Holy and Great Saturday

“Lord my God, I sing a departure hymn and a burial song to You, who through Your burial opened the gates of life for me, and by Your death put death and Hades to death.”

(Troparion from the Canon of Matins)

All creation weeps, seeing its Creator nailed to the Cross, hanging exposed. The sun darkens in sorrow, the earth trembles and cracks in pain. Hades groans and casts out the long-dead saints into life. The Jews plot to conceal the Resurrection, while the women, with more tears than myrrh, anoint the body of the Life-giver; Joseph and Nicodemus bury with tears and awe the slumbering God and beloved Teacher—the Immortal laid in death. And what can we offer Him but a dirge with a burial song and trembling admiration for the ineffable long-suffering and love of the Savior?

As all nature strives towards union, so today everything is united in sacred silence and anticipation of the fulfillment of Christ’s proclaimed Resurrection from the dead. The faithful already feel the victory over death, God’s omnipotence, the breaking of death’s bonds mystically resounds, like the rumbling of the earth before a volcanic eruption.

The graceful outpourings from above upon the Holy Bigorski Monastery fill every soul with unspeakable and rare tenderness, as the church, adorned in splendor and richly decorated, awaits the emergence of the Bridegroom. The choir of monks, psaltis, and numerous children’s voices, with pure heartfelt love for the Savior, sing the burial hymn and laudatory stanzas before the floral Epitaphios—the symbol of Christ’s Most Holy Tomb. In the radiant presence of our beloved Elder and Abbot, Bishop Partenij of Antania, and in his graceful countenance and gaze, we already behold the Resurrection and Life.

The glory of the Savior’s work in Hades, where He raises the dead from ages past, triumphs in the star-like prayerful procession with Christ’s Shroud, around the courtyard and the church of the Forerunner. But the resurrectional joy seemed to reign even more in our hearts during today’s Great Saturday Liturgy of St. Basil, unique in its depth and beauty. “A blessed Resurrection, a blessed Pascha!”—our Elder joyously wished the numerous gathered children of Christ, scattering flowers everywhere as a symbol of the impending resurrectional joy. The great resurrectional prokeimenon, which resounded so powerfully from the chanters, already ushered us into the Paschal glorification.

Indeed, the depth of Holy and Great Saturday is inexpressible—the day when the Lord rested from His works after creating the world and man, and introduced him as king of the universe. It is also the day when He completed the work of our salvation. This Sabbath is blessed. In it is hidden the victory and silence before the mystery of God incarnate and made man: “Let all mortal flesh keep silent and stand with fear and trembling, and let it not ponder anything earthly within itself; for the King of kings and Lord of lords approaches to be slain and to be given as food for the faithful.” No one has ever spoken as Christ does now with His silence. All the Gospel words prescribed for this day are sealed in His silence. And much more than that—all that is unwritten in books and that we cannot now contain within ourselves. All truth, all love, all fullness of life. Blessed Pascha!