ABSTAIN FROM MEAT, FISH, DAIRY, EGGS
Holy Saturday, George the Great Martyr and Triumphant
ST. PAUL’S LETTER TO THE ROMANS 6:3-11
Brethren, all who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death. We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His. We know that our old self was crucified with Him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For he who has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him. For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over Him. The death He died He died to sin, once for all, but the life He lives He lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
After the sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the sepulcher. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone, and sat upon it. His appearance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid; for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. Lo, I have told you." So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, "Hail!" And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid; go and tell my brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.
While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sum of money to the soldiers and said, "Tell people, 'His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.' And if this comes to the governor's ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble." So they took the money and did as they were directed; and this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age. Amen.
Great and Holy Saturday is the day on which Christ reposed in the tomb. The Church calls this day the Blessed Sabbath.
“The great Moses mystically foreshadowed this day when he said:
God blessed the seventh day.
This is the blessed Sabbath
This is the day of rest,
on which the only-begotten Son of God rested from all His works….”
(Vesperal Liturgy of Holy Saturday)
By using this title the Church links Holy Saturday with the creative act of God. In the initial account of creation as found in the Book of Genesis, God made man in His own image and likeness. To be truly himself, man was to live in constant communion with the source and dynamic power of that image: God. Man fell from God. Now Christ, the Son of God through whom all things were created, has come to restore man to communion with God. He thereby completes creation. All things are again as they should be. His mission is consummated. On the Blessed Sabbath He rests from all His works.
Holy Saturday is a neglected day in parish life. Few people attend the Services. Popular piety usually reduces Holy Week to one day—Holy Friday. This day is quickly replaced by another—Easter Sunday. Christ is dead and then suddenly alive. Great sorrow is suddenly replaced by great joy. In such a scheme Holy Saturday is lost.
In the understanding of the Church, sorrow is not replaced by joy; it is transformed into joy. This distinction indicates that it is precisely within death that Christ continues to effect triumph.
TRAMPLING DOWN DEATH BY DEATH
We sing that Christ is “…trampling down death by death” in the troparion of Easter. This phrase gives great meaning to Holy Saturday. Christ’s repose in the tomb is an “active” repose. He comes in search of His fallen friend, Adam, who represents all men. Not finding him on earth, he descends to the realm of death, known as Hades in the Old Testament. There He finds him and brings him life once again. This is the victory: the dead are given life. The tomb is no longer a forsaken, lifeless place. By His death Christ tramples down death by death.
THE ICON OF THE DESCENT INTO HADES
The traditional icon used by the Church on the feast of Easter is an icon of Holy Saturday: the descent of Christ into Hades. It is a painting of theology, for no one has ever seen this event. It depicts Christ, radiant in hues of white and blue, standing on the shattered gates of Hades. With arms outstretched He is joining hands with Adam and all the other Old Testament righteous whom He has found there. He leads them from the kingdom of death. By His death He tramples death.
“Today Hades cries out groaning:
I should not have accepted the Man born of Mary.
He came and destroyed my power.
He shattered the gates of brass.
As God, He raised the souls I had held captive.
Glory to Thy cross and resurrection, O Lord!”
(Vesperal Liturgy of Holy Saturday)
THE VESPERAL LITURGY
The Vespers of Holy Saturday inaugurates the Paschal celebration, for the liturgical cycle of the day always begins in the evening. In the past, this service constituted the first part of the great Paschal vigil during which the catechumens were baptized in the “baptisterion” and led in procession back into the church for participation in their first Divine Liturgy, the Paschal Eucharist. Later, with the number of catechumens increasing, the first baptismal part of the Paschal celebration was disconnected from the liturgy of the Paschal night and formed our pre-paschal service: Vespers and the Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great which follows it. It still keeps the marks of the early celebration of Pascha as baptismal feast and that of Baptism as Paschal sacrament (death and resurrection with Jesus Christ—Romans 6).
