Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from a Jacobite and Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Theme: Good Friday, Gospel Saturday
Volume 7 No. 410 April 13, 2017
IV. Gospel Saturday

Great and Holy Saturday: The Harrowing of Hell

by Fr. Peter Orfanakos

Friday night, the Matins for Holy Saturday are served. This service contains the "Lamentations (also "Praises") of the Mother of God" over her crucified Son, taken down from the Cross and laid in the tomb.

Thou who art the Life wast laid in a tomb, O Christ; and the hosts of angels were amazed and glorified Thy self-abasement.

O Life, how canst Thou die? How canst Thou dwell in a tomb? Yet Thou dost destroy death's kingdom and raise the dead from hell.

From the "Lamentations"

On Saturday Morning, The Vesperal Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great

Noble Joseph, taking down Thy most pure body from the Tree, wrapped it in clean linen with sweet spices, and he laid it in a new tomb.

Going down to death, O Life immortal, Thou hast slain hell with the dazzling light of Thy divinity. And when Thou hast raised up the dead from their dwelling place beneath the earth, all the power of heaven cried aloud: "Giver of Life, O Christ our God, glory to Thee."

The Angel stood by the tomb, and to the women bearing spices he cried aloud: "Myrrh is fitting for the dead, but Christ has shown Himself a stranger to corruption.


Scriptural References:

Genesis: 1:1-13
Jonah 1:1-16, 2:1-11, 3:1-10, 4:1-11
Daniel 3:1-57
Romans 6:3-11
Matthew 28:1-20

On Great and Holy Saturday morning, the Orthodox Church commemorates Christ's decent into Hades and the releasing of the souls of all who were held captive by death. It is important for us to remember that humankind had been removed from Paradise, since the time of Adam and Eve, and that man was subject to death. Upon the death of all from the time of Adam and Eve to the moment of Christ's voluntary death on the cross, all the souls of those who lived were "held captive by death" in a place called Hades. Hades, not to be confused with hell, was a jail of sorts for souls—a place where they were held prisoner.

When Jesus died on the Cross, Hades accepted His soul thinking that it was accepting the soul of a man, only to find out that it had accepted God, the uncontainable, into its midst.

Immediately, an explosion takes place. The Hymns tell us that "Hades lets out a groan" as the doors to Hades are blown open the "locks and chains" used to imprison the souls tossed aside and rendered useless as Christ raises all the dead and resurrects them.

The following Hymns show us the magnitude of this event:

Today Hades lets out a groan: "Would that I had not received the son of Mary: for when He came upon me He dissolved my power; He shattered the gates of bronze; the souls I had held captive, as God He raised up." Glory, Lord, to Your Cross and Your Resurrection.

Today Hades lets out a groan: "My sovereignty is destroyed. I received Him as a mortal, one among the dead; but this One I am powerless to contain; instead with Him I lose all I had governed. I had held the dead for ages, but behold, He resurrects all." Glory, Lord, to Your Cross and Your Resurrection.

Today Hades lets out a groan: "My might is swallowed up: the shepherd was crucified but raised up Adam. All I ruled over I have lost; all I was able in my power to consume, I have disgorged. The crucified One has emptied the graves. The sway of death is no more." Glory, Lord, to Your Cross and Your Resurrection.

This event is commemorated in spectacular fashion, with the priest chanting the following verses from Psalm 81/82 while [in the Greek tradition] scattering bay leaves (the symbol of victory) throughout the church.

Arise, O God, and be judge of the earth, for You shall inherit all nations.

God has taken His place in the assembly of the gods, and in their midst He judges gods.

Arise, O God, and be judge of the earth, for You shall inherit all nations.

How long will you judge unjustly, and be partial to sinners?

Arise, O God, and be judge of the earth, for You shall inherit all nations.

Defend the orphan and the needy, do justice to the lowly and the poor.

Arise, O God, and be judge of the earth, for You shall inherit all nations.

Rescue the needy and deliver the poor out of the hands of sinners.

Arise, O God, and be judge of the earth, for You shall inherit all nations.

They neither know nor understand, they walk about in darkness: the foundations of the earth are shaken.

Arise, O God, and be judge of the earth, for You shall inherit all nations.

