Saturday, April 11, 2009

Devotional Thoughts for Holy Saturday April 11 2009

Great and Holy Saturday is the day between Jesus' death and His resurrection.  On Great Saturday our focus is on our Lordâ•˙s Tomb.  We sing: ╲Christ, Who obliterated our Death by Thy death, raise to life, the dead, and have mercy on us.╡  It no ordinary grave that leads to death, corruption, decay, and defeat; rather, His Tomb is life-giving -a source of power, victory, and freedom.  It is the day of watchful expectation, in which our mourning is quickly transformed into real, abounding joy.
On this solemn day, the Holy Church contemplates the mystery of the Lord's descent into Hades, the place of the dead.  We remember all our departed and pray for Godâ•˙s mercy and compassion on them.  Biblically, the passage from 1 Peter 3 is used to explain this.

"He (Jesus) was put to death in the flesh, but he was raised to life in the Spirit, in which also he went and preached to the disobedient spirits who were in prison in the days of Noah when God waited patiently while the ark was being built...For this is why the gospel was preached even to the dead so that, although they have already been judged in the flesh like men, they might have life in the Spirit like God." (1 Pet 3:18-20; 4:6)

Death, our ultimate enemy, is defeated from within. Those who accept and believe the Gospel are gifted with eternal life, releasing the chains that bind and constrain.  â•˛He (Christ) gave Himself as a ransom to death in which we were held captive, sold under sin.  Descending into Hades through the Cross ... He loosed the bonds of death.╡  The Cross is the bridge that links the living and the departed with the Kingdom of God.

Great and Holy Saturday is the day of the pre-eminent rest.  Our Lord observes a Sabbath rest in the tomb ï¿∏" not inactivity, but the fulfillment of the divine plan for the salvation of the world.  He, who brought all things into being, makes all things new (Rev 21:5).  The re-creation and transformation of the world has been accomplished once and for all. Through His Incarnation, life, and death, our Lord has filled all things with Himself, creating a means for the resurrection from death.  St. Paul reminds us: "God was in Jesus Christ reconciling the world to Himself" (2 Cor 5:19).  Therefore, real eternal life penetrated the depths of Hades.  Christ, Who is the life of all, destroyed and crushed death by His death.  Life has been liberated.  Christ has broken the power of death.

Many Church Fathers and liturgical texts of the Church emphasize that by His descent into Hades, Christ opened the way to salvation for all people, not only the Old Testament righteous.  The descent of Christ into Hades is perceived as an event of immense cosmic significance that involves all of mankind people without exception.  Clement of Alexandria, for example, states:

"And, as I think, the Savior also exerts His might because it is His work to save; which accordingly He also did by drawing to salvation those who became willing,by the preaching [of the Gospel], to believe on Him, wherever they were. If, then, the Lord descended to Hades for no other end but to preach the Gospel, as He did descend, it was either to preach the Gospel to all or to the Hebrews only. If,accordingly, to all, then all who believe shall be saved although they may be of the Gentiles, on making their profession there."

Gregory of Nyssa indicates that Christ deliberately concealed His divine nature from the devil so that mistaking Him for an ordinary man, he would not be terrified at the sight of an overwhelming power approaching him.  By allowing God incarnate into his domain, the devil signed his own death warrant. He states:

"As the ruler of darkness could not approach the presence of the Light unimpeded, had he not seen in Him something of flesh, then, as soon as he saw the God-bearing flesh and saw the miracle performed through it by the Deity, he hoped that if he came to take hold of the flesh through death, then he would take hold of all the power contained in it. Therefore, having swallowed the bait of the flesh, he was pierced by the hook of the Deity and thus the dragon was transfixed by the hook."

John the Damascene further states that Christ, as the Sun of Righteousness, descended into Hades to bring light and the message of peace to those that resided in darkness and the shadow of death.  After freeing those who has been bound for ages, Christ gloriously rose from the dead, showing us the way of resurrection.  St. John Chrysostom further asserts that the call of God for salvation is not coercive or forced.  Everyone is called, but not all follow or heed the call.  It is an individual's free will which either saves or condemns him.

By descending into Hades, Christ did not destroy the devil, but abolished his power.  He descended into Hades not as another victim of the devil, but as the Conqueror.  Thus, it is no longer the place where the devil reigns and people suffer, but is the prison for the devil himself as well as for those who voluntarily decided to stay with him and share his fate.

Our Lordâ•˙s descent into Hades became the starting point of the ascent of humanity towards deification (theosis).  The path to Paradise was opened for both the living and the departed. Our goal and destination is the fullness of becoming God-like in which God becomes ╲all in all╡ and man becomes perfect as the Heavenly Father.  May the Holy Trinity pardon and remit our debts and sins and those of our departed and lead us boldly to the Kingdom of Heaven and life eternal.  Amen.

Dn. George Mathew [Benny] Seminarian,
St. Tikhon's Orthodox Theological Seminary South Canaan, PA
St. Thomas Indian Orthodox Church, Washington, DC (est. 1965)

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