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Alexander Schmemann writes about the oft-neglected day of Holy Saturday, a day where the sorrow of Good Friday is not simply replaced by Easter, but transformed.

The “Great and Holy Sabbath” is the day which connects Good Friday, the commemoration of the Cross, with the day of Christ’s Resurrection. To many the real nature and meaning of this “connection,” the very necessity of this “middle day,” remains obscure. For a good majority of churchgoers, the “important” days of Holy Week are Friday and Sunday, the Cross and the Resurrection. These two days, however, remain somehow “disconnected.” There is a day of sorrow, and then, there is the day of joy. In this sequence, sorrow is simply replaced by joy . . . But according to the teaching of the Church, expressed in her liturgical tradition, the nature of this sequence is not that of a simple replacement. The Church proclaims that Christ has “trampled death by death.” It means that even before the Resurrection, an event takes place in which the sorrow is not simply replaced by joy, but is itself transformed into joy. Great Saturday is precisely this day of transformation, the day when victory grows from inside the defeat, when before the Resurrection, we are given to contemplate the death of death itself… all this is expressed, and even more, all this really takes place every year in this marvellous morning service, in this liturgical commemoration which becomes for us a saving and transforming present…

Christ rose again from the dead, His Resurrection we will celebrate on Easter Day. This celebration, however, commemorates a unique event of the past, and anticipates a mystery of the future. It is already His Resurrection, but not yet ours. We will have to die, to accept the dying, the separation, the destruction. Our reality in this world, in this “aeon,” is the reality of the Great Saturday; this day is the real image of our human condition. We believe in the Resurrection, because Christ has risen from the dead. We expect the Resurrection. We know that Christ’s death is no longer the hopeless, the ultimate end of everything. Baptized into His death, we partake already of His life that came out of the grave. We receive His Body and Blood which are the food of immortality. We have in ourselves the token, the anticipation of the eternal life. All our Christian existence is measured by these acts of communion to the life of the “new eon” of the Kingdom, and yet we are here, and death is our inescapable share.

But this life between the Resurrection of Christ and the day of the common resurrection, is it not precisely the life in the Great Saturday? Is not expectation the basic and essential category of Christian experience? We wait in love, hope and faith. And this waiting for “the resurrection and the life of the world to come,” this life which is “hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:34), this growth of expectation in love, in certitude; all this is our own “Great Saturday.” Little by little everything in this world becomes transparent to the light that comes from there, the “image of this world” passes by and this indestructible life with Christ becomes our supreme and ultimate value.

Every year, on Great Saturday, after this morning service, we wait for the Easter night and the fullness of Paschal joy. We know that they are approaching — and yet, how slow is this approach, how long is this day! But is not the wonderful quiet of Great Saturday the symbol of our very life in this world? Are we not always in this “middle day,” waiting for the Pascha of Christ, preparing ourselves for the day without evening of His Kingdom?

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