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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:
"Joseph with Nicodemus takes Thee down from the tree, who clothest Thyself with light as it were with a garment; and when he saw Thee dead, naked and unentombed, he mourned with compassionate wailing and said: Alas! Beloved Jesus, so short a time ago the sun beholding Thee upon the Cross covered himself with gloom, the earth trembled for fear, and the veil of the temple was rent in twain and now, lo! I see Thee before me, willingly going down to death. How can I bury Thee, my God, or how can I enwrap Thee in fine linen? How with my hands dare I touch Thy sacred Body or with what chants can I celebrate Thy going hence, O Lord of mercies? I magnify Thy sufferings and I praise Thy Tomb and Thy Resurrection, crying: Lord, Glory to Thee."
On Good Friday night the Saturday Service of the Lamentations takes place commemorating both "the entombment of the Divine Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, our God and Saviour; and also His descent into corruption, and permitted to pass over to everlasting life."
By Matthew Gallatin
As a young child, Nick Damascus loved watching priests deliver their homilies from the pulpit. His little heart would stir, and he would say to himself, I want to do that! I want to stand up there and say, "Hey, you people! Wake up! God loves you!" Fifty years later, Nick is indeed a zealous messenger of God. Oh, he's never preached a homily. But he does share his Orthodox faith in an uncommonly vibrant way with anyone who will give him half a chance.
By Fr. Stephen Freeman
The phrase, “behind closed doors,” has become synonymous in English with things being done in secret – generally of an unsavory or nefarious sort. Institutions speak of an “open door policy,” and promise “transparency” to those from the outside. Closed doors have always had a sense of secrecy about them. Sometimes the secrecy hides the darkness of evil, other times it protects us from the wonder of the holy.
The stories of Christ’s resurrection are filled with closed doors. It is a common phrase in the resurrection narratives: “the doors being shut for fear of the Jews.” The disciples had lost their leader and teacher and they feared that they themselves would become victims. That fear led them to flee. It led St. Peter to deny that he even knew Christ. It led them all to hide behind closed doors.
By Douglas Cramer
In 1945, a Paschal Liturgy like no other was performed. Just days after their liberation by the US military on April 29, 1945, hundreds of Orthodox Christian prisoners at the Dachau concentration camp gathered to celebrate the Resurrection service and to give thanks.
The Dachau concentration camp was opened in 1933 in a former gunpowder factory. The first prisoners interred there were political opponents of Adolf Hitler, who had become German chancellor that same year.
By Fr. Alexander Schmemann
In the center of our liturgical life, in the very center of that time which we measure as year, we find the feast of Christ’s Resurrection. What is Resurrection? Resurrection is the appearance in this world, completely dominated by time and therefore by death, of a life that will have no end. The one who rose again from the dead does not die anymore. In this world of ours, not somewhere else, not in a world that we do not know at all, but in our world, there appeared one morning Someone who is beyond death and yet in our time. This meaning of Christ’s Resurrection, this great joy, is the central theme of Christianity and it has been preserved in its purity by the Orthodox Church. There is much truth expressed by those who say that the real central theme of Orthodoxy, the center of all its experience, the frame of reference of everything else, is the Resurrection of Christ.
By Fr. Thomas Hopko,
from "The Orthodox Faith, Volume II, Worship"
A little before midnight on the Blessed Sabbath the Nocturne service is chanted. The celebrant goes to the tomb and removes the winding-sheet. He carries it through the royal doors and places it on the altar table where it remains for forty days until the day of Ascension.
At midnight the Easter procession begins. The people leave the church building singing: The angels in heaven, 0 Christ our Savior, sing of Thy resurrection. Make us on earth also worthy to hymn Thee with a pure heart.
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.
by Maureen Massiwer Gurghigian
from The Word Magazine, March 1993
Each of the Sundays of Great Lent has its own special theme. The first Sunday is called the Feast of the Triumph of Orthodoxy. It is a historical feast commemorating the return of the Icons to the Churches in the year 843 A.D., after the heresy of iconoclasm was overcome.
The second Sunday of Great Lent is the commemoration of St. Gregory Palamas. It was St. Gregory who died in 1359, who bore living witness that men can become divine through the Grace of God in the Holy Spirit; and that even in this life, by prayer and fasting, human beings can become participants of the uncreated Light of God’s Divine Glory.
The Third Sunday of Lent is that of the Veneration of the Cross, a day marked by its beauty and pageantry. The Cross stands in the midst of the Church at the midpoint of the Lenten season to remind us of Christ’s redemption and to keep before us the goal of our efforts . But even more importantly to be revered and venerated as that reality by which man must live to be saved. “He who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me,” (Matthew 10:38). In the Cross of Christ Crucified, lies both “the power of God and the Wisdom of God” for those being saved, (I Corinthians 1:2 4).
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.
