Holy Saturday or Gospel Saturday

Holy Saturday is the day between Good Friday and Easter.

The service of the Holy Saturday in the Syriac Orthodox Church begins around 11:30 am with Noon prayer, then the 9th hour prayers, followed by Holy Qurbono. Holy Qurbono is conducted on this day in the same ‘pattern’ of Pesaho Qurbono (Holy Thursday). But the Qaumo of the day (i.e. Holy Saturday Qaumo) must be chanted. 

The Holy Qurbono shall not be celebrated on the same altar where the burial service of our Lord Jesus Christ was conducted on Great Friday (Good Friday). It can be celebrated on another altar or a temporary altar can be arranged for it.

In the Syriac Orthodox Church,   the Holy Saturday is observed as the day of commemoration of all the departed ones. (We also remember all our departed ones  just before the Great Lent begins, which is also called Aneede Sunday).

The Holy Saturday is also known as the Gospel Saturday. Because after the crucifixion, Christ went to Sheol, (the word ‘Sheol’ means  the grave or the abode of the dead) to preach the Gospel to the departed souls (1 Peter 3:19, 4:6). The Holy Qurbono celebrated on the Holy Saturday gives us an opportunity to pray for all the departed souls. 

The Syriac Orthodox Church teaches that Christ descended to the sheol of the dead on Holy Saturday to save the righteous souls. An ancient homily for Holy Saturday states – “a great silence stilled the world while Christ searched for Adam, ‘our first father,’ as for a lost sheep.” 

Syriac Church father Mor Ephraim says, “This is the Son of the carpenter, wWho skilfully made His Cross as a bridge over Sheol that swallows up all, and brought over mankind into the dwelling of life”.

Let us pray to God for all our beloved departed souls on this day for His grace and mercy.


Conducting of the Holy Qurbono Service

As per the Syriac Orthodox tradition, Holy Qurbono of the Holy Thursday (Pesaho) is normally  celebrated in the early morning hours. 

When the celebrant enters the Sanctuary, the  acolyte opens the veil (curtain) and lights the candles in the altar. 

1) The Holy Qurbono will begin as usual, with “May Mary, who bore you…” (Mariam Deeletok…”) and the congregation chants, “By the prayers of Your Mother…” (Nin mathavu visuddanmar….”). 

2) The Qaumo for the Pesaho is recited instead of  the Trisagion (Holy are You O God). 

3) General Epistle and Pauline Epistle are read as usual.

4) Gospel must be read as per the tone of Hasho (Passion Week).(La Moriyo Shubo…, etc.)

5) Promion & Sedra particular to Pesaho may be used.

6) During the blessing of the Censer, the celebrant recites the Qaumo of the Pesaho instead of “Holy is the Holy Father…Amen”.

7) After the Nicene Creed, i.e., the first prayer of the Anaphora must be the special prayer of the Pesaho, which is specifically mentioned in the Holy Qurbono book/The book of Anaphora.

8) There is no “Peace be with you” during the Holy Qurbono. So no “kiss of peace” during the liturgy of Pesaho. 

9) The celebrant has to do all the three ‘Subakono’ as usual during the liturgy of Pesaho. But don’t give kiss of peace to the other clergy, if present. 

10)  No Quqliyon during the Holy Qurbono. Instead, Pesaho Qaumo can be chanted. 

11) The three Benedictions (Slomo Hoobo, Nehavoon & Thehave) and the final benediction must do done as usual. 

12) The prayers of the Procession of the Mysteries is done as usual and the congregation can chant the Pesaho Qaumo instead of the usual hymns. 


The Significance of Red in the Syriac Orthodox Church Tradition

Colours are very important in everyday life. Now a days, people choose favourite colours for their attire, cars, houses etc., so, we can say that colours have at least some importance or significance in our life. Red is the colour of fire, passion, love, and of victory over death. Red represents courage and bravery. So, it is used in shields, flags, 

and achievement awards. When we look at the Bible, we can observe the importance of different colours, especially of red (including scarlet and crimson); these have some significance in the Christian liturgy and traditions as well. 