I said: you are gods and sons of the Most High, all of you. Yet you will die like all human beings, and fall like any princes.

Arise, O God, and be judge of the earth, for You shall inherit all nations.

Hymns of the Day:

Praise the Lord and exalt him to all ages.

Praise the Lord, all the works of the Lord; Praise the Lord and exalt him to all ages.

Bless the Lord, you angels of the Lord, heavenly powers of the Lord;

Bless the Lord, all you waters above the heavens and all powers of the Lord;

Bless the Lord, sun and moon, the stars of heaven;

Bless the Lord, light and darkness, night and day;

Bless the Lord, showers and dew and all winds;

Bless the Lord, fire and warmth, cold and heat;

Bless the Lord, dew and snow, ice and cold;

Bless the Lord, frost and snow, lightning and clouds;

Bless the Lord, earth, mountains and hills, and all things that grow in it;

Bless the Lord, fountains, seas, rivers, whales and everything that moves in the water;

Bless the Lord, fowl of the sky, beasts and all animals;

Bless the Lord, sons of men, bless him and let Israel bless;

Bless the Lord, priests of the Lord, servants of the Lord;

Bless the Lord, spirits and souls of the righteous, holy and humble men of heart;

Bless the Lord, Ananias, Azarias, and Misael;

Bless the Lord, apostles, prophets and martyrs of the Lord;

We bless the Lord, Father, Son and Holy Spirit;

We praise, bless and worship the Lord;

We praise the Lord and glorify him to all the ages.

Source: Pravoslavie (Russian Orthodox Church)

Great and Holy Saturday Morning

by Monk James Silver

As we attempt to make sense of the awesome self-sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Shepherd Who gave up His own life to save His sheep, we approach His lifeless body on our knees, and kiss His wounded feet. He took upon Himself a temporary but real death in order to rescue us from permanent death. The punishment of everlasting death which we unquestionably deserve for our sins is mitigated because He stood in place with the rest of us mortals: the immortal Savior subjected Himself to mortality so that we mortals whom He saved might be raised to immortality by Him on the last day.

We are overcome by humble gratitude as we begin to grasp, even in a limited way, the implications of His sacrificial self-emptying for the sake of our salvation. 'We stand unworthily before (His) tomb' (Oktoekhos, Tone 1) and offer our hymns of praise.

Liturgically, this gratitude finds its expression in the Morning Service of Holy Saturday, often held on the night of Holy Friday, since -- as we already admitted -- we will probably not have the strength of purpose needed to chant these praises at one o'clock in the morning.

Just as we do in the Funeral Service (and in the Midnight Service, most of the time), we chant Psalm 118, the longest of the psalms. But in this 'funeral' of our Lord, we insert a troparion after each verse of the psalm. Generally, the verses are chanted by the choir or the congregation, and the clergy or the cantors take the troparions. In any case, the chanting is usually done antiphonally. Each troparion, often just a single sentence, is a terse commentary on the awesome mystery of the death of the Son of God. There are 176 of these troparions, one for each verse of the psalm, and this is a lengthy service. But, lest we be tempted to complain about its length, we might remember that our Savior endured six hours on the cross.

These troparions are sometimes called 'lamentations' (Greek threnoi), although the Triodion refers to them as 'eulogies' or 'words of tribute' (Greek egkomia), and this is more in keeping with their spirit, which is one of praise rather than of mourning, although mourning is not completely excluded. These are very emotional hymns, masterpieces of concentrated thought, urging us to ever deeper contemplation of what Jesus has accomplished for us.

At the very end of the Morning Service, the Shroud (Greek epitaphios) bearing the image of the dead Christ is reverently taken up from its bier. Preceded by the cross, surrounded by torches, and escorted by the clergy who carry the Gospel Book under it as a sign of Christ's divine and ever-living presence in the Church, the Shroud is borne outdoors into the predawn darkness in a solemn procession of the people with their lighted candles, chanting (as at a funeral) the Trisagion Hymn, accompanied by the mournful tolling of the bells.

Although this is one of the most recently developed rites of Passion Week, and the occasionally encountered custom of 'passing under the Shroud' is even later, this procession has become a very important expression of popular piety. Many people regard the original burial cloth of Christ (the 'Holy Shroud' now preserved at Torino) as the prototype of the image we venerate on this day.