Great Lent and Holy Week are two separate fasts, and two separate celebrations. Great Lent ends on Friday of the fifth week (the day before Lazarus Saturday). Holy Week begins immediately thereafter. Let's explore the meaning of each of the solemn days of Passion Week.
Lazarus Saturday: Lazarus Saturday is the day which begins Holy Week. It commemorates the raising of our Lord's friend Lazarus, who had been in the tomb four days. This act confirmed the universal resurrection from the dead that all of us will experience at our Lord's Second Coming. This miracle led many to faith, but it also led to the chief priest's and Pharisees' decision to kill Jesus (John 11:47-57).
Palm Sunday (The Entrance of our Lord into Jerusalem): Our Lord enters Jerusalem and is proclaimed king - but in an earthly sense, as many people of His time were seeking a political Messiah. Our Lord is King, of course, but of a different type - the eternal King prophesied by Zechariah the Prophet. We use palms on this day to show that we too accept Jesus as the true King and Messiah of the Jews, Who we are willing to follow - even to the cross.
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.
By St. Gregory the Theologian
Yesterday I was crucified with Him; today I am glorified with Him.
Yesterday I died with Him; today I am made alive with Him.
Yesterday I was buried with Him; today I am raised up with Him.
Let us offer to Him Who suffered and rose again for us ... ourselves, the possession most precious to God and most proper.
By Fr. Thomas Hopko
from "The Orthodox Faith, Volume I, Doctrine"
And He rose again from the dead on the third day, according to the Scriptures.
Christ is risen from the dead! This is the main proclamation of the Christian faith. It forms the heart of the Church's preaching, worship and spiritual life. "... if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain" (1 Cor 15:14).
By Frederica Mathewes-Green
Jesus is standing on the broken doors of hell. The massive portals lie crossed under his feet, a reminder of the Cross that won this triumph. He stands braced and striding, like a superhero, using his mighty outstretched arms to lift a great weight. That weight is Adam and Eve themselves, our father and mother in the fallen flesh. Jesus grasps Adam's wrist with his right hand and Eve's with his left, as he pulls them forcibly up, out of the carved marble boxes that are their graves. Eve is shocked and appears almost to recoil in shame, long gray hair streaming. Adam gazes at Christ with a look of stunned awe, face lined with weary age, his long tangled beard awry. Their limp hands lie in Jesus' powerful grip as he hauls them up into the light.
By Michael Bressem, Ph.D.
The symbol of the cross is ubiquitous in our society. It is printed on bumper stickers and tattooed on forearms; it is spray-painted on concrete walls and stitched onto denim jackets; it adorns the necks of "gangsta" rappers and scantily clad models. Will this symbol continue to devolve into a mere fashion statement, a cultural icon, or a religious trademark? If we hope to reclaim the true meaning of the cross, we must ourselves understand that it is something much more.
By Matushka Ioanna Callinicos Rhodes
There are many customs and traditions that pertain to Pascha world-wide, but the most common one is that of dyeing and decorating eggs. Whether you are from London, Jerusalem, or Moscow, this custom is universal.
Egg dyeing and decorating can be dated back to pagan times. There is evidence of the ancients coloring their eggs in the history of Egypt, Gaul, China, Rome, and Persia. The egg was cherished as a symbol of the universe and represented life as a circle, as eternal life. The golden yolk of yellow represented the Sun God, the white shell the White Goddess, and the whole egg, rebirth. Hence, it was linked to spring, a time of rebirth for the earth after a long cold winter. The earth was reborn in much the same way the egg miraculously brings forth life.
By Fr. Paul Lazor
"Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death. so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father. we too might walk in the newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his. we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his."
(Romans 6:3-5; the Epistle section read at the Sacrament of Holy Baptism)
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)
If any man be devout and love God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast.
If any man be a wise servant, let him rejoicing enter into the joy of his Lord.
If any have labored long in fasting, let him now receive his recompense.
If any have wrought from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward.
If any have come at the third hour, let him with thankfulness keep the feast.
If any have arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; because he shall in no wise be deprived therefore.
If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near, fearing nothing.
If any have tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness; for the Lord, who is jealous of his honor, will accept the last even as the first; he gives rest unto him who comes at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who has wrought from the first hour.
By Fr. Paul Lazor
Enjoy ye all the feast of faith; receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness. (Sermon of St. John Chrysostom, read at Paschal Matins)
The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the center of the Christian faith. St. Paul says that if Christ is not raised from the dead, then our preaching and faith are in vain (I Cor. 15:14). Indeed, without the resurrection there would be no Christian preaching or faith. The disciples of Christ would have remained the broken and hopeless band which the Gospel of John describes as being in hiding behind locked doors for fear of the Jews. They went nowhere and preached nothing until they met the risen Christ, the doors being shut (John 20: 19). Then they touched the wounds of the nails and the spear; they ate and drank with Him. The resurrection became the basis of everything they said and did (Acts 2-4): ". . . for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have" (Luke 24:39).