Biblical Narratives

Red is a very powerful colour in the Bible. In the books of the Old Testament, Saul dressed the daughters of Israel in red garments: “Daughters of Israel, weep for Saul who gave you scarlet clothes, as your dyed raiment, set golden embroidery on your apparel” (2 Samuel 1: 24).

In the book of Exodus, the Israelites were told to kill an unblemished lamb and put the lamb’s red blood on their doorposts. It reads, “And they shall take some of its blood and sprinkle it upon the two doorposts, and upon the lintels, and upon the houses in which they will eat it” (Exodus 12:7). This was so that the spirit of God would pass over the houses and spare them from death. We can interpret the blood in two different ways – firstly as death, because the lamb shed its blood. Secondly as redemption, because it spared those who had it on their doorposts. 

In the Old Testament the colour red is used to describe sin. In Proverbs red is mentioned in the passage, “She is not afraid of the snow for her household, for all her household are clothed in scarlet”(Proverb 31: 21). Prophet Nahum says in 2:3, “The shields of their mighty men are reddened…”. In Isaiah 1:18, “Come, let us speak with each other, says the Lord: if your sins should be as scarlet, they will be made white as snow; if they should turn red as scarlet dye, they will be like wool”. It shows that God has the ability to blot away sins and purify the person.

Theological Narratives

The colour of blood is red, and it is a very powerful colour: it speaks of the sin that all mankind holds. At the same time, it is also pointing to the redemption that everyone has access to, because of Jesus’ shedding His blood on the Cross. In the Old Testament, people slaughtered goats and other animals to perform a sacrifice. Christ, through the shedding of His blood, made the final sacrifice, once and for all. So the colour red in the Bible can symbolize both sin and redemption. Either way it point to some type of blood sacrifice and the need for redemption. Those who trust and partake of Christ’s blood can be sure that they have eternal life with Christ because the blood of Christ guarantees everlasting life. Christ’s blood has transformed us into new creations; those who are covered by His blood will certainly live forever.

Red also symbolizes fire, and therefore is the colour of the Holy Spirit. “You had put on the scarlet robe, with humiliation and mocking of the Jews in order to clothe us with the Holy Spirit, from whom we were stripped off in the woods by the jealousy of the serpent”. So, the red garment symbolizes the Holy Spirit which Adam and Eve discarded in the Garden of Eden. 

In Christian tradition, martyr’s clothes are red and red is also considered as the colour that depicts health, fire and the final judgment. Red evokes the colour of the blood of Christ, shed for our sins and therefore it is the colour used to represent martyrs. This colour foreshadows Christ’s death on the Cross which the Church calls Great Friday or Good Friday. 

Liturgical Narratives

In the Syriac Orthodox liturgy, red is mentioned in different ways which are connected with the Bible and the redemptive works of Christ. In St. Matthew 27: 28, we read, “And they stripped Him and put a scarlet robe upon Him”. In the Sedro of the Holy Week it is stated, “They clothed You with a red garment, and You have clothed us with the garment of glory which we have stripped off by the transgression of the commandment”.Here red represents royal power and the garment of glory.

A wooden Cross is usually placed on the altar in the middle of the eastern edge of the top tier of the altar. The Cross may be plain or ornamental, but not with a image on it because it represents the Cross on which Jesus was crucified. In the Syriac Orthodox 

Church tradition, a red uroro (red stole) is not put on the Cross which is placed on the altar because we focus on the risen Christ, represented by the empty Cross. This is the key which opens the gate of the Paradise. Mor Ephrem writes, “Blessed is He who through His Cross has flung open Paradise”. Christ the King is carrying the Cross, which is the key to the gate of Paradise and He will open the great gate, by the sign of the Cross. 

