On this day, the eighth Sunday of Pascha, we celebrate the day of Holy Pentecost.
We have also taken the celebration of this feast from the Jews. Their celebration of Pentecost was both in honor of the number seven as well as in remembrance of the fact that they received the Law fifty days after the Passover. Thus we also celebrate fifty days after Pascha, receiving the One who gives us the Law, the most Holy Spirit, who guides us in all truth and teaches us what is pleasing to God. It should also be known that among the Jews were three great feasts: Passover, Pentecost; and the Feast of the Tabernacles. Passover was in remembrance of passing through the Red Sea, for the name of the feast itself is one of “passing.” That feast prefigured our own Pascha, which is the passing and returning from the darkness of sin to Paradise.
Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council, with Emperor Constantine
(Arius, whose heresy was repudiated, is underneath them)
On the seventh Sunday of Pascha, we celebrate the three hundred eighteen God-bearing Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council held in Nicaea of Bithynia.
The reason we celebrate this feast today is as follows: after our Lord Jesus Christ took flesh and fulfilled His ineffable dispensation for us, He returned to the throne of the Father. It was the desire of the Saints to show that the Son of God had truly become man, that He had ascended as perfect man and perfect God into Heaven and is seated at the right of the glory on high. This council of Holy Fathers proclaimed and confessed that the Son is of the same essence and honor as the Father. Therefore, following the feast of the glorious Ascension, this present feast has been set forth in order to add to the already large number of Fathers who preached that He Who has Ascended in the flesh is both perfect God and perfect Man in the flesh.
The Orthodox Church today prayerfully remembers the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea, which once met in the city of Nicaea in order to investigate and judge the heresy of Arius. We know that in the first centuries of Christianity, the Church endured severe persecution, first from the Jews and then from the pagan Roman imperial power. But despite the fact that the persecution was bloody, despite the fact that thousands of Christians died under torture for their confession of faith, nonetheless, it was not dangerous for the Church.
The Christian of the first centuries remembered well that the Lord Jesus Christ said: “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the sou: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mt 10:28). And in the Apocalypse He said: “be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” (Rev 2:10). In these bloody persecutions Christians were faithful to death, went to martyric death, and received from the Lord Savior the crown of eternal life earned by them.
Οn Thursday of the sixth week after Pascha, we celebrate the Holy Ascension of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ.
While the Savior was still together with the Disciples, before the Passion, He promised that the most Holy Spirit would come, saying, “Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you” (John 16:7) and, “However, when He, the Spirit of Truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth...” (John 16:13). That is why, after the Resurrection from the dead, having shown Himself to them during the period of forty days – not constantly, but from time to time – eating and drinking together with them and clearly revealing the Resurrection to them, on the final day, He promised them many things about the Kingdom of God. He commanded that they not leave Jerusalem but remain there and wait for the coming of the most Holy Spirit, for they needed to be baptized in the Spirit, having been baptized before only with John’s baptism of water. Thus, He commanded them to stay in Jerusalem so they would be strengthened by preaching the Gospel first in that very place instead of going to foreign lands immediately where they would more easily be ridiculed. This was also necessary so that they would be trained there, like soldiers, with the weapons of the Spirit, and thus they would go out for battle in preaching the Gospel.
On this day, the fourth Sunday after Pascha, we commemorate the paralytic who was healed by the Lord, and we celebrate this as a miracle of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ.
The commemoration of this event is made on this particular day because it occurred during the celebration of the Hebrew fifty days. Christ entered Jerusalem during this time of the Jewish festival, and He went to a place north of the Temple near the Sheep Gate called the Sheep’s Pool. Built by King Solomon, this pool was covered by a dome that was supported by five sets of pillars, thus creating five porches. It was called the Sheep’s Pool because the sacrificial lambs were washed there before they were offered in the Temple. An angel of the Lord came down at a certain time and stirred the water, and the first person to step into the water after it had been stirred was healed of whatever disease he possessed. Thus, the five porches were crowded with a multitude of sick folk as they awaited the moving of the water.