When the procession re-enters the temple, the Shroud is sometimes – if a bit illogically -- replaced on the bier in the center of the nave, where it has lain since the Un-nailing, and where it will now remain until the end of the Midnight Service. A much more ancient practice, still observed in many of the churches and giving evidence of the Russian-style rite's recent adoption, has the Shroud now brought directly to the Holy Table, which is frequently referenced as the 'tomb of Christ' well apart from Holy Friday. (cf Divine Liturgy, prayer after depositing the Holy Gifts at the end of the Great Entrance, and the image on the antimension).

This is the more correct practice, since – as can be seen from the very architecture of the Anastasis ('Temple of the Resurrection') at Jerusalem -- what we now (sometimes illogically) regard as the 'tomb' of Christ is actually a representation of the 'Stone of Anointing'. That was the first place where Joseph of Arimathaia and his companions stopped to shroud our Lord's body for burial. When they picked up His corpse again, their next stop was the tomb provided by Joseph.

But, resuming our thoughts about the rites which most of us (especially Russian Orthodox) practice now, we faithful prostrate ourselves, kneeling and pressing our faces to the floor before our Lord's Shroud twice, then venerate the Holy Gospel and the image of our crucified Savior's hands and feet with kisses (His face is covered with a veil), and take our leave with a third prostration.

Painfully conscious of our sinfulness, yet cautiously daring to approach Christ's body because of our faith in the salvation which He achieved for us, we kiss His image depicted on His Shroud in gratitude and humility, knowing that He will arise as He predicted, and trusting in His promise to raise us with Himself.

At various times and places, the custom of keeping watch through the night, like the soldiers at Christ's tomb, has been followed in the parishes; there is a growing resurgence of this practice in the United States. While it might not be possible for all of us to remain in the temple for a whole night of prayer, keeping vigil at the Lord's tomb, we all can at least 'keep watch for one hour' (MK 14:37).

Still, it must be acknowledged that this vigil is usually displaced from its proper location. Watching, or 'keeping vigil' at the tomb of our Lord, Jesus Christ, is properly observed on the Holy Saturday evening, after the latest Divine Liturgy of the year. Then we read the Acts of the Apostles, partake of some blessed bread, wine and fruit, and stay – attentively and expectantly – within the temple, awaiting the Midnight Service and the annual yet everlasting liturgical proclamation of Christ's resurrection.

Lord, You were born as one of us, and You died as one of us. As You shared our mortal life, make us worthy of Your promise to share Your immortal life with us who love You.

Great and Holy Saturday Evening

by Monk James Silver

'It is finished.' said Jesus (JN 19:30), and then He died.

The holy Church has kept a silent widow's vigil at the tomb of her Bridegroom for many hours now. No liturgical services have been held since we placed our Lord Jesus Christ (as symbolized by the image of His shroud) in the tomb, long before dawn. Everything -- nature, the world, the Church -- is silent, pregnant with hopeful anticipation.

Late in the afternoon of Holy Saturday (around 4:00 PM, according to the Typikon, the latest Divine Liturgy of the year), we assemble once more for the Evening Service. As we know, the liturgical day begins at sunset; the first service, then, of any given liturgical day is the Evening Service. The Lord's Paskha is no exception, and it is during the Evening Service at the end of Holy Saturday afternoon that the Church begins to celebrate Christ's resurrection from the dead.

A series of fifteen selections from the writings of the prophets of the biblical Old Covenant is read, each of them a statement of the world's condition and a prediction of Christ's death and resurrection. After the last prophecy, Psalm 81 is chanted with great solemnity, its verses separated by a refrain comprising that psalm's last verse: 'Arise, O God! Judge the Earth, for You have an inheritance in all the nations.'

While Psalm 81 is being chanted, the clergy change from the dark-colored robes they have been wearing, and clothe themselves in bright vestments. All the hangings and drapery, as well as the covers of the Holy Table and the Table of Preparation are also changed from dark colors to bright, as is the curtain of the Altar. When the change is completed, the Holy Doors are opened and the refrain 'Arise, O God!' is sung one last triumphant time.