The raising of the Cross elevated in the middle of the church on the mid-lent day of the Great Lent is symbolic of the raising of the bronze serpent by Moses in the middle of the Israelite camp. In John 3: 14 we read, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man is going to be lifted up”. The relationship between the bronze serpent and Jesus is evident here. Just as Moses pleaded for the Israelites, Jesus pleads on behalf of us. A red cloth covers the wooden stand and a red uroro (red stole) is 

put on the Cross from the mid-lent day until Palm Sunday. This represents the hanging of the slaughtered lamb on the wood while skinning it. The Cross here symbolizes firstly, the wood of which the Cross of Christ was made, and secondly, the lamb which is a symbol of Christ, who is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world through His precious blood (St. John 1: 29 and 1 John 1: 7).6 The uroro represents the loin cloth that Jesus was covered with while on the cross.

On the day of Resurrection, the Church uses a red scarf to symbolise the prophesy of the Prophet Isaiah, saying, “Who is this who comes from Edom, his garments blood-red from Bozrah, adorned by his clothing, mighty in his great strength?”(Isaiah 63:1). Jesus was wrapped with a cloth when He was buried. So, after His resurrection, Hisgarments – were red or dipped in blood because it reminds us that He sweated great drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane and later when He suffered for the sins of humanity on the Cross. Similarly St. John says of the Heavenly Warrior who defeats the beast in the Book of Revelation 19:13, “And He was clothed with a garment soaked in blood, and His name is called ‘The Word of God’”. The Great Warrior Jesus Christ, the one who has supremely witnessed to the truth of God in His life and death, and who is the Word of God in person.

In the Syriac Orthodox Church, the different utensils and things are of red colour. Some of them are listed below. 

1. Chithol: This is the cloth decorated with red and green colours that is used to cover the altar. The altar cloth is of fine high quality linen, with a lot of artwork on it; it is usually divided into three sections representing the Holy Trinity, each of which has artwork on it.

2. Tricolour Spread (Virikoottu): This rectangular piece of cloth covering the tablito(altar stone) is made of red, green and white parts. Red represents the universe, green the world and white the Holy Church. The paten and chalice are placed on this three coloured spread. 

3. The Cushion (Gmurtho): This small cushion covered with red cloth is a substitute for the sponge which was used originally in the Church. It is used to wipe the paten and chalice, and the celebrant dries his fingers with it after touching the Holy body. This sponge symbolizes the sponge which was dipped in vinegar and given by the soldiers to Jesus while He was on the Cross (St. Matthew 27: 48).

4. M’kablono: The decorated square-shaped covers for the chalice and paten are made of fine red silk. The covers of the Holy vessels were foreshadowed by the clouds that shadowed the Tabernacle and also represent the Ark of the Covenant with the Manna jar (Exodus 16: 33).

5. Veil (Curtain): Syriac Orthodox churches have a red veil (curtain) covering the Sanctuary. The veil is made of smooth red linen and can be likened to one of the colours of the veils of the tabernacle. “And you shall make the tabernacle ten curtains of fine woven linen – blue, and purple, and scarlet yarns” (Exodus 26:1).

6. The red robe of the Prelate: The Prelate wears a red robe with a red belt. The red colour of the robe represents the scarlet robe which the soldiers made Jesus wear during His trial. 

7. The kerchief of the Hand-Cross: The Prelate holds in his right hand a Cross to the 

bottom of which a red kerchief is fastened which represents the Holy Church.

8. The Flags, Umbrellas and Canopy: Church festivals are beautified with colourfully decorated flags, umbrellas and canopy. The different coloured flags including red represent the martyrs of the Church and especially John the Baptist. This is the reason why these flags are similar to the shape of the English letter ‘M’. This letter doesn’t have a ‘head’. The umbrellas are also in different colours including red representing the clouds as described by St Mark, “Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds, with great power and with glory” (St. Mark 13: 26).

9. Wedding Saree or Manthrakodi of the bride: The Syriac Orthodox Church in India adopted two Indian customs which are incorporated during the wedding ceremony. First, is the tying of ‘Thali’ (Minnu) by the groom around the bride’s neck. Thali (Minnu) is a small heart shaped gold pendant with a cross embossed on it. Second one is draping the bride’s head with a colourful bridal saree  known as the Manthrakodi.