On “Lord I Call” the Saturday Resurrectional stichiras of Tone 1 are sung, followed by the the special stichiras of Holy Saturday, which stress the death of Christ as descent into Hades, the region of death, for its destruction. But the pivotal point of the service occurs after the Entrance, when fifteen lessons from the Old Testament are read, all centered on the promise of the Resurrection, all glorifying the ultimate Victory of God, prophesied in the victorious Song of Moses after the crossing of the Red Sea (“Let us sing to the Lord, for gloriously has He been glorified”), the salvation of Jonah, and that of the three youths in the furnace.
Then the epistle is read, the same epistle that is still read at Baptism (Romans 6:3-11), in which Christ’s death and resurrection become the source of the death in us of the “old man,” the resurrection of the new, whose life is in the Risen Lord. During the special verses sung after the epistle, “Arise, O God, and judge the earth,” the dark lenten vestments are put aside and the clergy vest in the bright white ones, so that when the celebrant appears with the Gospel the light of Resurrection is truly made visible in us, the “Rejoice” with which the Risen Christ greeted the women at the grave is experienced as being directed at us.
The Liturgy of Saint Basil continues in this white and joyful light, revealing the Tomb of Christ as the Life-giving Tomb, introducing us into the ultimate reality of Christ’s Resurrection, communicating His life to us, the children of fallen Adam.
One can and must say that of all services of the Church that are inspiring, meaningful, revealing, this one: the Vespers and Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great and Holy Saturday is truly the liturgical climax of the Church. If one opens one’s heart and mind to it and accepts its meaning and its light, the very truth of Orthodoxy is given by it, the taste and the joy of that new life which shines forth from the grave.
Rev. Alexander Schmemann
The Holy Great Martyr George the Victory-Bearer, was a native of Cappadocia (a district in Asia Minor), and he grew up in a deeply believing Christian family. His father was martyred for Christ when George was still a child. His mother, owning lands in Palestine, moved there with her son and raised him in strict piety.
When he became a man, Saint George entered into the service of the Roman army. He was handsome, brave and valiant in battle, and he came to the notice of the emperor Diocletian (284-305) and joined the imperial guard with the rank of comites, or military commander.
The pagan emperor, who did much for the restoration of Roman might, was clearly concerned with the danger presented to pagan civilization by the triumph of the Crucified Savior, and intensified his persecution against the Christians in the final years of his reign. Following the advice of the Senate at Nicomedia, Diocletian gave all his governors full freedom in their court proceedings against Christians, and he promised them his full support.
Saint George, when he heard the decision of the emperor, distributed all his wealth to the poor, freed his servants, and then appeared in the Senate. The brave soldier of Christ spoke out openly against the emperor’s designs. He confessed himself a Christian, and appealed to all to acknowledge Christ: “I am a servant of Christ, my God, and trusting in Him, I have come among you voluntarily, to bear witness concerning the Truth.”
“What is Truth?” one of the dignitaries asked, echoing the question of Pontius Pilate. The saint replied, “Christ Himself, Whom you persecuted, is Truth.”
Stunned by the bold speech of the valiant warrior, the emperor, who had loved and promoted George, attempted to persuade him not to throw away his youth and glory and honors, but rather to offer sacrifice to the gods as was the Roman custom. The confessor replied, “Nothing in this inconstant life can weaken my resolve to serve God.”
Then by order of the enraged emperor the armed guards began to push Saint George out of the assembly hall with their spears, and they then led him off to prison. But the deadly steel became soft and it bent, just as the spears touched the saint’s body, and it caused him no harm. In prison they put the martyr’s feet in stocks and placed a heavy stone on his chest.
The next day at the interrogation, powerless but firm of spirit, Saint George again answered the emperor, “You will grow tired of tormenting me sooner than I will tire of being tormented by you.” Then Diocletian gave orders to subject Saint George to some very intense tortures. They tied the Great Martyr to a wheel, beneath which were boards pierced with sharp pieces of iron. As the wheel turned, the sharp edges slashed the saint’s naked body.