The first Gospel of the resurrection is then read in the midst of a congregation often moved to tears of joy. The service then continues, not with the hymns of evening, but with the Divine Liturgy of St Basil. In some places, the Lord's 'tomb' is still in the nave, and it is used as the Holy Table for this eucharistic liturgy, but this is a distortion of liturgical symbolism, since that place where the liturgical image of the Lord's body is placed after being taken down from the cross does NOT represent His tomb, but rather the location for His body's minimal preparation for burial before being placed in the tomb, symbolized now as always by the Holy Table in the Altar from which we receive His holy Body and Blood. Ideally, the bier should have been removed from the nave during the outdoor procession with the 'shroud' toward the end of the Morning Service of Holy Saturday, often sung on the evening of Holy Friday.

The Holy Table in the Altar is always regarded as the place where the Lord's Body reposes, no more and no less on Holy Saturday than on any other day. This is why the image on the antimension is usually identical to the epitaphios or 'shroud'.

A fragment of the ancient and now seldom used Divine Liturgy of St James is sung today in place of the 'Hymn of the Kerubim': 'Let all mortal flesh be silent, and stand trembling in awe, contemplating nothing earthly within itself. For the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, comes forth to be slain, and to give Himself as food to the faithful. The angelic choirs go before Him, with all the Principalities and Powers, the many-eyed Kerubim and the six-winged Seraphim, who cover their faces as they chant the hymn: HalleluYah! HalleluYah! HalleluYah!'

At the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy, perhaps around 7 PM, the rubrics direct that the faithful be given a little bread and wine, some dates or figs, sometimes kolyva (a sweet, cold dish of boiled grain and fruit, often associated with funerals and memorial services) to sustain them, since the Triodion assumes that they will remain in prayer in the temple until the Midnight Service begins some four or five hours later.

Clearly, this pattern depends on following the Typikon's instruction to make this the latest Divine Liturgy of the entire year, but this custom becomes impracticable when it is served -- in a severe distortion of practice and complete disregard of liturgical time -- on the morning of Holy Saturday, as it is in many places.

As a result of this dislocation of liturgical time, the laity have generally taken to having a light supper on Holy Saturday, which then enjoys the distinction of being the only Saturday of the year on which oil is not permitted as a relaxation of the fast. On the other hand, since the Typikon directs that we will sing the Divine Liturgy shortly after midnight, there is no eucharistic fast on the holy day of Paskha.

During the hours between the Divine Liturgy and the Midnight Service, the Acts of the Apostles is read by several readers in turn. As often as the reading of Acts is completed, it is begun again, and this process is repeated as many times as it takes to fill the time before the Midnight Service.

The holy Church has appointed the Acts of the Apostles to be read at this time because it is full of the testimonies of the first Christians concerning Christ's divine resurrection (S.V. Bulgakov). After all, one of the most important qualifications of apostleship is being a witness to the resurrection of the Lord (ACTS 1:22).

Several events are commemorated on Holy Saturday: the burial of Christ, His proclaiming salvation to the prisoners of Hades (1 PET 3:18-21), and His resting after completing all His work of saving us.

There are two ikons venerated in relation to these events: one represents the Lord's descent to Hades, and the other merely suggests His physical resurrection from the dead. It is important for us to realize that neither of them depicts Christ's rising from His tomb, but rather illustrate scriptural events which were not seen by human eyes, at least as far as the risen Lord could be seen at all.

Rather, in the first and most common ikon, Christ is portrayed in Hades as He releases all the 'ancient prisoners' (Oktoekhos). The locks and chains which (figuratively) held them are strewn all about, Christ tramples the broken gates of Hades -- which He told us will never overpower the Church (MT 16:18). 'With a mighty hand and an outstretched arm' (DT 5:15), He raises our father Adam (Hebrew 'adam, 'human') and our mother Eve (Hebrew hawwah, 'life') from the pit of decay. He pulls them up to safety, to salvation and everlasting life, just as He pulled up St Peter when he began to sink beneath the waves, just as He pulls us up when we, like Peter, cry out to Him: 'Lord, save me!' (MT 14:30-31).

Surrounding the dynamic center of the ikon's action, we see the Lord's disciples, along with the prophets, priests, and kings of the Old Covenant who foretold this blessed day, and who are now being raised to everlasting life with Adam and Eve. Satan, or a personification of Death (there is no functional difference), is often portrayed as a monster bound hand and foot below his broken gates, helpless now to harm any of us who have died.