The white bridal dress popular today originated from Great Britain, many years ago. However, red was the most usual colour for wedding dresses before this, connecting with the groom (Christ) who weds His Church and cleanses her through His blood. Red is considered auspicious and the bride and groom are united by it in a sacred bond of love. The colour of the post-wedding saree (the Manthrakodi), that is today worn to the wedding feast, has to be red. It is also a common practice among the faithful that the Manthrakodi is worn by the person at her funeral. (Manthrakodi: This is a saree that is presented by the groom’s family to the bride. The saree is a garment consisting of a length of cotton or silk elaborately draped around the body, traditionally worn by women from India).

The liturgy of the Syriac Orthodox Church is one of the most ancient, and it has been handed from one generation to another. The Church believes that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came into the world and died for humanity to save us from the bondage of Satan and to lead us to eternal life. For Christians, red is a propitious colour. It shows the importance of the Blood of Christ which was shed during His Passion, and which was the price paid for the redemption of mankind. The Syriac Orthodox Church has given it great respect and awe, such that several of the vestments used in the services and several of the prayers during Lent time and Holy Week reference the ‘heaven-sent’ red colour. The Church believes in the Second Coming of Christ, when He will come with His garment soaked in blood, for the redemption of those who believe in Him. Kyrie eleison! Lord Have Mercy!


The Reason of Christmas is Redemption

Jesus Christ was born to die for the sins of the world. He was doing it willingly and He knew that it was the will of the Father. That was the whole point of the incarnation or Christmas. But the important fact of Christmas is ‘why Jesus came’? There is no salvation in His birth, rather there was a price to be paid for our sins. Someone had to die. Only the Son of God could do it. 

Angel Gabriel appeared to Virgin Mary, and delivered the heavenly message, she accepted it and obeyed. Joseph, the Just, who believed the dream which he saw and accepted it and obeyed, the shepherds in the wilderness were convinced of the message of the messenger of the Lord and obeyed, the three kings who followed the sign of the star trusted, and believed Him, gave their gifts to Him and bowed before Him. Christmas is not only a festival of obedience but also a festival of “the people sitting in the darkness have seen a great light, and on those sitting in the land of the shadows of death a light has dawned” (St. Matt. 4: 16).

Norman Cousins said, “Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live”. Similarly, we should not astray our love towards God and bury our faith in God. That is why King David proclaims: Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers”. 

During this Lenten season, we have to keep in mind that His birth was the first step in God’s glorious plan for redemption. That is the love of our God. Wishing a Merry Christmas to you all.


Jesus’ Genealogy: Why is it important for us?

The Gospel writers St. Matthew and St. Luke included the genealogy of Jesus Christ in their Gospels (St. Matt. 1: 1-17 & St. Lk. 3: 23-28). What is the relevance of it? How is it important to us?

St. Matthew shows that Jesus is the Messiah who descended from Abraham, to whom it was promised that in him all the nations of the earth should be blessed (Gen. 18: 18). It was promised to Abraham that Christ would descend from him, “…in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen 12: 3); “By your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessings for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice”(Gen. 22: 18). St. Matthew assures that Jesus was Son of God and the long-awaited Messiah.

From David, for it was from David’s line that the Messiah was to be born (2 Sam. 7: 12-16). The genealogy list is divided into the three periods of Jewish history: Fourteen generations from Abraham to David; fourteen from David to the captivity; and fourteen from the captivity to Jesus. However, five names have been omitted from the second part in the order arrive at 14. This Gospel shows that Christ is the Son of David, rightful heir to the Messianic throne. The royal genealogy of Christ is depicted in this.

