In the Slavic tradition, September 22 is the feast day of the Prophet Jonah. (Greeks celebrate St Jonah on September 21.)
I adore Jonah. He’s my favorite Old Testament prophet. Jonah hasn’t been Photoshopped to make him look pretty. He’s proud. He’s disobedient. He’s whiny. He’s judgmental. He’s prone to anger. And yet, through all of that, he knows God. And God knows him, and God calls him to do works of mercy. Which Jonah does, eventually, in spite of himself.
Holy Saturday: The Beginning of Pascha
For me, Holy Saturday is St. Jonah’s day. On Holy Saturday, in the Orthodox Church, we celebrate the Vesperal Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great. Because Vespers is the beginning of the day, this is the service where Pascha begins. It’s the service where dark vestments are taken away, and white vestments are put on. It’s the service where the priest throws bay leaves around the nave, in celebration of Christ’s victory over death.
In many ways, it’s my favorite service of Pascha. Maybe even more than the service in the middle of the night.
Compared to the midnight service, the Holy Saturday liturgy is usually somewhat informal, and it may be relatively lightly attended. Our Lord is resting in the tomb on Holy Saturday, but we’re busy! There’s loads of cooking to do. Shoes have to be polished. Shirts have to be ironed. Last minute shopping has to be done.
And then we have our Vesperal Divine Liturgy, calling us to stop our busy-ness.
The Readings for Holy Saturday
The Liturgy on Holy Saturday is St. Basil’s Divine Liturgy, so it’s long. With Vespers prefixed to the beginning, to make it even longer. And in the middle, we have fifteen Old Testament readings.
Not one. Not two. Not five. Fifteen.
All of the readings are passages that foreshadow our salvation through the Resurrection of Christ. They are all appropriate for baptisms, because in the distant past, this is the service that the Church thought most appropriate for baptizing new converts.
The readings start with Genesis, move through Exodus, and then get to the prophets.
At most churches, readings are chanted. But on Holy Saturday, at least at my parish, if you want to do one of the readings, you don’t have to chant. Which is nice, because I read reasonably well, but nobody would want to listen to me chant.
On Holy Saturday, I have been blessed for many years to read Jonah. Not a few verses from Jonah. The appointed reading is the entire book.
I love it.
If you haven’t read it in a while, go read it now. It’s one of the great stories of all time.
Why the Paschal Liturgy Is at Night: Time is a bit wibbly-wobbly during Holy Week and Pascha.
Stephen to Lazarus: A Poem by C.S. Lewis: Thoughts, and a brief poem, for Lazarus Saturday.
St. Gregory, the Saint of Three Names: It can be hard to keep all the St. Gregories straight, especially when they get called by so many names!
Buy the Book: Catherine’s Pascha
FINALIST IN THE 2015 USA BEST BOOK AWARDS
Catherine doesn’t like vegetables. She doesn’t like naps. She doesn’t like it when her mom combs her hair. She loves hot dogs, chocolate cake, and her best friend, Elizabeth. Most of all, she loves Pascha! Pascha, the Orthodox Christian Easter, is celebrated in the middle of the night, with processions and candles and bells and singing. And Catherine insists that she’s not a bit sleepy.