Holy Saturday: Holy Silence
+Fr. Athanasios Minetos, St. John the Baptist - Des Plaines, IL | April 18, 2020
Let all mortal flesh keep silent and stand in fear and trembling, giving no thought to things of the earth. For the King of kings and the Lord of lords is coming forth to be sacrificed and given as food to the faithful. Before Him go the Choir of Angels, with all the Principalities and Powers.
This hymn is sung instead of the normal “Cherubic Hymn” today, Holy Saturday. From a young child, this particular hymn has always been one of my absolute favorites, because it describes with such beauty the magnitude of the greatness of our God. The One who died on the Holy Cross, descended into Hades and freed those who were in bondage was none other than the Almighty King of kings and Lord of lords. Truly, when we reflect on this magnitude, all we can do is be totally silent in awe at what is happening before our eyes.
Every year as Holy Week comes to its zenith, we often take for granted what it actually is that we celebrate on Holy Saturday. This is partly because the service that we hold on Holy Saturday Morning is actually a vespers service for Pascha. It is overflowing with joyful themes of the resurrection. We take bay leaves and flowers and with excitement throw them all over the church singing “Arise o God, judge the earth!” Yet, the resurrection, almost agonizingly, is still a day away.
While this is certainly an exciting time, it’s also important to think about what was actually going on that first Holy Saturday 2000 years ago. All of the earth was silent. The disciples were in hiding. The Myrrh Bearing Women were weeping. The soldiers were standing guard. All of Israel was completely still - it was the Sabbath, of course. The earth, for one seemingly endless day, was motionless. Under the earth, however, there was a revolution. Christ descended, and with force broke down the doors of Hades and broke the bonds of death. Starting with Adam and Eve, those who had died and were bound by death were lifted up into heaven to live in eternity in the Kingdom of God. While all mortal flesh kept silent, paradise was opened with an explosive sound. The chasm that had separated God and man was in the process of being bridged.
It is so important that we recognize this dichotomy of death and life on the same day. In the Matins for Holy Saturday (the service we sing on Holy Friday night) one of the hymns urges us, “Come, let us see our Life, lying in the tomb. He is there so that He may give life to those who lie in the graves.” Holy Saturday is truly about the sacrifice that our loving God made so that we might have life with Him. He was willing to suffer, die, and be buried like us so that we can be granted life.
Therefore, my challenge for all of you this incredibly unique Holy Saturday, a day in which our world also has come to a grinding halt in an eerie silence, is to reflect on what it means that Christ descended into hades. Contemplate Christ in the tomb. Don’t celebrate Pascha prematurely. That day, in all its glory, will be here very shortly. Rather, sit in awe of the silence that has come to define this day. Reflect on the magnitude of God’s love that He would descend into the depths of the earth to free all of mankind from the bondage of death while His body still remains in the tomb. After all, in a few short hours, it will no longer be there.