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Orthodox Holy Saturday – April 23, 2023

Orthodox Holy Saturday is observed on the Saturday before Easter every year. This year, it is celebrated on April 23. The day after Jesus’ death, according to Christian tradition, is known as Holy Saturday because he was laid in his tomb. When it comes to Holy Saturday, several Orthodox Christian churches in the United States tend to observe it at a later date than the one observed by many western churches. Several names for Holy Saturday have been coined, including Holy and Great Saturday.

History of Orthodox Holy Saturday

Orthodox Holy Saturday is the day between the death of Jesus and his resurrection. Many Orthodox churches ponder the mystery of Jesus Christ’s ascension into Hell, the world of the dead, as part of their worship. As told in the account of Christ’s death and resurrection, death is ultimately vanquished from the inside out. Observant anticipation leads to delight on this day, which marks the transformation of grief into celebration. Holy Saturday is considered to be a component of the Easter season, which is commemorated by both Orthodox and Western churches, however, the dates of Easter vary from one church to the next.

Even after the Council of Nicaea established Easter as a universal celebration for churches around the world in 325 A.D., not all Christian churches commemorated Easter according to the Gregorian calendar, which was first used in 1582. Many Orthodox churches still observe Easter according to the Julian calendar, which is used by the Romans. To accommodate this, the Orthodox Easter season takes place later than the traditional Easter period, which comes around the time of the March equinox.

There is a rift in Orthodox circles between New Calendarists, those who use the revised Julian calendar to calculate the feasts of the ecclesiastical year, and Old Calendarists, those who continue to use the original Julian calendar as a result of the revision of the Julian calendar. Several proposals have been made to change the date of Easter. The World Council of Churches recommended a reform in 1997 to address the Easter date disparity between churches that use the Gregorian calendar and churches that use the Julian calendar. The plan was turned down. There has been no implementation of this reform as of yet.

Orthodox Holy Saturday timeline

325 A.D.
Universal Easter Celebration

Easter is established as an international holiday by the Council of Nicaea, which brings together Christians from all over the world.

1582
The Julian Calendar

Although the Gregorian Calendar is introduced, Orthodox churches continue following the Julian Calendar.

1955
Easter Vigil

From this time, the Roman Catholic Church and a few other denominations reinstate the nighttime Easter Vigil.

1997
Rejected Proposal

Proposals by the World Council of Churches to fix the Easter date mismatch between Gregorian and Julian calendar churches are rejected.

Orthodox Holy Saturday FAQs

What is another name for Orthodox Holy Saturday?

Orthodox Holy Saturday is also known as the ‘Great Saturday’ in the Orthodox Church.

What does Holy Saturday mean?

Holy Saturday, commonly known as Easter Vigil, is the day preceding Easter Sunday. The day is associated with Christ’s victorious journey into hell.

What is the color used for Orthodox Holy Saturday?

Black is used for Orthodox Holy Saturday although some churches may be stripped bare.

How to Observe Orthodox Holy Saturday

  1. Fast

    A great way to celebrate is by not eating meat or fasting which is eating only one meal during the day. It is a penitential deed to promote awareness of Jesus' love and sacrifice.

  2. Attend a vigil

    One way to observe the religious day is by attending a vigil service one hour after dusk. It's a nighttime watch with ancient roots in expectancy and resurrection. Certain Orthodox traditions dictate that celebrants vacate the church three times before re-entering.

  3. Prepare for Easter Day celebrations

    Orthodox Holy Saturday allows for the preparation of Easter Day celebrations. Several churches and cultures have their unique way of celebrating the day.

5 Facts About Orthodox Holy Saturday

  1. Easter hymn

    The Easter hymn meaning Christ has risen from the dead is sung.

  2. Joyous saturday

    This day is known as ‘Joyous Saturday’ in the Coptic, Ethiopian, and Eritrean Orthodox Churches, and it is also referred to as the ‘Night of Light and Joy’ in other traditions.

  3. Slavic orthodox christians

    During the Blessing of the Pascha (Easter) Baskets ceremony on Orthodox Holy Saturday, Slavic Orthodox Christians take baskets of food to the church to be blessed by priests.

  4. Midnight

    The church's lights are turned off just as the clock strikes midnight.

  5. After midnight

    Candlelight fills the chapel around midnight as individuals spark their candles from the candle of the person next to them and begin chanting ‘Christos Anesti.’

Why Orthodox Holy Saturday is Important

  1. Emphasizes Christ’s triumph

    Orthodox Holy Saturday shows us Christ triumphed over the devil. It reminds us that even in death, Christ is triumphant and finds victory.

  2. The truth of orthodox

    By accepting its meaning and light, one can receive the very truth of Orthodoxy, as well as the taste and joy of that new life that shines out from death. If one opens his or her mind and spirit to it, one should embrace its meaning and light.

  3. The promise of resurrection

    The most important part of the service happens immediately following the Entrance, when 15 teachings from the Old Testament are read, all of which are based on the promise of the Resurrection, and all of which laud God's ultimate Victory, the Resurrection.

Orthodox Holy Saturday dates

YearDateDay
2023April 23Sunday
2024April 23Tuesday
2025April 23Wednesday
2026April 23Thursday
2027April 23Friday

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