Known modern theologians Priest Awgustin Sokolowsky and Archpriest Andrey Tkachev talk about the last days of Christ’s passions and His Resurrection from a historical and theological perspective. In the process, they mention some fascinating facts about the prominent events in human and Church history.
“The Righteous One will die on the day of His conception”
On the great Christian feasts, we exchange salutations, but do we always know the history behind them? According to one common stereotype, the date for the Nativity of Christ was selected arbitrarily. It is suggested that it was set to coincide with the Roman Empire’s feast of the sun so that the worship of Christ as the Sun of Truth would replace the pagan worship of Jupiter. This version is said to be the most probable. It is certainly very interesting as an idea, but historically, it does not match the facts. As follows from the archaeological data, biblical texts and the teachings of the holy fathers, the Righteous One (Aka the Messia) died on the date of his conception. Astronomers have calculated the likely date of Christ’s crucifixion, April 7. So the date on which we celebrate the Annunciation and the Conception of Christ of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary is most likely the historical date of Christ’s passions and death on the Cross. By adding to this date the months of gestation, we can get the estimation of the date of His birth, celebrated as the Nativity of Christ.
“And the third day He arose again”
Christianity teaches that the Lord resurrected on the third day after His death, and this tenet is critical to our Church. Yet from the beginning it was poorly understood. The fathers of the Church who put it in the Creed understood, but the later generations of believers did not. Eventually, the Holy Fathers began to explain the apparent discrepancy between Jesus’ crucifixion of Friday and His rising from the dead on the night from Saturday to Sunday, less than three full astronomical days from His death. Several explanations were offered.
The first explanation mentions the eclipse at the moment of the crucifixion and counts it as the first night.
The second, more fascinating version, invokes the sacramental meaning for the Church to the Holy Thursday, the Eucharists and the Mysteries of Christ. It was proposed by Saint Gregory of Nyssa, a bishop from Asia Minor, and one of the greatest thinkers of his time. He wrote that on the Holy Thursday, our Lord Jesus Christ, knowing that He would be betrayed and would die on the cross, chose not to wait for the traitors and the enemies to act. By giving His disciples His body and His blood, He voluntarily descended to the middle of the earth, accepted His torments and gave the whole world His living heart. And so the three nights and three days had to be counted from the Holy Thursday.
Also at this age, days were counted like this: any part of the day before rise of the first is counted as the whole day. The torments of Christ lasted from Friday, throughout the Great Saturday, and Sunday, which began on Saturday evening. The Lord rose from the dead in the early hours of the morning, on the third day. These three days were enough, no need to wait for 72 hours. It was enough to take a part of the Friday, the whole Saturday (the most blessed day) and a few hours of the Sunday, to rise from the dead on the third day, to separate light from dark and to conquer death.
But the ancient Church always knew that a theological answer to the third-day question was not the only possible explanation, and not even the most relevant one. The fourth answer is essentially a biblical one. In strictly biblical terms, the words “third day” had the deep meaning of finality, or irreversibility, of death. We remember the story of Lazarus of Four Days, who died before the coming of Jesus, so He commanded that the rock be removed from his tomb. He was told that Lazarus had been dead for more than three days. We hear it at Church in the readings for the Passion week services. When the Lord was crucified, the Jews came to Pilate and said: “This liar had said that He would rise from the dead on the third day.” They understood well that the third day met the finite and irreversible death that Christ had promised to overcome. In the Bible, being dead for three days meant the end of all human hope for a reversal and a situation that only God could act to change. This understanding reveals the deep meaning of the Resurrection of Christ, which constitutes sufficient explanation in and of itself of the presence of the tenet on Christ’s resurrection after three days in the Christian Creed.
It is necessary to re-read and regurgitate fragments of the Holy Scripture, the lines from the Creeds and spiritual writings. That way, we can discover new and deeper meanings of well-known truth and penetrate the depth of our faith, not skim its surface.