At first the sufferer loudly cried out to the Lord, but soon he quieted down, and did not utter even a single groan. Diocletian decided that the tortured one was already dead, and he gave orders to remove the battered body from the wheel, and then went to a pagan temple to offer thanks.
At this very moment it got dark, thunder boomed, and a voice was heard: “Fear not, George, for I am with you.” Then a wondrous light shone, and at the wheel an angel of the Lord appeared in the form of a radiant youth. He placed his hand upon the martyr, saying to him, “Rejoice!” Saint George stood up healed.
When the soldiers led him to the pagan temple where the emperor was, the emperor could not believe his own eyes and he thought that he saw before him some other man or even a ghost. In confusion and in terror the pagans looked Saint George over carefully, and they became convinced that a miracle had occurred. Many then came to believe in the Life-Creating God of the Christians.
Two illustrious officials, Saints Anatolius and Protoleon, who were secretly Christians, openly confessed Christ. Immediately, without a trial, they were beheaded with the sword by order of the emperor. Also present in the pagan temple was Empress Alexandra, the wife of Diocletian, and she also knew the truth. She was on the point of glorifying Christ, but one of the servants of the emperor took her and led her off to the palace.
The emperor became even more furious. He had not lost all hope of influencing Saint George, so he gave him over to new and fiercesome torments. After throwing him into a deep pit, they covered it over with lime. Three days later they dug him out, but found him cheerful and unharmed. They shod the saint in iron sandals with red-hot nails, and then drove him back to the prison with whips. In the morning, they led him back to the interrogation, cheerful and with healed feet, and the emperor asked if he liked his shoes. The saint said that the sandals had been just his size. Then they beat him with ox thongs until pieces of his flesh came off and his blood soaked the ground, but the brave sufferer, strengthened by the power of God, remained unyielding.
The emperor concluded that the saint was being helped by magic, so he summoned the sorcerer Athanasius to deprive the saint of his miraculous powers, or else poison him. The sorcerer gave Saint George two goblets containing drugs. One of them would have quieted him, and the other would kill him. The drugs had no effect, and the saint continued to denounce the pagan superstitions and glorify God as before.
When the emperor asked what sort of power was helping him, Saint George said, “Do not imagine that it is any human learning which keeps me from being harmed by these torments. I am saved only by calling upon Christ and His Power. Whoever believes in Him has no regard for tortures and is able to do the things that Christ did” (John 14:12). Diocletian asked what sort of things Christ had done. The Martyr replied, “He gave sight to the blind, cleansed the lepers, healed the lame, gave hearing to the deaf, cast out demons, and raised the dead.”
Knowing that they had never been able to resurrect the dead through sorcery, nor by any of the gods known to him, and wanting to test the saint, the emperor commanded him to raise up a dead person before his eyes. The saint retorted, “You wish to tempt me, but my God will work this sign for the salvation of the people who shall see the power of Christ.”
When they led Saint George down to the graveyard, he cried out, “O Lord! Show to those here present, that You are the only God in all the world. Let them know You as the Almighty Lord.” Then the earth quaked, a grave opened, the dead one emerged from it alive. Having seen with their own eyes the Power of Christ, the people wept and glorified the true God.
The sorcerer Athanasius, falling down at the feet of Saint George, confessed Christ as the All-Powerful God and asked forgiveness for his sins, committed in ignorance. The obdurate emperor in his impiety thought otherwise. In a rage, he commanded both Athanasius and the man raised from the dead to be beheaded, and he had Saint George again locked up in prison.
The people, weighed down with their infirmities, began to visit the prison and they there received healing and help from the saint. A certain farmer named Glycerius, whose ox had collapsed, also visited him. The saint consoled him and assured him that God would restore his ox to life. When he saw the ox alive, the farmer began to glorify the God of the Christians throughout all the city. By order of the emperor, Saint Glycerius was arrested and beheaded.
