holy week


The Orthodox Celebration of Great and Holy Saturday

by Fr. Alexander Schmemann

Great and Holy Saturday is the day on which Christ reposed in the tomb. The Church calls this day the Blessed Sabbath. The great Moses mystically foreshadowed this day when he said: God blessed the seventh day. This is the blessed Sabbath. This is the day of rest, on which the only-begotten Son of God rested from all His works. . . . (Vesperal Liturgy of Holy Saturday)

By using this title the Church links Holy Saturday with the creative act of God. In the initial account of creation as found in the Book of Genesis, God made man in His own image and likeness. To be truly himself, man was to live in constant communion with the source and dynamic power of that image: God. Man fell from God. Now Christ, the Son of God through whom all things were created, has come to restore man to communion with God. He thereby completes creation. All things are again as they should be. His mission is consummated. On the Blessed Sabbath He rests from all His works.

THE TRANSITION

Holy Saturday is a neglected day in parish life. Few people attend the Services. Popular piety usually reduces Holy Week to one day - Holy Friday. This day is quickly replaced by another - Easter Sunday. Christ is dead and then suddenly alive. Great sorrow is suddenly replaced by great joy. In such a scheme Holy Saturday is lost.

In the understanding of the Church, sorrow is not replaced by joy; it is transformed into joy. This distinction indicates that it is precisely within death the Christ continues to effect triumph.

TRAMPLING DOWN DEATH BY DEATH

Holy Saturday: The Blessed Sabbath

by Fr. Thomas Hopko
from "The Orthodox Faith, Volume II, Worship"

The first service belonging to Holy Saturday -- called in the Church the Blessed Sabbath -- is the Vespers of Good Friday. It is usually celebrated in the mid-afternoon to commemorate the burial of Jesus.

Before the service begins, a "tomb" is erected in the middle of the church building and is decorated with flowers. Also a special icon which is painted on cloth (in Greek, epitaphios; in Slavonic, plaschanitsa) depicting the dead Saviour is placed on the altar table. In English this icon is often called the winding-sheet.

Vespers begin as usual with hymns about the suffering and death of Christ. After the entrance with the Gospel Book and the singing of Gladsome Light, selections from Exodus, Job, and Isaiah 52 are read. An epistle reading from First Corinthians (1:18-31) is added, and the Gospel is read once more with selections from each of the four accounts of Christ's crucifixion and burial. The prokeimena and alleluia verses are psalm lines, heard often already in the Good Friday services, prophetic in their meaning:

They divided my garments among them and for my raiment they cast lots (Psalm 22:18).
My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me (Ps 22:1).
Thou hast put me in the depths of the Pit, in the regions dark and deep (Ps 88:6).

A Journey through Holy Week

by Fr. Nicholas Magoulias
from The Word Magazine, April 1976

On Good Friday afternoon, the touching service of the Burial of our Lord takes place. This rite is especially loved by children because of its dramatic solemnity. A specially constructed sepulchre of four pillars surmounted by a dome on which stands a cross is stationed in the center of the Nave. The symbolic tomb of our Saviour is completely covered by beautifully arranged floral decorations. During the afternoon service the Body of the Crucified Christ is taken down from the Cross. And a beautifully embroidered cloth bearing the representation of the Sacred Corpse of our Lord is placed in the center of the flower-adorned sepulchre. To commemorate the Burial the following words are recited:

"When Joseph of Arimathea took Thee, the Life of all, down from the Tree dead, he buried Thee with myrrh and fine linen; and He yearned with desire, in his heart and on His lips, that Thy pure Body might be enshrouded; wherefore, hiding he cried to Thee, rejoicing, Glory to Thy humiliation, O Merciful Master." In a moving apostrophe to Christ in the tomb, the hymn is chanted:

Joining the Whole Church at the Tomb: The Experience of Holy Week

by Fr. John Hainsworth

Every year during Holy Week I read to my congregation an eyewitness account of a certain Pascha night on Solovki Island in 1925. For centuries, this island in the White Sea had been the home of a venerable and remote monastery. After the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, the monks were replaced by political and religious prisoners. The once-beautiful monastery became a concentration camp. The climate of that region was especially harsh and the island well out of sight, and the newly formed gulag became a place of unspeakable horror for its inhabitants.

