Today is the only day of the year that we have no liturgy. Perhaps it's because the mystery of what happened on this day has not yet been revealed to us. After all, the Church celebrates only what has been revealed - and otherwise she keeps silent.
S Peter, though, in his first Epistle gave a tiny clue into the mystery of this day:
I know, not very helpful. This moment that S Peter hints at has been called (in the Apostle's Creed), his "descent into hell." More dramatically, in the medieval Church, it became known as the "Harrowing of Hell." It is the moment when Christ set free all the faithful souls that had gone before him.
This poem is a reflection on the many famous icons of the resurrection in the Eastern church, which are actually icons of Holy Saturday. In them one sees Christ reaching out his hands to Adam and Eve, bringing them out of their ancient sarcophagi. And usually included in the icons are all the great saints of the Old Testament.
One beautiful little detail in many of these icons is the character of Didmas. Didmas was the repentant thief whom Christ said he would see in Paradise. In the top right corner of the icon here, you can see Didmas being the first one greeted in paradise by Enoch and Elijah.
Ikon: The Harrowing of Hell
By Denise Levertov
Down through the tomb's inward arch
He has shouldered out into Limbo
to gather them, dazed, from dreamless slumber:
the merciful dead, the prophets,
the innocents just His own age and those
unnumbered others waiting here
unaware, in an endless void He is ending
now, stooping to tug at their hands,
to pull them from their sarcophagi,
dazzled, almost unwilling. Didmas,
neighbour in death, Golgotha dust
still streaked on the dried sweat of his body
no one had washed and anointed, is here,
for sequence is not known in Limbo;
the promise, given from cross to cross
at noon, arches beyond sunset and dawn.
All these He will swiftly lead
to the Paradise road: they are safe.
That done, there must take place that struggle
no human presumes to picture:
living, dying, descending to rescue the just
from shadow, were lesser travails
than this: to break
through earth and stone of the faithless world
back to the cold sepulchre, tearstained
stifling shroud; to break from them
back into breath and heartbeat, and walk
the world again, closed into days and weeks again,
wounds of His anguish open, and Spirit
streaming through every cell of flesh
so that if mortal sight could bear
to perceive it, it would be seen
His mortal flesh was lit from within, now,
and aching for home. He must return,
first, in Divine patience, and know
hunger again, and give
to humble friends the joy
of giving Him food--fish and a honeycomb.