Holy Saturday: Victory Over Hell
Holy Saturday is the Great and Holy Sabbath on which God rested from His work (Genesis 2:2-3). God rested before the Eighth Day began – the new day of the new creation. It is a day of anticipation and vigilance for believers as we wait for what we know God does: rise from the dead. Our faith is not in an uncertain and unknown future which may or may not happen, but in what we know and proclaim: Christ is risen! In Christ God became human, humbling Himself to raise us up to heaven.
“And His whole life was an ongoing self-abasement, an unending self-emptying, from the moment of His conception until his death and burial and beyond. In the extreme humility of His descent God did not stop at the clouds. Neither did His journey end on earth. He went all the way to hell. In His extreme humility, He descends to the extremity of man’s damnation, and stretches forth His hands to those sitting in the darkness and the shadow of death (cf. Lk. 1:79). In stretching forth His hands, He embraces all: those who loved Him, and those who hated Him; those who stood by Him throughout His life, and those who denied Him. He extends His open hands to all, so that anyone who wants can take hold of Him, and He will pull them out of Hell. Lower than this, there is no place for man or God to go.
In light of God’s descent, everything has changed. When the highest entered the lowest, when God entered the realm of hell, everything there was turned upside down. The Devil was defeated. Death yielded to life. Darkness was swallowed up by light. Fallen man ascended into heaven. In union with Christ, human nature now sits on the throne of God, being filled with the Holy Spirit. God has descended, and reduced himself for our sake, while redeemed humanity has become a great mass, exalted, so high as to surpass heaven itself. In his sermon on humility, St. Basil says that “from a state of nothingness, man has expanded into the heavens’” And all of this can be ours, if only we humble ourselves.” (Archimandrite Amilianos, The Way of the Spirit, pp. 310-311)
“Commenting on the psalms used in the paschal vigil, Gregory [of Nyssa] brings out the manner in which the incarnation is also rightly seen as a war, in which Christ emerges as the Victor who brings benefits of peace to his followers:
Let us imitate the prophetic hills and mountains and leap for joy (Ps. 113:4). Come let us rejoice in the Lord who destroyed the power of the Enemy and for our sake set up his standard of the cross over the very corpse of the foe. Let us raise a cry of victory, for cheers are fitting shouts of triumph raised by victors over the vanquished. And since the enemy line has collapsed, and the very one who commanded the evil army of demons has gone, has vanished, and has been brought to nothing, then let us join in saying: “The Lord is a great God” (Ps. 94:3) and “a great king over all the earth” (Ps 64:12) and has gathered us into his spiritual choir in Christ Jesus Our Lord, to whom be glory forever. Amen.” (John A. McGuckin, Seeing the Glory, pp. 230-231)