A historical account
There finally came that “great and blessed Saturday” – on March 18, 34 A.D. – when the Only-begotten Son of God rested from all His deeds on earth. But there was no rest in Jerusalem: some were deprived of rest by their malice, while others could not rest because of heavy and oppressive sorrow. The enemies of Jesus continued to persecute Him even unto His grave, making sure to seal His tomb and set guards around it. At the same time the Lord’s disciples suffered great sorrow: for all of them, except John the Theologian, had abandoned their Master and were now finding out from others about His last days – how He was humiliated, how He suffered terribly on the cross. Bitter tears were shed by Apostle Peter, who had renounced the One Whom he had promised to love even unto death. But far more bitter tears were shed by the Mother of God, Whose soul – in accordance with holy Simeon’s prophecy – had been sharply pierced.
Thus some gazed with anguish and others with gloating upon the silent, sealed, and guarded tomb of the Saviour. But whatever took place in the meantime behind the doors of the grave was hidden from the world. Only the most precious Body of the Lord rested there; with His glorified soul He descended into hell, into the very bastion of Satan, that ancient murderer of mankind, where from time immemorial the souls of all the forefathers and the righteous languished, deprived of the bliss of paradise by the original sin. St. John Damascene says: “The glorified soul of Christ descended into hell so that light would shine upon those living underground and in the shadow of death, just as the Sun of truth shone upon those living on earth; to both those on earth and those in hell Christ preached peace, freedom from captivity, return of sight to the blind, salvation to those who believed in Him, and He stood as the accuser of unbelievers.”
The day of Christ finally dawned for those who from faraway, separated by millennia, saw Him only in the shadow of images and prophecies. The holy men were already expecting Christ: the righteous Simeon had told them of His nativity on earth; John the Baptist had preached to them His imminent arrival. And now, bringing with Him the teaching of the Gospel and the remission of sins, the Lord Himself descends into hell. With rapture and inexpressible joy the host of fore-fathers and prophets greet Jesus Christ. St. Ephraim the Syrian thus describes this meeting: here, behind the gloomy confines of dismal hell, the Saviour “sees Adam, drowning in tears; He sees Abel, covered with blood as with a royal robe; He sees Noah, decorated with righteousness; He sees Abraham, crowned with all manner of virtue; He sees Lot, the purveyor of hospitality; He sees Job, shining with patience; he sees Moses, ordained by the hand of God. He approaches Joshua, son of Nun, and the latter is surrounded by his army; He comes up to Samuel, and the latter shines with the anointment of kings; He goes up to David, and the latter is buried with the Psalter; He approaches Elisha, and the latter is clothed in a mantle. Isaiah joyously shows his head, which had been sawed off. Jonah glories in the salvation of the people of Nineveh. The eyes of Ezekiel are shining from his awesome visions. The feet of Daniel are still fresh from the lions’ embraces. The head of the Baptist glows with its beheading. He sees also the holy women, equal in all things to the men. He sees each righteous one, looks upon each prophet, – and proclaims: “It is I!”
Hell trembled upon meeting with the second Adam. The confines of hell crumbled. The dominion of death and Satan ended. All the righteous ones who had been devoured by death were now delivered.
Meanwhile, two days had passed on earth from the moment of Jesus Christ’s death on Golgotha. A feeling of restless rage stirred in the hearts of His murderers, who remembered well His prophecy of arising on the third day; while in the hearts of Christ’s disciples there kindled a spark of vague hope that the Master’s divine power would be manifested. But stolidly, indifferent to both rage and hope, stood the guards at the tomb where the Hope of all creation was buried.
In the deep silence of early morning, amid the peace and tranquility of nature, the Son of God arose from the sealed tomb without disturbing His burial cloths. According to the testimony of His holy Shroud, Christ was resurrected by a burst of incredibly powerful energy which far exceeded the power of atomic energy. There were no witnesses to this greatest of miracles on earth, but they were not even needed: the entire subsequent history of the Church of Christ bears witness to the truth of the Resurrection.
The soldiers who guarded the tomb were eyewitnesses to the events which followed the Resurrection. Calmly they stood under the panoply of olive trees, peering attentively into the surrounding gloom of the early morning. Suddenly they felt the ground tremble and an extraordinary light glittered like lightning, cutting through the air, – this was an angel of God, coming from heaven, who approached the tomb, pushed the stone away from the entrance, and sat on the stone. The angel’s radiant appearance frightened the soldiers: in great fear they fell to the ground as dead. The earthly guard at the tomb of the resurrected Christ had ended, giving way to the heavenly guard. Christ was risen! – and the joyous morning of new life dawned for all creation.
(Adapted from the monthly readings of St. Dimitry of Rostov)