Today the Orthodox Church observes Great and Holy Saturday, the sixth day of the Holy and Great Easter Week, culminating in one day with Pascha, as Easter Sunday is called by the Church – from the Aramaic word for “Passover”.

According to the Gospels, on Great and Holy Saturday the high priests and Pharisees gathered together before Pilate and asked him to have Jesus’ tomb sealed until the third day.

They did so because they worried that Christ’s disciples would attempt to steal His entombed body and then preach to the people that He had been resurrected.

The liturgy on this day commemorates the entombment of Christ’s body and celebrates His dread descent with His soul. The poignant and celebratory Orthodox liturgy recounts how He destroyed the gates and bars of Hades, and made His light to shine where only darkness had reigned.

The touching evening mass has psalms read out and Resurrection hymns recited by the lay chanters, recounting Christ’s descent into the underworld. Resurrection hymns revolve around the theme of conquering of death and the service’s culmination is called “First Resurrection.” Most of the readings are from the Old Testament on the prophecies and promise of the conquering of death.

The mass is punctuated, usually at midnight, by the officiating priest lighting a candle, signifying the Holy Light from the Cathedral of the Sepulcher, that is passed from one faithful’s candle to another’s. The hymn of “Christos Anesti”, Christ is Risen, is characteristic of the centuries-old Greek Orthodox ecclesiastical tradition.

Midnight marks the end of the Great and Holy Feast ahead of Pascha.

The Holy Passion, as Easter Week is known in Greece, began four days ago, on Holy Monday.