Great and Holy Saturday (St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite)

NOTE: The following article is excerpted from The Rudder:

Άγιος Νικόδημος ο Αγιορείτης

CANON LXXXIX OF THE 6TH ECUMENICAL COUNCIL

The faithful celebrating the days of the saving Passion with fasting and prayer and contrition must cease their fast about the middle hours of the night after Great Saturday, the divine Evangelists Matthew and Luke having signaled us the lateness of night, the one by adding the words “at the end of the Sabbath” (Matthew 28:1) and the other by saying “very early in the morning” (Luke 24:1).

(Canon I of Dionysios.)

Interpretation

This Canon decrees that Christians must celebrate all the Great and Holy Week of the Holy Passion with fasting103 and prayer and contrition of the heart real contrition, that is to say, and not hypocritical (exceptionally, however, and especially on Great and Holy Friday and Great and Holy Saturday they ought to be forced to spend the entire day without any nourishment at all); but about midnight – that is to say, after the midnight of the past Great and Holy Saturday – of the coming Great The Lord’s Day they must cease fasting104 since the Lord has already risen, as is plainly evidenced by the divine Evangelists.

For St. Matthew by saying that the women came at the end of the Sabbath to inspect the sepulcher revealed that the day of the Sabbath had past as well as a large part of the night after the Sabbath; while Luke, on the other hand, by saying that they came very early in the morning” revealed that there still remained a large part of the night until The Lord’s Day dawned. Hence, from the statements of both of them it may be inferred that the Lord rose about midnight, the sixth hour having passed and the seventh having begun.105

Concord

As concerning the precise time of the Lord’s Resurrection, Canon I of Dionysios goes into the matter more fully; in fact, it was from him that the present Synod derived its information on these matters. He adds that those who broke their fast before midnight were accused of being pusillanimous and intemperate, whereas those who waited with fortitude till daybreak were praised as being magnanimous and temperate. But even the Apostolic Injunctions, Book V, Chapter 19, say that Christians must cease fasting at the dawn of the first hour of Sabbath, or, more plainly speaking, at the dawning of the Lord’s Day. See also the Interpretation and Footnote to Canon XXIX of the present 6th Synod and Apostolic Canon LXIX.

NOTES

But as for those persons who right after the liturgy of Great Saturday indulge in wine and oil, are obviously breaking the law. For the divine Apostles in their Injunctions (Book V, Chapters 18 and 19) command Christians to fast throughout Great Friday and Great Saturday, just as they themselves were accustomed to fast on those days, since fasting on these two days is laid down as a law by Christ Himself, who said:

“But days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast” (Matthew. 9:15). Now, it was on Great and Holy Friday and Great and Holy Saturday that the Lord was in fact taken from the Jews and crucified and buried, for our salvation. But if anyone should offer an objection to this view by citing the statement in the Typikon to the effect that on the evening of Great and Holy Saturday the Cellarman comes and gives a piece of bread and glass of wine, we reply to this objection, that this glass of wine and this piece of bread are not ordinary wine and ordinary bread, but, on the contrary, are bread and wine that have been blessed by the priest:

  1. Because further above it says for the bread to be blessed, and further below it mentions this;
  2. Because in most of them it is found written in the following fashion, that is, with a single piece, not of bread, indefinitely, but of the bread, definitely and relatively, of the above blessed bread, that is to say;
  3. And because this glass of wine was the blessed wine, which, after being mixed with water, was wont to be given to the brethren for the purpose of sanctification, and especially to those who had communed in order to rinse and wash out their mouth, just as it is the custom to do right after divine Communion.

Many persons fast for three days during the Great Fast. Accordingly, why should they not fast also for the two days of Great and Holy Friday and Great and Holy Saturday, which is more necessary? Indeed, if they cannot do both fasts, it is better for them to fast on these two days, than to do so on the three days in question. For divine Chrysostom says, in his Homily on the Great Week, that just as the Great Week is the head and greater than all the other weeks in the year, so again is the Great and Holy Saturday the head of the Great Week. The fact that the above blessing of the bread is the customary solemnization carried out by breaking the five loaves is more plainly and more explicitly presented by the manuscript Typikon of the Monastery of the Pantocrator.

It says, however, also this, that of the blessed loaves of bread a sufficiently large piece must be given to each brother, and similarly as regards the blessed wine. Hence it is to be inferred that the loaves of bread must be of a large size, and the wine must be of a correspondingly large quantity, in order to suffice for all.

HOW THE GREAT HOLY WEEK OUGHT TO BE KEPT

That is why divine Epiphanios in agreement with this Canon says: “All peoples pass the six days before Pascha with the eating of plain food, by which expression I mean bread and salt and water being partaken of them towards evening.”

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CESSATION OF FASTING ON PASCHA

The cessation of fasting which the Canon mentions ought to take place after midnight Balsamon says that in those days the Christians of old had a different custom of doing it in a different way, which way is nowadays completely disused. Others say that by the expression “cease their fast” (or, in Greek, “aponestizesthai” is meant the eating of cheese, eggs, and Pascha foods in general, this being inferred from Chapter 19 of Book V of the Apostolic Injunctions.

Yet, whether this be true or what was said before, Christians after midnight must first listen to the whole of the of the Resurrection and wait until Divine Liturgy has ended, and thereafter finish fasting and begin eating the Pascha feast with cheerfulness and joyfulness. For the Apostolic Injunctions say (ibid.): “On this account, when the Lord is risen, you too must offer your sacrifice, concerning which He commanded you through us by saying, ‘this do in remembrance of me’ (Luke 22:19); and thereupon cease fasting and partake of good cheer.”