Portrayals of Christ standing in an opened sarcophagus, triumphant banner in hand, or emerging from a tomb's dark doorway cannot, under any circumstances, be considered appropriate subjects for orthodox ikons. Although these are common themes in the religious art of heterodox Christians, they are fictions created by the minds of artists, and they are devoid of theological significance since they have no scriptural point of reference. In fact, it might be said that such imaginary representations attempt to expand on the Gospel and present us with images which are simply not justified by the text.

No one witnessed Christ's emergence from the tomb. It has been suggested that the stone was rolled away not so that Christ could get out, but so that we could get in, and see that the shroud and headcloth were still in place, just as if the corpse which had been wrapped in them had evaporated (JN 20:8). St John's comment is important, since he was the first, just before St Peter, to enter the empty tomb (JN 20:2) after the myrrh-bearing women had been informed by the shining angels whom they found there that 'He is not here; He is risen!' (LK 24:1-2).

The discovery of the shroud and headcloth, lying in place as they were, also makes it impossible to believe the fabrication suggested by the Jewish clergy, that Jesus's body had been taken by His disciples while the guards were asleep, an event which surely would have involved the removal of the burial cloths from the tomb (MT 28:11-15). That circumstance, plus the very odd recommendation that the soldiers admit to falling asleep on duty -- an offense usually met by the severest military penalties -- allow us to wonder not only at the resurrection itself, but also at the amazing mental contortions of people who were determined to undermine belief in the resurrection of Christ.

There is no shortage of heterodox Christian 'theologians' at the beginning of the twenty-first century who are just as determined to perpetrate this blasphemy as were their first-century counterparts. In modern times, it is fashionable among the heterodox not to deny the resurrection outright, but to suggest that -- true or not -- it wouldn't affect their faith. Not the faith of the Church, but their individual faith, as if there could be such a difference. Let us remember them in our prayers, as well as the people they lead astray, since argument, even of the scholarly sort, seems not to help.

The guards at Christ's resurrection fainted dead away; they saw nothing but the brilliant flash of divine lightning emanating from Someone they had thought dead, but they did not see Him rise (MT 28:3; Sunday Apolytikion, Tone 2).

Those good women who brought the ointment and myrrh to complete Jesus's burial saw nothing; they were informed by the angels that Christ had risen. The women were instructed to announce this joyful news to the apostles, but they had seen nothing apart from the angel and the empty tomb. As wonderful as that sight was, they did not see Christ rise.

This experience related in the Gospel forms the subject of the other ikon often venerated as we commemorate the resurrection of Christ. It depicts the myrrh-bearing women arriving at the empty tomb, and the angel sitting on the stone just rolled away from the doorway of the tomb. The angel points to the empty shroud and proclaims the resurrection of Christ, commissioning the women to share the news with the apostles (MT 28:2-4). A few verses after this account, we find the risen Christ meeting the holy women, and confirming the angel's directive to 'tell (His) brothers to go to Galilee, where they will see (Him)' (MT 28:8-10).

In the strictest sense of the scriptural definition of 'apostle' (ACTS 1:22), it must be admitted that the myrrh-bearing women were the first apostles. They proclaimed the resurrection to Peter and the rest of the Twelve, who then proclaimed it to us.

This is an important point in dialogue with Feminists, who assert that the Church has denied 'rights' to women. What could have been more important than the angelic commission to proclaim Christ's resurrection, except for His incarnation?

And, in accordance with God's good providence, both of these pivotal events were accomplished by women. There is very little else in the Gospels accomplished by men, other than the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, which can be compared with these two most important events in which women are the agents. The ordained priesthood, including the episcopate, is a mere shadow of these events, and Christian women can be comforted and ennobled by the realization that 'the better part' (LK 10:42) was chosen for them by God, and not by them for themselves. There are other good reasons for this, but they are beyond the scope of this meditation.

In addition, Christ was seen by hundreds of people after His resurrection (1 COR 15:3-11), and He continued to teach and heal and explain the scriptures of the Old Covenant as they referred to Himself (LK 24:44-45; ACTS 1:3) until He was taken up to His Father to reign at God's right hand, from where He sends the Holy Spirit, the Advocate Who guides and enlivens the Church throughout the ages (JN 16:5-16; ACTS 1:1-8; Symbol of Faith).