While in the records of St. Luke, the genealogy starts with a reverse order beginning with Joseph and ends with Adam. St. Matthew has a very theological trace of Jesus’ forefathers and even foremothers, which is very unusual in the Jewish genealogy, even though St. Luke has a very historical and detailed account. Another question which arises here is whether Jacob (St. Matt. 1: 16) or Heli (St. Lk. 3: 23) is the father of Joseph? St. Matthew’s ancestry records shows Jesus’ legal father as Joseph and leads from David’s son Solomon. Whereas, St. Luke records the lineage through his biological mother Holy Virgin Mary back to David’s son Nathan.
What is the connection of Nathan and Holy Virgin Mary? The scriptures are silent about Holy Virgin Mary’s descendance from David. However, there are two possibilities. Firstly, tradition tells that, through her betrothal with Joseph she enters his family and legally becomes the part of the House of David. In Numbers 36: 6-12 it is stated that the daughters married within the clans and their inheritance remained in their father’s tribe and clan. This is example of how females might have married from their own families in order to secure the right of inheritance. Secondly, St. Ignatius of Antioch in his ‘Letter to the Ephesians 18’ says, “For our God, Jesus Christ, was according to the appointment of God, conceived in the womb by Mary, of the seed of David, but by the Holy Spirit”.  Here the tradition and the Scripture presents the Holy Virgin Mary, the Mother of God as descending from David through Nathan.
In other words, St. Matthew emphasizes on Joseph’s perspective, whereas St. Luke speaks of the virgin birth story wholly from Mary’s point of view. Then another logical question arises here, why is Joseph, not Mary, mentioned as Heli’s son in St. Luke’s genealogy? In the book The Virgin Birth of Christ by J. Gresham Machen, it is stated that, “While the Matthean genealogy traces the successive heirs to the throne of David from David to Joseph, the Lucan genealogy traces the ancestors of Joseph back to David”. He explains, “The Lucan genealogy, in other words, starts with the question, ‘Who was Joseph’s “father”?’ The answer to that question is, ‘Heli’ . . . In the Matthean genealogy, on the other hand, we start with the question, ‘Who was the heir to David’s throne?’ The answer is, “Solomon, and so on down to Joseph”.

In Hebrew tradition, only the names of males are mentioned in their genealogy list, which Luke follows. A virgin birth is generally not acceptable. Therefore, we can assume that Mary is designated by her husband’s name in this case. Interestingly the word “son” is not in the Greek text as well (literally it is “Joseph of Heli”), though it is implied. Why was Joseph’s (earthly father of Jesus) name included in the genealogy? Jews have a custom of keeping records to trace the descent through their fathers. Legally, they looked on Jesus as son of Joseph (Jn. 6: 42). The genealogy in Matthew clearly states that of Joseph, Mary’s husband and he is writing to prove to the Jews that Jesus is the Messiah, who had been born of a Virgin (Isa. 7: 14). Matthew’s genealogy is directed towards Joseph, not Mary. Therefore, it is through Joseph Jesus was the son of David. One interpretation states that the Jewish law at that time allowed a man to adopt a boy by a solemn declaration as his son. In such circumstances, the boy is then declared as his son for all intents and interpretations. As a ‘Just’ man, Joseph obeyed God’s command, and acted accordingly to accept Mary. Thus, Joseph became the earthly father of Jesus.

Usually the names of women are not included in the Jewish genealogy. But the names Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and the wife of Uriah, Bathsheba, are mentioned in Matthew’s Gospel. These women were sinners, or their marital unions were irregular. Why then are their names included in the genealogy? Even if these women were sinners, they had an important role in God’s plan and God used these people to accomplish His purposes. Moreover, He saves His people from their sins. In other words, these four Gentile women and their presence foreshadows the universal salvation of the humanity, which God promised to Abraham. As St. Paul said, “There is neither Jew or pagan, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Jesus the Messiah” (Gal. 3: 28). Jews and Gentiles, male and female, people of faith and people of questionable character are all used by God to carry out His salvation plan.

The names of Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba being included in the genealogy assures that God will fulfill His purposes with us even though we are imperfect. The list of names in the genealogy are lengthy but it encourages us, if we have faith in Christ, we will be saved regardless of who we are, as well as to obey and follow His commandments. Jesus’ genealogy teaches us, always be with God, and be a part of His mission and be a model of Joseph, the just. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55: 9). Sometimes it is difficult for us to understand the full plan of God. Our hearts should long for faithfulness to God and submit to the will of God.


Ayub Silvanos is the Metropolitan of the Knanaya Archdiocese of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch. H. E. is currently serving as the Metropolitan of the North American & Europe Region of the Knanaya Archdiocese since 2009.

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