Here you can see that they say that first the Divine Liturgy must be celebrated, and afterwards the celebration of Pascha must commence. Hence it is to be observed that those persons deserve to be condemned, and are indeed inordinate belly-slaves and gluttons, who the moment they hear the cry “Christ is risen!” at once, having eggs and cheese they have brought with them in their pockets or bosoms, begin stuffing them into their mouth. Accordingly, let them take pains to correct this impropriety here and now and henceforth. But parents, too, ought. not to allow their children to become guilty of any similar disorderly conduct.

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CONCERNING THE GREAT DAY OF THE RESURRECTION

For it is for this reason too that on the Lord’s Day we are wont to say that the Lord is risen, since according to Blastaris (Eta, Chapter 3) and Chrysanthus of Jerusalem (in his Geography) the day commences, among ecclesiastics, with the seventh hour of night and ends with the sixth hour of the next night. Accordingly anything that occurs in the interval during the twenty-four hours of this period, appears and is said to occur in that (perhaps one) day.

But note here that in the day of Resurrection it used to be the custom to kiss one another twice: once in the morning, in the Royal Palace, and particularly in churches, while the “Day of Resurrection” was being chanted, at the end of the morning; and again in the evening, thereafter, in the great church of St. Sophia, when the kissing was done together with the Emperor and all the magistrates of the empire, as is historically recorded by Curopalates, who says: “The Emperor sits on the throne wearing the broadsword of the Grand Domesticus, and as all the magistrates come in each, even to the least of them and last of them, kiss first of all the right foot (owing to the imperial character of the kingdom), then the right hand (because the Emperor has been anointed of the Lord and is the Defender of the Church, as Symeon of Thessalonica comments), and after that his right cheek (because “king and soldier, rich man and poor man, are all equal in Christ”).

For this reason many persons ignorantly call this second kiss the Second Resurrection.

As concerns the red eggs eaten at the time of the Resurrection, many persons say many things that are destitute of verification. In solving certain questions for the Emperor of Russia, a learned man named Gazes Paisius, says that when the Jews exclaimed His blood be upon us and upon our children” (Matthew 27:25). everything they had in their houses at once turned red, and consequently even the eggs. Hence in remembrance of this miracle we too dye our eggs red at Pascha on the occasion of the Resurrection then being celebrated. This miracle, he says, has come down to us through a tradition of old.

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REGARDING THE NIGHT OF GREAT AND HOLY SATURDAY

I said qualifiedly that the night of Great Saturday is the middle between the burial and the resurrection of the Lord, and not Great Saturday, as both Zonaras and Balsamon have lumpingly said, because although the daytime of Great and Holy Saturday clearly includes the burial of the Lord, while Great Pascha clearly includes the resurrection, yet the night of Great Saturday, intervening between the two days in question, partakes of both of them. “On this account the Western local Synod held in Cabilone concerning hierurgy (or celebration of the Liturgy), in Division 1st and the Canon which begins with the expression “It has been the custom,” decrees that so far as regards all the other days of the fasts Liturgy is to be celebrated round the hours of Vespers, but on Great Saturday it is to be celebrated at the commencement of night.” Furthermore, all typicons with great discrimination and observation state that the Ecclesiarch must be possessed of accuracy in order that the time when the Liturgy of Great Saturday ends it shall be two o’clock in the night. But why on all other days of fasting should the Liturgy be celebrated in the evening, but on Great Saturday must be celebrated in the night time? The reason, of course, is that the Gospel is read containing the words “Late on the Sabbath” (Matthew 28:1), and generally affording an introduction to the resurrection, and in order that persons who have been baptized at that time may partake of communion in it. Hence the Apostolic Injunctions, Book V, Chapter 19, go right ahead and lay it down as a rule that catechumens are to be baptized still further in the night. For they say concerning the night of Pascha: “Reading the Law all through the night until the cock crows, and having baptized your catechumens, and having read the Gospel, and having delivered an address to the laity, cease your mourning.”

That is why St. Gregory the Theologian in expanding upon Pascha, and Damascene, borrowing from Gregory, call the night of Great and Holy Saturday saving for those persons who get baptized on that night. “Being a radiant night and a herald of the day appareled in splendor.”

On account of the many lights of the ones illuminated (baptized). “How holy in reality and universally festival this saving night is and radiant!” etc.

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REGARDING THE NIGHT OF GREAT AND HOLY SATURDAY II

Anointment with holy myrrh denotes the descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove upon Christ when He was being baptized in the .Jordan; and consequently, according to Cyril of Jerusalem the chrism is a token that we are receiving in baptism the gracious gift of the Holy Spirit (and see the words of Cyril in the Footnote to Apostolic Canon L) and are becoming perfect Christians. Hence we are called Christians not only because we believe in Christ, but also because we get anointed with that heavenly chrism, becoming christs of the Lord and partakers of Christ in accordance with that passage in the Psalms saying: “Therefore God, thy God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above thy fellows” (Psalm 45:7). Note, however, that holy myrrh may be administered a second time, but only to those who have denied the faith. Hence the error practiced by some persons ought to be prohibited, viz, the custom of certain priests or spiritual. fathers (i.e., confessors) of anointing those Christians with holy myrrh who have fornicated with a Jewess, or with a woman who is a Latin (i.e., a Roman Catholic, according to English usage) or a heretic. For though it is true that such persons are canonized more severely than other fornicators, according to Reply 47 of Balsamon and Canon XXXI of John of Citrus, they are not anointed with holy myrrh. That is why Canon XLIV of Basil in referring to a deaconess who had committed fornication with a Grecian, does not decree that anything of the kind be done to her. As for how great an evil it is for some persons to partake of the holy myrrh of St. Demetrius instead of divine Communion, see the newly printed book of the saint of Campania.

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