Among the few who survived was a prisoner who worked in the camp's archives, and he left us the description of an extraordinary occurrence. Through some favor-gained by one of the prisoners, Bishop Illarion-all the prisoners were allowed by the communist authorities to celebrate Pascha in the camp. But only that one night and never again. Preparations were made, vestments were secretly liberated from the vaults of the former monastery, and on Pascha night the whole camp gathered together. Here is the prisoner's description of that evening:

April 27, 2011 + The Eternity of Easter

by C. G. Pallas
from The Word, May 1962

If the celebration of Easter were a mere poetical remembrance of Our Lord’s Passion and triumph over death, we would find Holy Week in the Church a somewhat theatrical procedure, a sentimental pageant of song and ritual that could well be replaced by a simple reading from the Scriptures appropriate to the occasion. That it is not, however, encourages us to consider the Church’s deep understanding of the miracle of the Resurrection and her ability, nourished by nearly 2,000 years of experience, to coordinate and combine her doctrine and her liturgical function into that supreme form of prayer which we know as worship.

Anyone who has witnessed the Holy Week services of the Orthodox Church cannot come away without at least a minimal insight into the Church’s genius in expressing, through her worship, her innermost feelings and her deep love for Jesus Christ. A simple reading of the services themselves is a veritable lesson in theology, but it is a theology stripped of the complex eloquence that invariably surrounds doctrinal thought, a theology which the layman learns unconsciously, either by listening to a hymn or by singing it.

March 31, 2010 + A Journey through Holy Week

by Fr. Nicholas Magoulias
from The Word, April 1976

On Good Friday afternoon, the touching service of the Burial of our Lord takes place. This rite is especially loved by children because of its dramatic solemnity. A specially constructed sepulchre of four pillars surmounted by a dome on which stands a cross is stationed in the center of the Nave. The symbolic tomb of our Saviour is completely covered by beautifully arranged floral decorations. During the afternoon service the Body of the Crucified Christ is taken down from the Cross. And a beautifully embroidered cloth bearing the representation of the Sacred Corpse of our Lord is placed in the center of the flower-adorned sepulchre. To commemorate the Burial the following words are recited:

"When Joseph of Arimathea took Thee, the Life of all, down from the Tree dead, he buried Thee with myrrh and fine linen; and He yearned with desire, in his heart and on His lips, that Thy pure Body might be enshrouded; wherefore, hiding he cried to Thee, rejoicing, Glory to Thy humiliation, O Merciful Master." In a moving apostrophe to Christ in the tomb, the hymn is chanted:

Great and Holy Saturday: The Forgotten Feast

by Daniel Manzuk

It is a tragic fact that today Holy Saturday is viewed by many as an unimportant “day off” between the sorrow of Good Friday and the joy of Pascha. This is absolutely false. That view negates the essential link between the despondency of Good Friday and the ecstasy of Pascha. Holy Saturday is that indispensable link between Christ’s death and Resurrection. It is on Holy Saturday that we commemorate Christ’s conquest of death, which is sealed through the Resurrection. It is a day centered on a mystery beyond our comprehension. Christ is dead, His body lies in a tomb. Yet, at this moment of Death’s apparent victory over Life, Death is being put to death. Christ’s soul, as with every soul to that time, descends to Hades. Yet His soul is unlike any other. He is both God and Man. Hades has no power over Him. It tries to hold Him, as it has held every other soul since Adam and Eve, and fails. The Life that is in Christ the Life-giver, bursts upon the darkness of Hades like a searchlight in a small dark closet. The power of Hades is destroyed, not only over Christ, but also over His faithful subjects, us. The combination of the sight of Christ lying bodily in the tomb, yet knowing that He is simultaneously destroying death, creates an atmosphere of joyful sorrow, (unique to Orthodoxy) which compels us to “keep silent and in fear and trembling stand pondering nothing earthly minded. …” (Cherubic Hymn of Great and Holy Saturday).