Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! Fr. Stavros has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light” and there was light. Genesis 1:1-3 (From a Prophecy at the Vesperal Liturgy on Holy Saturday Morning) Holy Saturday
Good morning Prayer Team!
Have you ever wondered why the Crucifixion happened on a Friday, as opposed to another day of the week? Going back to Genesis 2, on the “sixth” day, “the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them,” and on the seventh day “God rested on the seventh day from all His work which he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all His work which He had done in creation.” (Genesis 2:1-3) The “seventh” day, the day God rested, was called the Sabbath, a day of rest from all labor, a day dedicated to God.
The crucifixion occurred, and Jesus said “It is finished” (John 19:30), on a Friday, the 6th day of the week. And then on the Sabbath, He “rested” in the tomb. It was the Jewish Law for all work to cease on the Sabbath. Jesus did not come to abolish the Law but to supersede the Law. In Matthew 5:17, Jesus said “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them.” So, even in death, He fulfilled the Law. And on that Sabbath, on what would be the last of the “Old Testament” Sabbaths, the world waited and wondered. What would happen on the third day? Would He really rise from the dead as He had foretold?
In the Gospel of Matthew, we read what was going on amongst the chief priests and the Pharisees:
Next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember how that imposter said, while He was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ Therefore order the sepulcher to be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples go and steal him away, and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can.” So they went and made the sepulcher secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard. (Matthew 27:62-66)
The sun set on Jerusalem that Saturday night with a lot of uncertainty in Jerusalem. The disciples were scared and hidden. The women wondered whether it would be safe to go and anoint the body of Jesus when the Sabbath had passed. The followers of Jesus wondered would He really rise from the dead. The Jewish authorities worked hard to prevent the theft of the Body, wondering if some kind of conspiracy would be afoot to have the Body stolen. And the Roman soldiers were probably tired of the whole thing. A nervous tension must have been over the whole city wondering “What will tomorrow bring?”
For us, today marks the end of the Lenten journey. In the Divine Liturgy of Holy Saturday morning, we hear the beautiful hymn “Arise O God, and judge the earth; for you shall take all nations to Your inheritance.” (Trans. by Fr. George Papadeas) Leaves are scattered around the church, announcing the Resurrection of Christ. The Lenten colors are removed and the Paschal decorations put up. As the sun sets, we will prepare to go back to church to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ. Unlike Jerusalem on that Saturday night, we know what will transpire in the night—a beautiful service, a joyous celebration.
However, just like Jerusalem on that Saturday night, we also have some uncertainty. Some perhaps even feel some fear and sadness. For those who put a lot into the Lenten journey, we wonder, will we continue the good habits we’ve started, or will we regress into our pre-Lenten lifestyle? For those who have attended services every day of Holy Week, perhaps we fear that we are we in for a big let-down. And for all of us, will we see Pascha more as an end, or as a new beginning?
The sun is setting on our Lenten journey. But it is not setting on the Prayer Team. A new set of reflections is about to begin. For the past seventy days, we have focused on the scriptures of Triodion, Lent and Holy Week. For the next fifty days, we will focus on the scriptures of the Resurrection, the Ascension and Pentecost. We will focus on the joyful event of the Resurrection, the reaction of the various witnesses of this event, and our own reaction to the Resurrection. There will be some challenges to us as we seek to integrate our Lenten goals into our Post-Resurrection lives. And I hope that the Prayer Team reflections will encourage and challenge you to make this Pascha different. Today, the Lenten journey ends. Tomorrow the joy of the Resurrection begins. And Monday, the challenges of life will return, with us ready to meet them with joy and renewed commitment to living a Christ-centered life, with the Cross and Empty Tomb serving as our sources of hope and motivation. Joy came to the world through the Resurrection. The Resurrection was made only possible through the Cross. Our Resurrection is possible when we have faith, and when we carry our crosses and follow as well—through the struggles and tribulations of life, to the joy and ecstasy of eternal life!
The great Moses mystically foreshadowed this day, saying: “And God blessed the seventh day.” For this is the blessed Sabbath; it is the day of rest, in which the Only-Begotten Son of God rested from all His works, and through the dispensation of death, in body He rested. And having returned to it again through the Resurrection, He granted us Life eternal, as the only Good and merciful Lord. (Doxastikon of the Praises at the Lamentations Service on Good Friday Evening, Trans. by Fr. George Papadeas)
Kali Anastasi! A blessed Resurrection to all!
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