SATURDAY, APRIL 23: In the United States, the Saturday before Easter is a final opportunity to stock up on groceries for family dinners tomorrow—and to stock up on goodies for Easter baskets. Many families still decorate Easter eggs.
Around the world, however, Holy Saturday is full of traditional color and ceremony in Eastern Christian lands! On the island of Corfu off the western coast of Greece, people gather for the shattering of the pots. Clay pots filled with water are thrown from balconies to shatter in the street. Some historians say there are pagan customs involved in this throwing away of ill omens. But, most describe it as a remembrance of the Christian belief that Jesus was shattering the bonds of death on Holy Saturday. In any case, it’s a dramatic way for the whole island to mark the Easter weekend!
HOLY FIRE IN JERUSALEM
The most spectacular Holy Saturday tradition is largely ignored in the West, but remains popular in traditional Eatern churches. On each Holy Saturday for many centuries, Orthodox clergy enter the tomb of Jesus inside Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre. They carry unlit candles and supposely are searched to “prove” that they are carrying no means to ignite a fire. Once inside the tomb, the candles “miraculously” ignite and the clergy emerge to share the flames with pilgrims. Representatives of various national churches carry home lights ignited with the Holy Fire. The ritual is broadcast live via television in many Orthodox countries. News reports in countries from Russia to Bulgaria already are updating Christians on the plans of church delegations that are scheduled to fly home from Jerusalem today on special flights carrying the Holy Fire.
In the Christian West, Holy Saturday is a dark and quiet day of reflection, awaiting the celebration of Easter. Because of the special traditions in the Christian East, however, today is often called Great Saturday. GoArch has details. Greek Orthodox Christians commonly see laurel leaves and flower petals strewn about the church to symbolize the shattered gates of Hades. In Eastern and Western Christian churches, however, what begins in darkness ends in light, and late tonight, the Easter Vigil is finally celebrated and the Paschal season begins. (Wikipedia has details.)
Tonight’s Mass is, for many, the most breathtaking of the year. The entire congregation waits in darkness, silently, until the Resurrection of Jesus is announced. Suddenly, somber chanting transforms into joyous songs of Alleluia, candles are lit and the entire church shines with light. The glorious Easter candle is blessed, inscribed and lit, and Christians remember Jesus’ words: “I am the light of the world. He that followeth me walketh not in darkness.”
Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online journal covering religion and cultural diversity.