The Taking Down from the Cross and Burial of the Savior
When evening had come, soon after everything had been done, a respected member of the council, a rich man named Joseph of Arimathaea, went to Pilate. Joseph was a disciple of Jesus Christ but secretly from fear of the Jews. He was a good, righteous man, not participating in the council’s condemnation. He asked Pilate for permission to take down the body of Christ from the cross and bury it.
Pilate wondered if He was already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him whether He was already dead. When he learned from centurion that it was so, he granted Joseph the body for burial.
Joseph having bought a shroud (a linen cloth for burial) went to Golgotha. Another secret disciple of Jesus Christ and a member of the Sanhedrin, Nicodemus, went also. He brought with him expensive fragrant oil for burial, which was composed of myrrh and aloes.
They took down the body of the Saviour from the cross, anointed Him with the spices, wrapped Him in the funeral shroud, and laid Him in the new tomb, in the garden next to Golgotha. This tomb was a cave which Joseph of Arimathaea had hewn in the rock for his own burial, and in which no one had ever yet been laid. There, they laid the body of Christ since this tomb was close to Golgotha, and they had little time because of the Jewish day of preparation for Passover. They rolled a large stone before the door of the tomb and departed.
Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the Younger and of Joses, and other women were there and saw where the body of Christ was laid. Returning home, they bought expensive myrrh to anoint the body of Christ as soon as the first day of the great feast was over. On the first day they rested according to the commandment.
The enemies of Christ did not rest, in spite of their great feast. On the next day, on Saturday, the chief priest and the Pharisees, breaking the peace of the Sabbath, gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor (as they dared to call Jesus Christ), while He was still alive, said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ Therefore, order the sepulcher to be made secure until the third day lest His disciples go and steal Him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead’ making the last fraud worse than the first.”
Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers; go make the tomb as secure as you can.” So the chief priests and Pharisees went to the tomb of Jesus Christ and carefully inspected the cave, made it secure by sealing the stone, and set a guard at the tomb.
While the body of the Saviour lay in the tomb, He descended spiritually into Hades, the temporary dwelling place of souls before the Resurrection of Christ, to the souls of people who had died before His suffering and death. All the souls of righteous people, who awaited the coming of the Saviour, He liberated from Hades.
Notes: See the Gospels of Mathew 27:57-66; Mark 15:42-47; Luke 23:50-56; John 19:38-42.
The Passion of Christ is commemorated by the Holy Orthodox Church the week preceding Pascha. This week is called Passion Week. This entire week, Christians should spend in fasting and prayer.
On Great Wednesday of Passion Week, the betrayal of Jesus Christ by Judas Iscariot is commemorated.
On Great Thursday evening during the evening service, which is Matins for Great Friday, the twelve passages of the Gospel relating to the suffering of Jesus Christ are read.
On Great Friday during Vespers, which is served at two or three o’clock in the afternoon, the burial shroud, the holy image of the Saviour lying in the tomb, is carried from the altar and placed in the middle of the church. This is done in memory of the removal of the body of Christ from the cross and His burial.
On Great Saturday during Matins, while all the bells are rung and while the hymn “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us” is sung, the shroud is taken in procession in memory of the descent of Jesus Christ into Hades, when His body remained in the tomb, and his victory over hell and death.
We prepare ourselves for Passion Week and the holiday of Pascha by fasting. This fast continues for forty days and is called the Great Fast.
In addition to these weeks, the Holy Orthodox Church fasts every Wednesday and Friday, except during certain weeks in the year; on Wednesday in memory of the betrayal of Jesus Christ by Judas, and on Friday in memory of the suffering of Jesus Christ. We express faith in the power of the suffering on the Cross for us by Jesus Christ, by making the sign of the Cross when we pray.