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Homily on Holy Saturday: The Lord Descends into Hades

St. Epiphanius, Bishop of Cyprus (403 A.D.)

Something strange is happening - there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and He has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and Hell trembles with fear.

He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, He has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, He who is both God and the Son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the Cross, the weapon that had won Him the victory. At the sight of Him Adam, the first man He had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone, “My Lord be with you all.” Christ answered him, “And with your spirit.” He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying, “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.

“I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by My own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in Hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the Life of the dead. Rise up, work of My hands, you who were created in My image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in Me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.

“For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

“See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in My image. On My back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See My hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

“I slept on the Cross and a sword pierced My side for you who slept in Paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in Hell. The sword that pierced Me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

“Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly Paradise. I will not restore you to that Paradise, but I will enthrone you in Heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am Life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The Bridal Chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The Kingdom of Heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity. “

From the Synaxarion of the Lenten Triondion and Pentecostarion, Fr. David and Mother Gabriela, eds., HDM Press, Rives Junction, MI, 1999 pp. 160-161.

Homily: Christ Is Risen!

St. Maximus, Bishop of Turin (467 A.D.)

Christ is Risen! He has burst open the gates of Hell and let the dead go free; He has renewed the earth through the members of His Church now born again in Baptism, and has made it blossom afresh with men brought back to life. His Holy Spirit has unlocked the doors of Heaven, which stand wide open to receive those who rise up from the earth. Because of Christ’s Resurrection the thief ascends to Paradise, the bodies of the blessed enter the Holy City, and the dead are restored to the company of the living. There is an upward movement in the whole of creation, each element raising itself to something higher. We see Hell restoring its victims to the upper regions, earth sending its buried dead to Heaven, and Heaven presenting the new arrivals to the Lord. In one and the same movement, our Savior’s Passion raises men from the depths, lifts them up from the earth, and sets them in the heights.

Christ is Risen! His rising brings life to the dead, forgiveness to sinners, and glory to the Saints. And so David the Prophet summons all creation to join in celebrating the Paschal festival. “Rejoice and be glad,” He cries, “on this day which the Lord has made.”

The light of Christ is an endless day that knows no night. Christ is this day, says the Apostle; such is the meaning of his words, “Night is almost over; day is at hand.” He tells us that night is almost over, not that it is about to fall. By this we are meant to understand that the coming of Christ’s light puts Satan’s darkness to flight, leaving no place for any shadow of sin. His everlasting radiance dispels the dark clouds of the past and checks the hidden growth of vice. The Son is that Day to whom the Day, which is the Father, communicates the mystery of His Divinity. He is the Day who says through the mouth of Solomon, “I have caused an unfailing light to rise in Heaven.” And as in Heaven no night can follow day, so no sin can overshadow the justice of Christ. The celestial day is perpetually bright and shining with brilliant light; clouds can never darken its skies. In the same way, the light of Christ is eternally glowing with luminous radiance and can never be extinguished by the darkness of sin. This is why John the Evangelist says, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never been able to overpower it.”

And so, my brothers, each of us ought surely to rejoice on this Holy Day. Let no one, conscious of his sinfulness, withdraw from our common celebration, nor let anyone be kept away from our public prayer by the burden of his guilt. Sinner he may indeed be, but he must not despair of pardon on this day which is so highly privileged; for if a thief could receive the grace of Paradise, how could a Christian be refused forgiveness?

From the Synaxarion of the Lenten Triondion and Pentecostarion, Fr. David and Mother Gabriela, eds., HDM Press, Rives Junction, MI, 1999 pp. 166-167.