The exploits and the miracles of the Great Martyr George had increased the number of the Christians, therefore Diocletian made a final attempt to compel the saint to offer sacrifice to the idols. They set up a court at the pagan temple of Apollo. On the final night the holy martyr prayed fervently, and as he slept, he saw the Lord, Who raised him up with His hand, and embraced him. The Savior placed a crown on Saint George’s head and said, “Fear not, but have courage, and you will soon come to Me and receive what has been prepared for you.”
In the morning, the emperor offered to make Saint George his co-administrator, second only to himself. The holy martyr with a feigned willingness answered, “Caesar, you should have shown me this mercy from the very beginning, instead of torturing me. Let us go now to the temple and see the gods you worship.”
Diocletian believed that the martyr was accepting his offer, and he followed him to the pagan temple with his retinue and all the people. Everyone was certain that Saint George would offer sacrifice to the gods. The saint went up to the idol, made the Sign of the Cross and addressed it as if it were alive: “Are you the one who wants to receive from me sacrifice befitting God?”
The demon inhabiting the idol cried out, “I am not a god and none of those like me is a god, either. The only God is He Whom you preach. We are fallen angels, and we deceive people because we are jealous.”
Saint George cried out, “How dare you remain here, when I, the servant of the true God, have entered?” Then noises and wailing were heard from the idols, and they fell to the ground and were shattered.
There was general confusion. In a frenzy, pagan priests and many of the crowd seized the holy martyr, tied him up, and began to beat him. They also called for his immediate execution.
The holy empress Alexandra tried to reach him. Pushing her way through the crowd, she cried out, “O God of George, help me, for You Alone are All-Powerful.” At the feet of the Great Martyr the holy empress confessed Christ, Who had humiliated the idols and those who worshipped them.
Diocletian immediately pronounced the death sentence on the Great Martyr George and the holy Empress Alexandra, who followed Saint George to execution without resisting. Along the way she felt faint and slumped against a wall. There she surrendered her soul to God.
Saint George gave thanks to God and prayed that he would also end his life in a worthy manner. At the place of execution the saint prayed that the Lord would forgive the torturers who acted in ignorance, and that He would lead them to the knowledge of Truth. Calmly and bravely, the holy Great Martyr George bent his neck beneath the sword, receiving the crown of martyrdom on April 23, 303.
The pagan era was coming to an end, and Christianity was about to triumph. Within ten years, Saint Constantine (May 21) would issue the Edict of Milan, granting religious freedom to Christians.
Of the many miracles worked by the holy Great Martyr George, the most famous are depicted in iconography. In the saint’s native city of Beirut were many idol-worshippers. Outside the city, near Mount Lebanon, was a large lake, inhabited by an enormous dragon-like serpent. Coming out of the lake, it devoured people, and there was nothing anyone could do, since the breath from its nostrils poisoned the very air.
On the advice of the demons inhabiting the idols, the local ruler came to a decision. Each day the people would draw lots to feed their own children to the serpent, and he promised to sacrifice his only daughter when his turn came. That time did come, and the ruler dressed her in her finest attire, then sent her off to the lake. The girl wept bitterly, awaiting her death. Unexpectedly for her, Saint George rode up on his horse with spear in hand. The girl implored him not to leave her, lest she perish.
The saint signed himself with the Sign of the Cross. He rushed at the serpent saying, “In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Saint George pierced the throat of the serpent with his spear and trampled it with his horse. Then he told the girl to bind the serpent with her sash, and lead it into the city like a dog on a leash.
The people fled in terror, but the saint halted them with the words: “Don’t be afraid, but trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and believe in Him, since it is He Who sent me to save you.” Then the saint killed the serpent with a sword, and the people burned it outside the city. Twenty-five thousand men, not counting women and children, were then baptized. Later, a church was built and dedicated to the Most Holy Theotokos and the Great Martyr George.
