We Have Hope in Jesus Christ
WE HAVE HOPE IN JESUS CHRIST
THE MEANING OF SATURDAY OF SOULS
By Holy Cross Seminarian Charlie Hambos
A sick man turned to his doctor, as he was preparing to leave the examination room and said, "Doctor, I am afraid to die. Tell me what lies on the other side."
Very quietly, the doctor said, "I don't know."
"You don't know? You, a Christian man, do not know what is on the other side?"
As the doctor was holding the handle of the door; on the other side came a sound of scratching and whining. When he opened the door, a dog sprang into the room and leaped onto him with an eager show of gladness.
Turning to the patient, the doctor said, "Did you notice my dog? He's never been in this room before. He didn't know what was inside. He knew nothing except that his master was here, and when the door opened, he sprang in without fear. I know little of what is on the other side of death, but I do know one thing. I know my Master is there, and that is enough."
This story demonstrates that many of us, who are alive today, whether healthy or ill, are afraid to die and not sure what is waiting for us in the afterlife. Many of us are still grieving the death of a parent, grandparent, a sibling, another close relative and even some closest friends.
On Saturday, Feb. 22, our church celebrated the first Saturday of Souls, where we remembered all those who have died from the very beginning of time. This first Saturday of Souls also has special significance because it comes before the Sunday of the Last Judgment. Therefore, before we focus on our own life and the implications made on the Sunday of the Last Judgment, we take the time to remember and pray for the souls of those who have departed before us, and also wait for the Second Coming of Christ.
But unlike the man in the hospital who was afraid to die, this day is not a day to reinforce our fears of death, but instead to reinforce our life in Christ and look deep and hard at how we can grow closer to Him. In addition, since we believe in Christ, we must have faith and hope in the resurrection of our souls and bodies when we eventually leave this life and of those who have fallen asleep before us.
In the Epistle Reading that we will hear on Saturday, St. Paul writes to the Christian converts in Thessaloniki who were worried about their friends and relatives who had died and would not be there to see the Second Coming of the Christ. They wondered what would happen to those who already died versus those who would be alive when Christ would return.
In the beginning of this passage, Paul in a very elegant fashion literally says “we do not wish you to be ignorant, brothers, concerning the sleeping” or in another translation it says “we want you to be quite certain” that you do not grieve for them, like the other people who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and that in the same way God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.
So, here Paul responds to their questions by reiterating their belief as Christians in the resurrection of the body and soul in order to strengthen their faith and hope. Paul wants the Thessalonians to know that he understands their grieving and sadness over the dead, but it must not lead to hopelessness, depression, and the loss of their faith in God. For the family and friends who have died that we remembered on Saturday, we must remember to not let our sadness and grief make us lose our faith in God.
Then Paul tells us how this will happen. “At the signal given by the voice of the Archangel and the trumpet of God, the Lord himself will come down from heaven; those who have died in Christ will be the first to rise and only after that shall we who remain alive, be taken into the clouds, together with them, to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord.”
With this Paul concludes the passage by saying that we as Christians need to encourage one another by strengthening each other’s hope and faith. The very good news is, as the body of believers, our Church and its Orthodox Christian tradition provides the opportunity to strengthen the faith and hope of those who are grieving the loss of loved ones as well as to inspire holiness for those who are uncertain about the life to come. The church also reminds us on this day that as the body of Christ, those of us who are still struggling on earth are in communion; we are connected, to those who have already fallen asleep in the Lord. This is what Saturday of Souls is all about.
In order to explore the deeper meaning of Saturday of the Souls, I would like to answer a few questions: Why do we do this on Saturday? What is the significance of the service during Lent?
Why do we do this on Saturday?
We remember those who have fallen asleep before us on Saturday for three reasons. The first is that Saturday is a day of death; the second because it is a day of rest; the third because it is festal day. Saturday is as day of death because when Christ died on the cross, the whole world died with him. Saturday is a day of rest because this is the day that Christ rested from his works in the flesh before he was resurrected. Saturday is also a festal day because on this day Christ descended into Hades, loosening the bonds of death and rescuing the souls of the righteous by bringing them to paradise. St. Paul writes, “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O Death, is your victory? Where, O Death, is your sting?”
These themes of death, rest and feast can be seen in two important Saturdays of the liturgical year. The first is the Saturday of Lazarus, where we remember Lazarus’ resurrection. Christ brought him back to life in the world as a foretaste of the common resurrection of our souls and bodies through the work of Christ’s death and resurrection. The second Saturday is obviously the Great and Holy Sabbath of Pascha when death itself was transformed into the new life of the New Creation.
What is the significance of this service during Lent?
We celebrate the Saturday of Souls in the week leading up to Great Lent to help us remember time and to use it wisely. In 1 Peter 2:11, we read that as Christians we are only “aliens” or “exiles” in this world. This place is not our final destination. We are here only for a short time. Just as we prepare for Pascha during Great Lent, we must be reminded to prepare ourselves for our own ending and remember to stay close to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ so that we will be eager to jump into his arms, when the door opens for us at the end of our life.
So, this is what the church is doing as we celebrate Saturday of the Souls. We are continuing what Paul told the faithful in Thessaloniki. To comfort those who have lost loved ones and prepare our own selves for the time of our sleeping. So that, on the day, when we know the time is near, we will not be afraid, but will be like the dog who knew that the Master was on the other side of the door and could not wait to come in.
As we remember those who have fallen asleep before us and once again contemplate our own life and death let us not forget the words of St. Paul to the Thessalonians concerning what will happen to those who have gone before and those of us who will still be alive, “And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord.”
“And so we shall always be with the Lord.”
Remember! Let us not be ignorant like those who have no hope in Jesus Christ because we shall always be with the Lord.
“O Master Christ, set the souls of Your departed servants in the tabernacles of Your righteous, and have mercy upon us and save us, as You are the only Immortal One. Amen.
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