MEMORIAL SATURDAY BEFORE PENTECOST
(Saturday, June 3)
The Saturday immediately before Pentecost Sunday, we commemorate all the deceased, “from Adam and even until today,” as we say in one of the hymns of this Saturday. Why? For several reasons:
1. Every Saturday, as the seventh day of the week (according to the Jewish and Greek count, was originally a celebration of God’s “rest” on Day Seven of creation, and hence also of those who are already “resting,” having departed from the tribulations of this life. Christ also “rested” in the Tomb on this day, so Holy and Great Saturday also “colors” the meaning of every Saturday of the church year. But on most Saturdays of the year we tend to forget the original Saturday-themes, either because we don’t come to church on most Saturdays, or because we celebrate this or that saint, whose memory overshadows the more-ancient Saturday themes (of God’s rest and the departed). The Saturday before Pentecost has retained these ancient themes of every Saturday and celebrates them with extra solemnity, even if the day of very prominent saints coincides with this Saturday, because the faithful would come to church on the day before Pentecost from ancient times, in order to prepare for the great feast with extra prayer. Hence in the case of this Saturday, the ancient themes of Saturday have been retained in an unbroken tradition thereof.
2. The second reason for this Memorial Saturday has to do with the meaning of Pentecost itself, which celebrates the Church as a Sacrament of Unity, including the unity of us on earth and those already departed. Pentecost is often called the “birthday of the Church,” because the Church was “born” on this day in the sense that the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles and the women and men gathered with them, empowering them to connect with one another and others by the grace of the Holy Spirit. We are also empowered by His grace to “connect” with the heavenly Church, with those already departed, not directly (unless the Church recognizes a certain deceased member as a saint, as one living in God’s grace in the heavenly Kingdom) but through prayers to God for them, in the grace of the Holy Spirit; in ways that were not possible before this 50th Day (Pentecost) after Christ’s resurrection. Before the coming of Christ and all His salvific works for us, culminating in the descent of the Holy Spirit upon His Church, all the departed were in a realm that was blocked from any healthy communion with us, so it was potentially harmful for anyone to try to open up spiritual communication with them through prayer. Now, on the day before Pentecost, we celebrate the opening up of communion between all those who have chosen to live in and by God’s grace, both the living and the departed. Grant rest, O Lord, to the souls of Your departed servants! And Happy upcoming Pentecost, dear friends!