Holy Saturday 


Yesterday was Good Friday, a day when all of Christendom takes a moment to stop and pause at the memory of sacrificial love. 

But what happens between Good Friday and Easter Sunday?
What happens to us on the days between tragedy and healing? What transpires when the crisis is over, but the end is not yet revealed? The days after the car accident, but before the broken leg has healed and the insurance has been paid. The days after diagnosis of cancer, but before treatment. The days after a funeral, but before we’ve adjusted to the loss.
These are the days between, when instead of darkness or light there is a lingering nervousness and knowledge that something is not quite settled, not quite right. The days between are often the most difficult and the most lonely, and they are undoubtedly the most common.

So has this day often seemed to me – this day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, where we are suspended between death and life. 

“It is Finished” has been spoken, “He is Risen” is yet to come. 

In the West the day is often filled with shopping for marshmallow chicks, chocolate bunnies, and fake grass to line plastic easter baskets. 

 As I’ve moved into the Eastern Orthodox Church, I’ve formed a different view of this day between. A day between – yes, but a day of immeasurable importance in the Christian faith tradition. 

Madeleine L’Engle describes her journey of greater understanding of this day in her book, The Irrational Season:

In the Western Church, we jump directly from Good Friday to Easter Day, with Saturday a vague blank in between. But in the Eastern Church, Great and Holy Saturday is one of the most important days of the year.”


She goes on to say:


“Where was Jesus on that extraordinary day between the darkness of Good Friday and the brilliance of Easter Sunday? He was down in hell. And what was he doing there? He was harrowing hell, or to put it in simpler words, he was ministering to the damned.”


Madeleine L’Engle says this about the first time she ever saw the fresco of the Harrowing of Hell over the altar in the Chora Church in Istanbul: 

“I stood there, trembling with joy, as I looked at this magnificent painting of the harrowing of hell. In the center is the figure of Jesus striding through hell, a figure of immense virility and power. With one strong hand he is grasping Adam, with the other, Eve, and wresting them out of the power of hell. The gates to hell, which he has trampled down and destroyed forever, are in cross-form, the same cross on which he died. . .”

This same icon has become a part of my church tradition. 

I am almost ready to head out the door to our Holy Saturday service, because I have come to realize that what happens in the days between, between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, is crucial to the final outcome.

The Reluctant Orthodox – Volume 24 “On Pascha, Sophia Maria & Isaac”

 

The Orthodox hymn gets in your brain and you find yourself wanting to belt it out in loud measure everywhere you go.

Christ is risen from the dead, 
trampling down death by death.
And upon those in the tombs 
bestowing life! 
 

Pascha in the Orthodox Church begins with a darkened sanctuary. The light of one candle is held by the priest and as one we move forward as he calls us to “Come, take the light!” Candles now light up the church and we head outside around the church as though to the tomb. We come back to the door of the church and are told “He’s not here – He is risen from the Dead!” As we enter again into the sanctuary we move forward in joyous hymns and priests rushing joyfully into the congregation declaring in many different languages “Christ is Risen!” to which we reply in various languages “Indeed! He is Risen!” or “In Truth, He is Risen!”

And all this happens between midnight and three in the morning.

The first time I went to a Pascha service I lasted from 11:30 until 12:30. I was beyond reluctant – I was like “You all are, in my daughter’s words, ‘cray-cray’ (the vernacular for crazy)” Now I’m like “When will I get to take grandchildren to this glorious service?!”

A lot has happened in 11 years. And today – Holy Saturday – the reluctance was buried in an Orthodox Baptism, and as reluctance died, acceptance rose. Yes – my husband and I were baptized and chrismated into the Orthodox Church. We were cheered on by a church body that has loved us well these past couple of years, by a Poppadia (priest’s wife) who walked beside me these past weeks, even when I sent emails saying “I can’t do this thing!”, and by two priests who we trust and who have heard the bad, the hard, and the ugly, telling us there’s nothing we could tell them that they haven’t already heard in some form or another and assuring us that God’s grace covers all.

This is not new information. I was taught and loved well in my life by parents, brothers, sister-in-laws, friends. So many who have reflected love and grace and the very best of Christianity. But as I’ve said before, sometimes old information needs new clothing. And so it has been in our case.

We celebrate Pascha as “Sophia Maria (Marilyn)” and “Isaac (Cliff).” I figure that two saints are better than one. The lives of both Sophia and Maria (Mary of Egypt) exemplify Wisdom and Repentance and I find I am in need of both of those, in abundance. You can read up on their lives here and here.

This step in no way erases all reluctance or all questions. Indeed, the more I learn the more I realize this Grace is a mystery and confounds much of the time. I’ll be writing a bit more in later posts on going from reluctance to acceptance; on being Sophia Maria; on legalism and grace; and on some of the more humorous ‘mistakes’ I have made (including calling the priest’s wife a “PoppaDokka” and our son calling Father Patrick “Pope Shenouda.”

But tonight I celebrate Pascha, Sophia Maria, and Isaac.

Because with Christians all around the world I sing the words:

Christ is risen from the dead, 
trampling down death by death.
And upon those in the tombs 
bestowing life! 
 

“*A few drops of blood recreate the whole world and become for all human beings like a curdling agent for milk, binding and drawing us together into one.” 

 
Nazianzen, Gregory. Festal Orations. Trans. Verna E. F. Harrison. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary, 2008. Print.

Baptismal photo credit: Dn Tudor Sambeteanu

 

 

Enhanced by Zemanta