Christine Darg

Christine Darg

In Judaism the “Great Sabbath,” Shabbat HaGadol, immediately PRECEDES Passover. But in the Christian faith, the Sabbath during Holy Week is called Holy Saturday, or more appropriately, the Great Sabbath, as it is known in Orthodox churches, when Messiah Yeshua lay dead in the grave.

This year the Great Sabbath falls, as it should do, within Passover. HalleluYah!

In synagogues, the prophetic portion for today, the Shabbat of the Passover/Unleavened Bread week-long feast is Ezekiel 37:1-14. These verses are always read on the Passover Shabbat, which also happens to be the Shabbat when Messiah Yeshua lay in the grave. God arranged that on this very day, Jews worldwide read of the dry bones coming to life – the resurrection!

According to Orthodox Christian scholars, one of the most immediately puzzling passages in the Book of Genesis is in the creation story– God “rested on the Seventh (Sabbath) day.” God did not literally need rest as we know it. What is the deeper mystery?

As believed by the Fathers of the Orthodox faith, God’s Sabbath was fulfilled in the Messiah, who rested on the Sabbath in the tomb, after His death on the Cross from which He shouted the victory shout, “It is finished.” The work of redemption on the Cross was completed: paid in full.

But the Sabbath of God, His rest, is not a non-fruitful cessation of activity. As Adam slept and God removed a rib from his side to fashion Eve, so too, Messiah “sleeps” in death, and from His pierced side flowed blood and water, symbols of the Eucharist and Baptism, from which God forms the Lord’s bride, the universal Church.

Additionally, in His journey into death, Jesus “trampled down death by death,” and gained victory for all through His resurrection.

The Eastern Orthodox Church has a major service on the morning of Holy Saturday in which the Lord’s descent into Hades is remembered and His victory over death and Hell begins to be celebrated even before Resurrection Sunday.

Art on this page is by Fra Angelico, “the Great Sabbath and the Harrowing of Hell.”

After his death, the soul of Jesus descended into the realm of the dead.  The Harrowing of Hell (Latin: Descensus Christi ad Inferos, “the descent of Christ into Hell”) is the triumphant descent of the Lord into Hell (or Hades) between the time of his Crucifixion and his Resurrection when he brought salvation to all of the righteous who had died since the beginning of the world.

Christ’s descent into the world of the dead is referred to in the Apostles’ Creed and the Athanasian Creed.

GOD’S WORD® Translation
Therefore, a time of rest and worship exists for God’s people. Hebrews 4: 9


Most believers cannot recall one verse describing the descent of Jesus into the Limbo of the Fathers (also known as Abraham’s Bosom). Here is a list from an Internet link for easy reference.
–Paul teaches in Ephesians 4:9 that Christ our Lord descended into Hell after He offered His life on the cross. “Now that He ascended, what is it, but because He also descended first into the lower parts of the earth?” Note here that Hell is described as having “parts”.
–Peter said in Acts 2:24 that “God hath raised up Christ, having loosed the sorrows of hell, as it was impossible that He should be holden by it.” 
Peter also wrote in 1 Peter 3:19 that “Christ coming in spirit preached to those spirits that were in prison, which had some time been incredulous.” On this verse, Saint Athanasius says that “Christ’s body was laid in the sepulchre when He went to preach to those spirits who were in bondage, as Peter said.” (Ep. ad Epict.)
–The prophet Hosea foretold the descent of Christ into Hell in Hosea 13:14 by placing these words into the mouth of the Messiah: “O death, I will be thy death; O hell, I will be thy bite.”
— Zech 9:11: “Thou also by the blood of Thy Testament hast sent forth Thy prisoners out of the pit.” What could this mean except that the Messiah would free people from the underworld?
–Colossians 2:15: “Despoiling the principalities and powers, He hath exposed them confidently.” This refers to Christ’s victory over the condemned angels.
–Psalm 23:7: “Lift up your gates, O ye princes,” which the medieval Gloss interprets: “that is–Ye princes of hell, take away your power, whereby hitherto you held men fast in hell”.
–In Ecclesiasticus 24:45, Siracides (author of Sirach) prophecies: “I will penetrate to all the lower parts of the earth.”