While no human being witnessed the actual resurrection of Christ as it was taking place, all these scriptural personalities saw the risen Christ and experienced the effects of the resurrection in their lives. As for them, so also for us: 'now that we have seen the resurrection of Christ, let us worship our holy Lord, Jesus, Who alone is sinless' (Morning Service of the Resurrection).

No human being saw Christ rise, but we experience the effects of His resurrection in our own promised immortality in Christ, so we can know empirically that 'Christ is risen from the dead, by His death trampling Death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.'

Great and Holy Saturday Night

by Monk James Silver

'This is the blessed sabbath on which Christ is sleeping; He will rise on the third day.' (Kontakion of Holy Saturday).

Perhaps before considering the other implications of this day's events, we should pause to note that Jesus 'rose on the third day, in accordance with the scriptures' (Symbol of Faith); He did not spend three days in the tomb.

On the contrary, from the time of His burial a little before sunset on the day of His death, perhaps around 5:00 PM on Friday, until His resurrection sometime near sunrise on Sunday, perhaps around 5:00 AM, it could be suggested that our Lord lay dead in the tomb no more than thirty-six hours, although the Latin tradition seems to assert forty. We need to be more careful in our translations of 'third-day' references to accommodate the reality of the events recorded in the Gospel: 'third day' does not equal 'three days'.

Now Jesus' work of redemption is finished on Earth, and His tortured body reposes in death, sealed within a tomb. But the eternal Son of God is not contained by that stony chamber, or limited in any way: 'While physically in the tomb and spiritually in Hades, as God You were in Paradise with the Thief. Yet You remain enthroned with the Father and the Spirit, O boundless Christ, permeating all things!' (Divine Liturgy).

We affirm this each time we place our gifts of bread and wine on the holy table during the Divine Liturgy, since that table is not only a representation of the tomb of our Lord (the antimension bears an image identical to the image (epitaphios or 'shroud') which we carried in procession on Holy Friday), but also the place of His resurrection. It is from there that we sinners receive His holy Body and Blood, the forgiveness of our sins and the pledge of our own resurrection.

Hidden from our sight, Our Lord's humanity and divinity together are now completing the work of ransoming those who are no longer alive on Earth, but who are imprisoned by Death and Hades (1 PET 3:18-21).

This is NOT a way of saying that the authentically orthodox Christian tradition believes in any such thing as 'purgatory', as asserted by Roman Catholic teaching, since there is no 'time' in eternity.

Instead, this is merely a way of describing the results of our intrinsic failures and imperfections, no matter how hard we try to overcome them by ourselves. But God loves us, and makes it possible for us to some back, to repent, and be saved while we yet live. Christ will save us even if we die, if we have faith in Him (JN 11:18).

In a marvelous metaphor, the golden-mouthed preacher describes how Hades got a bad taste in his mouth when he swallowed our Savior: Duped by the human soul of Christ, Death (Hades and Death are identical) thinks that he has gulped down just one more hapless human victim. To his great surprise, Death discovers that -- this time -- he has swallowed no mere mortal, but the living God (Catechetical Homily of St John Chrysostom on the Resurrection).

Nearly all the Sunday apolytikions of the resurrection refer specifically to this event: the righteous dead who had been swallowed by Hades are now illuminated by the light of Christ's presence among them; no longer is it dark and dismal. The mists of death begin to fade away and Death, instead of swallowing anybody, anymore, is now 'swallowed up in victory' (1 COR 15:54).

The ransomed dead now pass over to everlasting life in the true Passover which was prefigured by the release of Israel from Egypt. 'This is the day of resurrection! Let us be enlightened, O people! This is the Passover, the Passover of the Lord! For from death to life, and from Earth to Heaven, has Christ our God led us, as we sing a hymn of victory.' (St John of Damaskos, Heirmos of Ode 1 of the Kanon of Paskha).

In the Aramaic language spoken by Christ our Lord, the word paskha (a close relative of the Hebrew word pesakh, 'Passover' in both languages) was brought over into the Greek gospels as a transliteration rather than a translation; this was obviously a conscious choice on the part of the evangelists, and should be respected in modern translations.

