Christ is Risen! The gates of Hades have been shattered and mankind has been redeemed. The gateway to the Kingdom of Heaven is open. This is the most sacred, joyous Feast of the year; thus, the Feast of Feasts.
The Resurrection of Christ is the nexus of the Christian faith. St Paul said it himself:
But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up—if in fact the dead do not rise. For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable (1 Cor 15: 13-19).
About one week ago, on Saturday of Lazarus, we celebrated the raising of Lazarus from the tomb on the 4th day. This is a foretaste of the Common Resurrection we will all witness at the Last Judgment. It also is a foreshadowing of Christ’s own Resurrection. When he came out of the tomb his grave wrappings were still on him.
When Christ rose from the dead, His grave wrappings were left behind in the tomb, neatly placed and in order. The reason: Lazarus would once again need his grave wrappings, since he would die again years later, yet Christ is Risen. He rose once and would never again need grave wrappings, since His Resurrection is eternal. This gives all of us the hope that one day we too may rise with Christ to eternal life.
On Holy Saturday morning at the Vesperal Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil, also known as the First Resurrection Service, we hear 15 Old Testament readings from both the books of the Pentateuch and the Prophets. There are only 4 New Testament readings on that day. Why more readings from the Old than the New? The reason is that the Resurrection of Christ was prophesized for generations before Christ's Incarnation.
Pascha (Πάσχα) is translated into English as Passover. The Jewish Passover celebrates the "passage" of the Jews from bondage to freedom. The Jews were enslaved for four hundred years by the Egyptians until the time destined by God to release them, so that they may eventually enter the Promised Land. Moses led the way, parting the Red Sea by the Grace of God in order for the Jews to pass safely, yet the Egyptians were obliterated as the waters drew back.
Arise, shine; For your light has come! And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you. For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and deep darkness the people; but the Lord will arise over you, and His glory will be seen upon you. Similarly, in Luke: Now it was about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. Then the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was torn in two. In Jonah: And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. In Matthew: For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
Thus says the Lord: Behold, the days are when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant which they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each man teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.
Pascha, is our "passage" from death to life; from being held in captivity by sin, to now being free and united to Christ. He is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. On the Road to Emmaus, did Christ not rebuke the two men He conversed with concerning His Resurrection? Then He said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory. And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.
This is why we read the many Old Testament readings on Holy Saturday. They foretell the Coming of the Messiah, His Passion and Resurrection. If we know the Scriptures then we know that Christ is Risen. There are two Testaments, Old and New but the latter is a fulfilment of the former. Christianity is not a new religion or a derivative of Judaism, instead it is a fulfillment or continuation of Judaism. For this reason, we chant in the Ninth Ode of the Paschal Canon:
Be illumined, illumined, O New Jerusalem; for the glory of the Lord has arisen over you. Dance now for joy, O Zion, and exult. And you be merry, O pure Theotokos, at the arising of the One you bore.
We are the New Jerusalem who have beheld His Resurrection and confess that the Resurrected Christ is our Lord and Savior. Saint Paul wrote in his Epistle to the Galatians:
For these are the two covenants the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar- for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children-but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all (4:24-26).
Pascha is not a one-day Feast. The first week of Pascha is known as Renewal Week or Bright Week (Διακαινήσιμος Εβδομάδα) where the whole week is an endless celebration of the Resurrection. Other Feasts of the Lord and Theotokos may extend to 8 days but Pascha lasts for 40 days.
Let our greeting to one another on each of those 40 days be: Christ is Risen and respond with Truly He is Risen! (Χριστός Ανέστη, Αληθώς Ανέστη)
Glory to His Three-Day Resurrection!
A graduate of Long Island University, College of Pharmacy, and Saint Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, John works to share the richness and beauty of the Orthodox Faith with the wider community.