Holy And Great Saturday

Here’s a reblog of a poem from Holy Saturday several years ago. I know most of us are about to begin Pascha services, but this speaks of the spirit in which I want to enter the darkened nave. Joy to you all! 

Sir, we have heard of your death.
To die thus is unequivocally brutal.
But when we came to your tomb
the sweet smell astonished us.

You spoke of white, painted tombs
that reek of corruption within.
Your tomb is externally shameful,
the grave of a sinner, a man like any man,
but inside the breath is forever ravishing,
more than lavender and cloves.

What, then, has death become?


  1. If it weren’t for my respect for tradition, and the danger of opening the wrong doors, I’d say we could benefit from a new call/response greeting – like “God is here” and “I know!” Or “Christ is with us” and “Yes!” Or perhaps “He’s back!” and “Thank God.”

    I stood awkwardly out of the way last night and tried to remember what to say as our priest kept coming back through the open royal door, three-candle abra (?) raised high in one hand, swinging the censor vigorously with the other, and shouting in no particular order, as if to keep us awake, “Christ is risen!!!” and “Χριστός Ανέστη!!!” and “Христос воскресе!!!” It was a powerful experience, but hard to replicate with friends this morning, or tomorrow, and every tomorrow after.


  2. Albit, I know what you mean – I remember that initial awkwardness. I was comfortable and enthusiastic by the third year, I think. After all, when else do you get to actually shout out your faith, not in a lonely defiant sort of way, but in a happy, surrounded-by-others kind of way? In my current parish, we have so many nationalities represented that the priest shouts the greeting in maybe a dozen languages. I only respond in English and Greek and I’m comfortable with that.

    Did you have bells with the shouting? To me that’s infinitely better – as if we are shouting along with God instead of to him. (If being in good company puts one at ease when engaging in usual behavior, then…) I was thinking this year that the joy of the resurrection is Christ’s joy even more than ours. We don’t have much of an idea of what it’s all about, but he is fervent in his joy and we are like babies when they see their parents full of joy and they jump around and get excited with them.

    But, we do have some idea. For it’s not that Christ HAS risen – it’s that he IS risen. He didn’t just do something at a point in time that helped him escape death, but he is risen, both eternally, and at this very moment, forever living the life of his resurrection. Because his resurrection is humanity exalted to divinity – truly raised, not just from death but from corruptibility, not just from, but also to, and not just restored to a breathing status but made heavenly in nature. That’s why the expression “Christ is risen!” is truly irreplaceable in my opinion. I guess, there’s no law that says it has to be that one, but on the other hand the trick would be finding something more succinct

    Besides, if we are touching eternity at that moment, then so is everyone else through time and space. I guess I’m glad we are saying the same thing they are.

    No, you can’t replicate the power of the service on the next morning. Even St. Paul said at one point, “I want to attain to the resurrection of the dead, but I haven’t attained yet.” I know people say silly things like, “It can be Pascha ever day of the year.” It’s silly, not because it isn’t true in some sense, but because it can’t be true for most of us in the natural, immediate sense, so why burden people with that expectation? The emotion of the Paschal services is proper to the Paschal services. Emotion that won’t let go when the occasion is over, is immoderate emotion! So when I say Christ is risen, it’s a much quieter greeting than the one last night, and that’s OK. If I ever learn to see Pascha discerningly, with spiritual eyes, then I would expect a longer effect, I guess.


    • You are right, AR, about the shouting, also about the bells. It should be comforting to celebrate with unguarded enthusiasm, vociferously, on at least one day of the year, and especially among those whom we love as a new kind of family. I hope to get there.

      We don’t have church bells at little St. Basil the Great, not even hand bells, just the little tinkling ones attached to the censer chain. I can only imagine what it would feel like to hear large bells booming out the news all over the land, as if (as you said) Christ were celebrating – no, he IS celebrating, right? Right along with us, or rather, we along with him.

      Sadly, as of now I’m still with Peter the night before, timid, maybe embarrassed (I spent year after cynical year wishing people would keep their beliefs to themselves) or even somehow afraid to assert faith publicly because old friends might feel betrayed — can you believe? — or acquaintances might be uncomfortable, or even be tempted to ridicule.