Saint George went on to become a talented officer and to amaze the world by his military exploits. He died before he was thirty years old. He is known as Victory Bearer, not only for his military achievements, but for successfully enduring martyrdom. As we know, the martyrs are commemorated in the dismissal at the end of Church services as “the holy, right victorious martyr….”
Saint George was the patron saint and protector of several of the great builders of the Russian state. Saint Vladimir’s son, Yaroslav the Wise (in holy Baptism George), advanced the veneration of the saint in the Russian Church. He built the city of Yuriev [i.e., “of Yurii.” “Yurii” is the diminutive of “George”, as “Ivan” is of “John”], he also founded the Yuriev monastery at Novgorod, and he built a church of Saint George the Victory Bearer at Kiev.
The day of the consecration of Saint George’s Church in Kiev, November 26, 1051 by Saint Hilarion, Metropolitan of Kiev and All Rus, has entered into the liturgical treasury of the Church as a special church feastday. Yuriev Day is beloved by the Russian people as an “autumn Feast of Saint George.”
The name of Saint George was also borne by the founder of Moscow, Yurii Dolgoruky (+ 1157), who was the builder of many churches dedicated to Saint George, and the builder of the city of Yuriev-Polsk. In the year 1238 the heroic fight of the Russian nation against the Mongol Horde was led by the Great Prince Yurii (George) Vsevolodovich of Vladimir (February 4), who fell at the Battle at the Sita River. His memory, like that of Igor the Brave, and defender of his land, was celebrated in Russian spiritual poems and ballads.
The first Great Prince of Moscow, when Moscow had become the center of the Russian Land, was Yurii Danilovich (+ 1325), the son of Saint Daniel of Moscow, and grandson of Saint Alexander Nevsky. From that time Saint George the Victory Bearer, depicted as a horseman slaying the serpent, appeared on Moscow’s coat of arms, and became an emblem of the Russian state. This has strengthened Russia’s connections with Christian nations, and especially with Iberia (Georgia, the Land of Saint George).
The Holy Empress Alexandra was the wife of Diocletian (284-305). Her supposed death was described in the Martyrdom of Saint George, which was written immediately after his death. The empress, however, received the crown of martyrdom several years later, in 314.
Many events occurred during these years. In 305 the emperor Diocletian resigned the throne and power passed to his co-ruler Maximian Galerius (305-311), a fanatic pagan, as well as a coarse and fierce soldier. His wife was Saint Valeria, the daughter of the holy Empress Alexandra, whom Diocletian had given in marriage against her will.
Saint Alexandra raised her daughter in Christian piety. When Galerius died, the emperor Maximinus sought her hand in marriage. When he was refused, he banished Saint Valeria to Syria, where she lived with her mother.
After the death of Maximinus in 311 the mother and daughter arrived in Nicomedia, trusting in the mercy of the emperor Licinius (311-324). Together with Saint Constantine, he had subscribed to the Edict of Milan, which gave Christians the freedom of religion, but secretly he remained an enemy of Christianity. Licinius gave orders to execute the holy Empress Alexandra and her daughter Valeria. They were beheaded, and their bodies thrown into the sea.
Two illustrious officials, Saints Anatolius and Protoleon, who were secretly Christians, openly confessed Christ after seeing Saint George tortured, then miraculously healed of his wounds. Immediately, and without a trial, they were beheaded with the sword by order of the emperor.
The Holy New Martyr Lazarus was from Gabrovo, Bulgaria and he was born to devout and God-loving parents in 1774. At a young age he left Gabrovo and went to Soma in Asia Minor, near Pergamon, where he became a shepherd.
