God’s Great Sabbath

One of the most immediately puzzling passages in Genesis is in the creation story where we are told that God “rested on the Seventh (Sabbath) day.” It obviously cannot be taken in the literal sense that God needed rest. There is a deeper mystery. In the interpretation of the Christian Fathers and in the life of the Orthodox faith, God’s Sabbath is fulfilled in Christ, who rests on the Sabbath (Saturday) in the tomb, after His death on the Cross from which He said, “It is finished.” But the Sabbath of God, His rest, is not a non-fruitful cessation of activity. As Adam slept and God removed from his side his rib and fashioned Eve, so too, Christ “sleeps” in death on the Cross, and from His pierced side flows blood and water, the Eucharist and Baptism, from which God forms Christ’s bride, the Church.

Additionally, in His journey into death, Christ “tramples down death by death,” and gains victory for all through His resurrection. The Eastern Orthodox Church has a major service on the morning of Holy Saturday in which Christ’s descent into Hades is remembered and His victory of death and hell begins to be celebrated. Some of the texts from that service are marvelously rich in their content:

Today hell cries out groaning:

I should not have accepted the Man born of Mary.

He shattered the gates of brass.

As God, He raised the souls that I had held captive.

Glory to Thy cross and resurrection, O Lord.


Today, hell cries out groaning:

My dominion has been shattered.

I received a dead man as one of the dead,

but against Him I could not prevail.

From eternity I had ruled the dead,

but behold, He raises all.

Because of Him do I perish.

Glory to Thy cross and resurrection, O Lord.


The great Moses mystically foreshadowed this day, when he said:

This is the blessed Sabbath.

This is the day of rest, on which the only-begotten Son of God rested from all His works.

He kept the Sabbath in the flesh,

through the dispensation of death.

but on this day, He returned again

through the resurrection.

He has granted us eternal life,

for He alone is good, the lover of man.


The verses are from the Stichera for the Vesperal Liturgy of Holy Saturday.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.





5 responses to “God’s Great Sabbath”

  1. Dean Arnold Avatar
    Dean Arnold

    No wonder he got so angry when the leaders criticized him for healing on the Sabbath.

    The Sabbath rules were merely a small foreshadowing of the much bigger, scarier, more important work he was soon to accomplish in the depths of hell itself.

    Thanks for the great insights and regular, daily blessings, Father.

  2. fatherstephen Avatar


    In listening to the reading of the gospels this week, I almost got the impression that nearly all of Christ’s healings occur on the Sabbath, I’m sure there must have been some otherwise, but I indeed think the emphasis on this in the Gospels is not to highlight a particular conflict, but because of the nature of what Christ did on the Sabbath in His Pascha.

  3. Alice C. Linsley Avatar

    It is almost, here, Father. I can almost smell the flowers! God is good.

  4. Lucy Avatar

    The Holy Saturday service has become my favorite service, even a little over the Paschal service (although I do love Pascha!). I had never gone until just a couple of years ago. It is amazing.

    The perspective of the Church on what Jesus did while he was dead is so different from what I learned growing up. I am so often amazed (yes, the same word again!) by how… full the faith is. I just never knew.

    Thank you for continuing to blog through Holy Week. Your posts have enriched my Holy Week experience.

  5. Alice C. Linsley Avatar

    Father, I posted a link at Just Genesis to this entry.

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