Today’s Gospel reading confirms us more and more strongly in the divinity of our Risen Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
The Gospels for the last two Sundays told us about the appearances of the Risen One. They were as if filled with the light of Christ’s Resurrection: the wonderful appearances to the disciples, to Thomas, to the myrrhbearers. But today’s Gospel starts with a dismal, horrible picture: there is no brightness, no light. At the Sheep Gate there was a pool which had five porches. "In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered.... For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had. And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years" (Jn. 5:2-5).
On this day, the third Sunday of Pascha, we celebrate the memory of the Holy Myrrhbearing Women. We also commemorate St. Joseph of Arimathea, who was one of the seventy secret Apostles. We also remember St. Nicodemus, who came to Christ at night and was one of the leaders of the Jews.
We remember the women because they were the first to truthfully bear witness to the Resurrection, while Joseph and Nicodemus were the first to bear witness to the burial of Christ. These two facts are both true and well known by us. Nicodemus was immediately banished from the synagogue and was forbidden to rejoin it. After burying the Body of Jesus, Joseph was thrown into a deep pit; however, by the grace of God, he was delivered from it and went to his estate in Arimathea. After His Resurrection, Christ showed Himself to Joseph, who was tied in bonds, thus firmly confirming the mystery of the Resurrection. Joseph suffered a great deal at the hands of his persecutors, but he could not bear to keep silent concerning all these mystical events and boldly taught all people about what had taken place regarding Jesus. It is said that Nicodemus, was the first to proclaim in detail what had occurred at the Passion and Resurrection of Christ. Since he was one of the foremost in the Council of the Jews and a Pharisee, he knew firsthand the councils and plots of the Jewish leaders and all that had come to pass regarding the Lord. Thus, as was first stated, St. Nicodemus and St. Joseph are commemorated after the Resurrection, together with the women who saw the risen Christ, because they are true and authentic witnesses of the Burial.
On this Sunday, the second Sunday of Pascha, we celebrate the Antipascha, that is to say the re-dedication of the Resurrection of Christ, and also commemorate the event of the Holy Apostle Thomas' touching the wounds of Christ.
This commemoration is due to the ancient custom of rededicating important events. As a year would pass and the date of such an event would arrive, a commemoration was made so that such great events would not be forgotten. This is why the Israelites celebrated the Passover at Gilgal, to commemorate the passing through the Red Sea. They also commemorated the consecration of the Tabernacle of Witness that was in the wilderness and many other holy events.
On the Great and Holy Sunday of Pascha, we celebrate the Life-giving Resurrection of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ, which is called Pascha, which translated from Hebrew means Passover.
For this is the day on which God created the world from nothingness. On this day, He delivered the Israelites from I Pharaoh’s hands and led them through the Red Sea. On this day, He descended from Heaven and took His dwelling in the Virgin’s womb; now drawing forth mankind held in Hades, He raised them to heaven and brought them to the first created honor of incorruption. Yet, in descending into Hades, He did not raise all, but only those who had believed in Him. He delivered the souls of the saints held forcibly in Hades for ages and granted them all ascension to the heavens. We therefore celebrate today, rejoicing in the luminous Resurrection which surpasses all nature, prefiguring the joy with which our human nature will be enriched through the compassionate mercy of God. Thus, as we behold the destruction of enmity and unity with God and the angels, let us exchange the traditional kiss of peace.
On this day, Holy and Great Saturday, we celebrate the burial of the divine Body of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and His descent into Hades, through which mankind was recalled from corruption to be lifted up again to life eternal.
Of all the days of the year, the fasting seasons are the most revered; and again, of the fasting seasons, the most distinguished is Holy and Great Lent; and again, the most eminent and the most exalted of all the weeks in Great Lent is Holy Week; and again, of all the days of Holy Week, the most exalted and most divine is that of Holy and Great Saturday. It is called Great Week and Great Saturday not because these days and hours are by chance more exalted, but because the great, extraordinary, portentous, and wonderful deeds of our Savior were accomplished during this week, and for this reason it is called great.