One day while tending his sheep in the fields, he sat down to rest, and fell asleep. Meanwhile, a Moslem woman passed by, and was attacked by the sheep dog. Awakened by the dog's barking, Lazarus hastened to save her. The dog was calmed down and the woman was unharmed, but her dress was somewhat torn. This infuriated the woman, who immediately went home and told her husband that she had been attacked by a Christian shepherd who attempted to molest her. The enraged husband went out to look for Lazarus, but since he did not know him, he mistook another man for Lazarus, and nearly beat him to death. In order to hide his mistake, the husband had his wife's relatives go before the Turkish judge and to charge Lazarus with attempted rape.
Although Lazarus was aware of what the woman's husband planned to do, he did not attempt to hide. He knew that he was innocent, and that running away would only make him appear guilty. Therefore, on April 7, 1802, he showed up in court, where he was charged and thrown into prison.
In the meantime, the woman's relatives insisted that Lazarus must either convert to Islam or be executed for the dishonor he had inflicted upon their relative. They offered the aga a thousand grosia if he succeeded in converting Lazarus; or if the Saint refused to deny Christ, he must be sentenced to death.
In prison, saints Lazarus was beaten continuously until April 22, in an attempt to force his conversion. Orthodox Christians came and visited Lazarus to give him support and encouragement, but he requested them to leave because they were placing themselves in danger. Meanwhile, the aga grew increasingly angry because Lazarus would not convert, and the one thousand grosia seemed to be slipping through his fingers. Saint Lazarus remained steadfast in the face of torture and flattery, and so the aga confiscated his herd of forty sheep.
On Tuesday of Saint Thomas week (April 22) the aga ordered more tortures for Lazarus. After his tormentors got drunk, they began applying red-hot irons to Lazarus' body. Then they placed heavy stones upon his chest, but Lazarus still refused to submit. Instead, Lazarus entreated the Lord to help him, and he also prayed to Saint George (April 23), asking for his assistance.
Then the torturers stretched out Lazarus' tongue and applied a hot iron to it, burning the front half and cauterizing the rest. Since Lazarus was now unable to speak, they told him to use sign language when he was ready to convert. They also placed a heated iron band around his head, causing him terrible pain.
At sunset, the merchant John from Zagora, who was also a medical doctor, went to see the aga, with whom he was acquainted, because he was the physician to the aga's household. John went to the window of the prison and was able to see Lazarus sitting on the floor. Not only did he seem to be well, but he was also able to speak normally. The doctor, who was an Orthodox Christian, encouraged Lazarus to persevere until the end, and to endure everything for the love of Christ. He spoke to Lazarus in Turkish, since he did not know Bulgarian and Lazarus did not understand Greek. Lazarus assured the doctor that he would not give in, but he was afraid that the Moslems would become tired of torturing him and would just stop instead of putting him to death.
When the aga learned that Lazarus could speak, he became angry with the torturers, whom he thought had deceived him. Yet when he saw the marks of torture on the Saint's body, he was convinced that the men had done their job. After trying once more to make Lazarus convert, he heard him reject all gifts, honors, and promises of wealth if he became a Moslem. Saint Lazarus told him, "I have one God in three persons, Whom I worship and adore. I was baptized as an Orthodox Christian, and I shall die as an Orthodox Christian." Then the aga ordered that he be hanged.
On the way to the place of his execution, many Moslems mocked Lazarus for being so foolish as to give up his life for Jesus Christ. When they arrived at their destination, Saint Lazarus voluntarily placed the rope around his own neck and stood on a basket, and then the executioner kicked it from under his feet. Thus the Holy New Martyr Lazarus endured martyrdom on April 23, 1802. He was twenty-eight years old when he departed from this temporal life, and inherited everlasting life. Now, in the Kingdom of Heaven, he joins the angels and all the Saints in glorifying the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit throughout the ages.
A Church Service in honor of Saint Lazarus was composed by Saint Nikephoros of Chios (May 1). Portions of his relics can be venerated in Leimonos Monastery in Lesbos, and in the Chapel of Saint Xenia of Saint Petersburg at Mandra in Attica.