      Forgive, please. Confessions better done in church, though not so easy there.

      About “is risen” vs “has risen,” I understand your point, and it is am appealing one, but I often get sidetracked by theological paradoxes; e.g., Jesus is God, so he was always “risen,” yet it took a historical “rising” to convince his friends. At least that is how I used to interpret Paul’s words about the Resurrection. I am beginning to see with different eyes now, so the choice of tenses – is or has – won’t lead to an argument, or even a discussion. I would use both if I l could use either (i.e., once I can say that greeting as a true greeting and not a mere formality)

      What you said about immoderate emotion makes sense, but what if even in church it seems immoderate. I was trained to be suspicious of emotions. We were to be guided by reason. The soul and the intellect lived on a higher plane than the body with its feelings. I was enamored of philosophy before I learned about poetry. Now I am suspicious of the power (for good) of logic and rationality. But unfortunately, poetry didn’t lead to truth either, no matter how moved I was, and still am on occasion, by poems and the attempts to make them.

      Also, my parents didn’t show their feelings, so I learned not to either, although fortunately I found an outlet in writing. All this to say, “Christ is risen” is not easy for me to say, or shout–yet.


      • I understand, Albit. All of that is real and all of it takes time and conformity is not necessarily good in itself. On the other hand, copywork is a proven pedagogical method. If I could make so bold as to offer a suggestion, give the responses in a dry, matter of fact, quiet way and be fine with that. Assume that other people have reasons for their emotion (or even joy;) until you feel it yourself, you are doing copywork. But that’s just a suggestion. The Lord will lead you in your own way.


        • Celebrating Pascha is about hope–hope turned into joy by God’s grace. It is unlike anything else in the world as it both transcends and transforms.

          The most joyful Pascha I have ever spent was a few weeks after my late wife had reposed. I knew both the hope and the transcendent reality of death being destroyed.

          Last night at my parish a visiting bishop who served many years in Aleppo, Syria spoke of their Pascha this year. Aleppo is surrounded by rebels, without food, water or electricity much of the time. Yet they found ways to recognize the hope of Pascha in part by sharing with each other what little they have.

          Pascha, despite what some say is not the way we celebrate Easter and give it a funny name. It is the Passover. The fast, the prayers and the almsgiving during Lent reflect that as well.

          The King of Glory has opened the gates of Paradise that we may enter and death is no note.

          Christ is Risen!


  3. In my parish the priest reminds us before each homily: “Christ is in our midst.” To which we respond: ” He is and ever shall be.”

    St.Seraphim of Sarov used the Paschal greeting all the time because he lived in Pascha all the time.

    I don’t so it would be a bit presumptuous of me to say it.

    If I am genuinely pleased to see someone and I tell them so. There is an element of the Paschal joy present.

    Joy is always a gift of God.


    • So, you are saying that every joyful greeting is somehow kin to the Paschal greeting? I would be OK with that idea as a bit of poetry, I think. (Of course you know in what high regard I hold poetry.)


      • Poetry is a noetic gift as is joy. St. Seraphim also greeted those who came to him with: “my joy”.

        Yes, every joyful greeting partakes of the Paschal greeting AND of Elizabeth’s greeting of the Theotokos. Both are the recognition of God with us and His salvific victory.

        That recognition is also a noetic gift as is poetry. That was one reason that I likened confession, in an earlier comment, to poetry.

        Life in Christ can only begin to be comprehended in poetry as all is founded on the deeply intimate realization of the love Jesus Christ has for us personally.

        For me, that has taken most of my life to even begin to accept. God doesn’t just love the “whole world” or the Church or the saints-He loves me, an insignificant and deeply sinful man and He is there, waiting with ineffable patience for me to recognize that.

        That is true for us all.

        Christ is Risen!


        • -He loves me, an insignificant and deeply sinful man and He is there, waiting with ineffable patience for me to recognize that.

          I copied this, Michael. For re-reading “again and again.”


          • …and of course His waiting is not passive. He reveals Himself to me, to us all in the Church with each act of devotion personally and corporately.


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