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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Holy Saturday: In its own rite

Harrowing of Hades (Chora Church, Istanbul, c. 1315) 
Holy Saturday is all too often defined by its position
within the Holy Week sequence.  When mainly thought of as the day after Good Friday or the day before Easter, its own identity tends to get overlooked.  However, some traditions adhere to rites that emphasize the uniqueness of this sacred day.

Eastern Orthodoxy not only proclaims this day to be
Holy Saturday - but also Holy and Great Saturday.  At times, it is even called The Great Sabbath.  That’s because Christ is celebrated on this day as being quite spiritually alive.  “The Great Sabbath” therefore refers to a “resting” rather a “dead” Jesus.  However, even this ultimate type of rest was punctuated by periods of intense activity.  In fact, because Jesus is literally thought to have gone to Hell (Hades) and back, this Great Sabbath was all the more needed.

The official English term for Christ’s descent into Hell is the Harrowing of Hell.  According to Merriam- Webster, harrow originates from the Old English hergian, which archaically meant pillage or plunder.  Other terms besides Hell come from the Greek (Hades, the lowest, the unseen), the Latin (inferos, those below, underworld, netherworld, or abode of the dead), and the Hebrew (Sheol, grave, pit, abyss).  That Jesus not only descended into Hell - but also harrowed it - is seen as an ultimate victory of spirit over death.

Just what was harrowed from Hell?  “Just whom” would be more to the point – for it is said that Jesus released Adam and Eve, along with patriarchs such as Abraham and David.  This explanation somewhat answers the age-old question: What happened to the righteous souls who lived before the time of Jesus?  As for the unrighteous?  The Harrowing of Hell did not include them.

Those who adhere to the Harrowing of Hell belief tend to equate it with these (plus other) biblical passages: Matthew 12:40 (which likens Jonah in the belly of the whale to Christ in the heart of the earth), Acts 2:31 (which states that Christ was not abandoned to Hades), and 1 Peter 4:6 (which states that the gospel was preached to even the dead).


Copyright April 23, 2011 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

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