Since my last post, there have been several services at St. Stephens, I just haven’t stopped long enough to get to my computer. To be more exact, the service really didn’t end from last night at 7pm until after Liturgy for Holy Saturday this morning. After the Burial Service, an all night vigil was held by the tomb – the faithful came and went throughout the evening – reading the psalms or meditating in silence. At midnight was the beautiful Byzantine Lamentations.
Holy Week is quite a community event – children sleeping the church hall while their parents attend part of the late night services – the light meal taken after Holy Saturday liturgy – which briefly breaks the Fast that is observed through the crucifixion and burial – and is designed to give enough strength the make it through tonights service. So much of this is done together, as community – it is a beautiful thing.
Shortly after becoming Orthodox, I realized that, while Good Friday and Easter had always been significant Holy Days for me, I never really quite knew what to do with the day in between – that Saturday between the sadness and contemplation of Good Friday and the joyful celebration of Easter. Should I still be sad? Or, already looking forward to Easter? I must confess, that, most of the time, while my intentions were to somehow at least be mindful of the day in the tomb, I often got distracted and it ended up being just another day. That is one thing I am grateful for in the Orthodox Church – Holy Saturday holds a profoundly important place in our understanding of Christ’s saving work for us. It is at once a mournful day, with the burial and the tomb present in the middle of the Church. But immediately, hints of the resurrection show up – hymns proclaiming what it about to happen – Old Testament prophecies about the resurrection – Ezekiel’s “dry bones” chapter is read. And then, on Holy Saturday morning, after hearing the witness of the Old Testament, beginning with the creation of the world, of the central place of the Son and Word of God in God’s plan for mankind – the hymn is sung “Arise, O God, Judge the Earth!” – the priest’s garments are changed from dark to light, a preview of the complete changeover of all the colors in the church at Pascha – and the Gospel is read (Matthew 28:1-20) – the first account of the Resurrection.
Holy Saturday is known as the day of the conquering or “harrowing” of hell. We do not celebrate the Resurrection fully until tonight, at the Lord’s appearance, but we already acknowledge that He is not dead in the grave, but is doing the work of freeing the captives from hell, and once and for all defeating death – the ultimate victory.
Next Up: GREAT AND HOLY PASCHA! Tonight! 11:30pm!