Holy Saturday, the day before Greek Easter, marks the last day of Holy Week. On the morning of Holy Saturday, the Greek Orthodox Church commemorates Jesus’ burial and His descent into Hell, where He preached to the dead.
In the Bible, the chief priests and Pharisees asked Pontius Pilate to secure Jesus Christ’s tomb for three days on the Saturday before His resurrection.
They did so because they had suspicions that Christ’s disciples would try to steal His buried body during the night and then preach to the people, announcing that He had been resurrected. This, they believed, would be His greatest deception.
Holy Saturday and Greek Easter celebrations
On Holy Saturday, psalms are read and Resurrection hymns are sung, telling of Christ’s descent into Hades: “Today Hades cried out groaning,” the psalm says.
The hymns speak of the conquering of death and the day’s celebration is called “First Resurrection.” Most of the readings of this day are from the Old Testament on the prophecies and promise of the conquering of death.
In Greece, the Resurrection Mass takes place on the night of Holy Saturday. A few minutes before midnight, all the lights are turned off and the priest exits the altar holding candles lit by the Holy Light, which is distributed to everyone inside and outside the church.
Holy Saturday Resurrection Service made earlier this year
At midnight, the priest exits the church and announces the resurrection of Jesus.
Fireworks and crackers go off and the dark night is filled with light and colorful explosions.
This year, however, the Holy Saturday service will be a bit different due to Covid-19 restrictions. The faithful will be permitted to celebrate the Resurrection service on Holy Saturday, May 1, at 9:00 PM on the grounds outside of churches — not inside.
After the Resurrection Mass, people return home, bringing the Holy Light along, and use it to draw a cross on the door sill with the candle’s smoke.
They also light a candle inside the house that remains lit for thirty to forty days.
They sit around the table to eat mageiritsa, a soup made from lamb or beef offal.
Greeks crack red eggs on Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday
The red painted eggs are tapped against each other and cracked together between two people as they exchange the traditional Easter greeting “Christos anesti!” (“Christ has risen”) – “Alithos anesti!” (“He Truly Has”).
In Greece, dying eggs red, symbolizing Christ’s blood, has held strong throughout the millennia as an Easter tradition.
The egg in itself is a symbol, as its hard shell represents the sealed tomb of Jesus — the cracking of which symbolizes His resurrection from the dead and exit from the tomb.