The Day before Easter

By Fr Jonathan Tobias

In the Orthodox Church, the celebration of the Resurrection starts on Holy Saturday, the day before Easter. (This year, the Orthodox Church celebrates Easter on May 2nd)

It is a quiet beginning, like the twilight that precedes sunrise at dawn. In the middle of Liturgy on Saturday, the dark vestments and altar cloths of Good Friday are removed, and the silver and white vestments of the Resurrection are placed.

Easter is the central celebration of the year. It is the reason why Christians celebrate on Sunday, as it is the day that the Lord rose from the grave.

But that rising began on Saturday, the day before. On that day, the Lord descended into hell. While His Body remained in the grave, He entered hell and there He revealed the overwhelming brightness of His divinity.

The descent of Christ into hell is crucial in the Orthodox faith. The triumph of the Resurrection was declared in hell, at the very point of the greatest darkness, the greatest fear and despair, the greatest sorrow and bondage. “Since therefore the children [that God has given the Lord] share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise partook of the same nature, that through death He might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage” (Hebrews 2.14-15).

Christ came to rescue all of humanity, wherever it was. Since so much humanity was locked in the prison of death, Jesus descended there as the Good Shepherd to seek out His lost sheep. In answer to that heartbreaking question asked by the Lord in the Garden of Eden, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3.9), one of the Holy Saturday hymns says, “To earth hast Thou come down, O Master, to save Adam: and not finding him on earth, Thou hast descended into hell, seeking him there.”

And there, the Lord finds him: “Adam was afraid when God walked in Paradise, but now he rejoices when God descends to hell. Then he fell, but now he is raised up.”

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