It may well be that paskha is the only appropriate Christian term for this holy day, and it is certainly the only evangelical one. While it might be possible to appropriate 'Passover' for Christian speech, the Church -- in almost every language -- has preferred to use the Greek form, a direct assimilation of the Aramaic term used by Jesus Himself. Protestants do other things with this word.

This seems to be a universal usage, except in English and languages related to or influenced by English, which (even when the British church was orthodox) seems always to have preferred to call this day 'Easter', possibly on the strength of the notion that the sun appears to 'rise' in the East. So, in an identification of 'rising' with 'resurrection'; 'Easter', 'East', and 'Eostre' appear to share a common etymology related to 'sunrise'.

That possible explanation notwithstanding, St Bæda ('Venerable Bede') a seventh-century British scholar-monk, describes the name 'Easter' as having been derived from the name of a Celtic pagan goddess of Spring, Eostre. He also comments that no one remembers how her name came to be associated with Christ's resurrection, except that the Christian holy day is celebrated in the Spring. It is also worth noting that very old English translations of the Scriptures render even the Jewish term 'Passover' (Latin pascha) by some form of 'Easter', clearly demonstrating the great confusion at work.

Church Slavonic keeps the evangelical Greek paskha, as does Arabic, although Arabic faskha/baskha reflects that language's lack of the sound of p, replacing it with an allophone.

Latin says pascha, so the Italians use pasqua and in Spain we hear pascua while the French have pâques. Dutch has shortened the word to pask, but it is still recognizable.

Since the English-speaking world received a large part of its prechristian mythology and folklore from the old Teutonic and Celtic peoples, it should come as no surprise that the Germans (except for some of the orthodox who call the feast das Passah_ -- scholars are trying to get them to drop the final h) know it as das Ostern or das Osterfest ('Eostre's Feast'!!).

In a curious historical turnabout, the use of the term 'Easter' seems to have been first applied to Christian observances in the British Isles. When irish missionaries evangelized northern Europe, it seems likely that they brought this usage with them.

While it might be possible to analyze and explain the historical patterns at work in the transmission of the term 'Easter' among English-speaking Christians, the fact remains that they, almost alone among all Christians, have departed from the pattern established by the Gospel and embraced by all Christian bodies. Now that there is an increasing return of English-speaking Christians to orthodoxy, perhaps it can be hoped that the evangelical 'Paskha' will eventually replace the pagan word.

It's important also to realize that, in Aramaic Jewish terms, paskha means not only the sparing of all the first-born sons of the Hebrews and the release of all the Jews from Egypt, and the festival which actuates memory of it and anamnetic participation in it, but also that paskha is the term for the lamb whose blood – smeared on the lintels and doorposts of their houses -- spared Israel from the destruction of all the first-born with which the Lord afflicted the Egyptians, and who (theoretically and ideally, if not actually now) is still slaughtered each year for the seder meal.

But for us Christians for twenty centuries now, 'Christ, our paskha (paschal or Passover Lamb), has been sacrificed, therefore let us keep the feast' (1 COR 5:7-8).

In view of the long history of remembering that the angel of death passed over their blood-stained doorways in Egypt, and Israel's passing over from slavery to freedom, and Passover's resonance of liberation, not to mention the very clear consensus of the Church's recognition of Jesus as the fulfillment of the 'Lamb' prototype established in the Old Covenant, we ought to resist language which fails to acknowledge the sacred realities celebrated in the resurrection of Christ, which typifies our own resurrection and liberation from death .

In English, then, perhaps we can leave 'Passover' to the Jews and 'Easter' to the heterodox who don't appreciate that word's pagan overtones; let us orthodox Christians continue to observe the Lord's Paskha.

And so we make this mystical journey with Christ, Who promised to take us with Him. By following Him we understand that -- just as He did, -- we also will pass over to everlasting life.

Death no longer holds any terror for Christians; it is painful and inevitable because we are sinners, but it is temporary. This is the simplest definition of salvation by Christ: death isn't permanent, and the just will be raised to everlasting life.

Lord, Your death is our life. Teach us not to cling to our own lives selfishly, but to lose them for Your sake, living for You and for each other, and so come to share in Your own everlasting life.

Source: PASKHA 2016


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