Holy Saturday, the Saturday of Holy Week, it is the day before Easter and the last day of Holy Week in which Christians prepare for Easter. The day between Jesus’ death and resurrection, it commemorates the day that Jesus Christ’s body “rested” physically in the tomb.
On this day Jesus performed in spirit the Harrowing of Hades and raised up to Paradise those who had been held captive there. “He (Christ) gave Himself as a ransom to death in which we were held captive, sold under sin. Descending into Hades through the Cross … He loosed the bonds of death” (Liturgy of St. Basil).
On Saturday, a vesperal Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great, Ἅγιος Βασίλειος o Μέγας, is celebrated, called the First Resurrection Service, named so because chronologically it was composed earlier than the Pascal Canon by St John Damascene,Iωάννης o Δαμασκηνός, rather than because it occurs earlier liturgically.
On Saturday morning the liturgical atmosphere changes from sorrow to joy and the altar cloths and vestments are changed from dark to bright. After the reading of the Epistle, the priest follows the custom of tossing a laurel wreath, saying: “Arise, O God, and judge Thou the earth: for Thou shall take all heathen to Thine inheritance”. The Cherubic hymn of this day is: “Let all mortal flesh keep silence and stand with fear and trembling…”, a thoughtful hymn of adoration and exaltation. The Divine Liturgy ends with the Communion Hymn: “So the Lord awaked as one out of sleep, and He is risen to save us”. The priest begins the service wearing the rason and a black or purple coloured epitrachelion. When the chanters or choir begin the fourth ode of the Canon, the priest retires to the vestry, there donning a full set of brightly coloured vestments, due to the transitional character of the service.
The members of congregation bang the pews as a sign of the “harrowing of hell”, the shaking of the foundations of the earth as Christ smashes the locks and gates of Satan and death.
Saturday evening is filled with the anticipation of celebrating Easter Sunday. In some areas, people begin to gather in the churches and squares in cities, towns and villages by 11pm for the Easter liturgies. A few minutes before midnight, all the lights are turned off and the priest exits the altar holding candles lit by the Holy Light, which is distributed to everyone inside and outside the church. At midnight, the priest exits the church and announces the resurrection of Jesus. Many people carry large white candles called lambada, and the church bells toll as the priests announce “Christ is Risen!” at midnight. Each person in the crowd replies with a similarly joyous response.
After this, everybody goes home for a meal – the fasting period is over. They sit around the table to eat mageiritsa, a soup made from lamb or beef offal, eat flaouna a cheese filled pastry, and tsoureki, a sweet yeast bread made of eggs, milk, and butter. Everyone chooses an Easter egg and try to crack each other’s. The egg that does not crack is expected to bring good luck to its owner. If their candles are still burning, a cross is made in the doorway with the soot to protect the house for the coming year.