of you, into the joy of our Lord. First and last, receive alike your reward. Rich and poor, dance together. You who fasted and you who have not fasted, rejoice together. The table is fully laden: let all enjoy it. The calf is fatted: let none go away hungry. Let none lament his poverty;  for the universal Kingdom is revealed. Let none bewail his transgressions; for the light of forgiveness has risen from the tomb. Let none fear death; for the death of the Saviour has set us free.

Christ is risen!  Truly he is risen!

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