The penultimate theophany ended with the ascent of the Kyrios before his re­gathered disciples forty days after his resurrection. Jesus, by his voluntary submission to death, does through his resurrection release and redeem all creation from the sin of death. By his ascension Jesus continues to actualize the economy of salvation of mankind. It is on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit as promised by Christ1 descends on the assembled disciples, giving them the ability to participate in truth and grace in the theandric fullness of the Church, that the salvific plan of God is completed and the Paschal mystery is realized. For Lossky, Pentecost is “the end of all contemplation and of all ascents, and at the same time the principle of all theology, primal verity, initial datum from which all thought and all being take their origin.”2

Thus, it is the Holy Spirit that bears witness to the Son just as the Son bears witness to the Father. The Spirit given to the church is also given to each person immediately after baptism through the mystery of Chrismation, which Spirit acts in a unique and personal way upon each person in accordance with their ability. Although Pentecost is not a continuation of the earthly life of Christ, it is the result of the paschal mystery, without which the divine economy of salvation of mankind would not have been realized.

Thus, without the events of the Paschal Triduum there would be no Paschal mystery and our relationship with God would continue to be unbridgeable. It can thus be said that the Triduum events vivify Christ as truly God and Christ as truly man.

The Paschal Triduum and Mystery

The gospel events from the Last Supper held in the upper room to the point where the empty tomb is found occur from the commencement of Friday, continue through Saturday, and end sometime on the day following the finding of the empty tomb. This period of time is known as the Paschal Triduum which our Church celebrates and commemorates the historicity of by the daily cycle of service in time.

The Pascal Mystery, on the other hand, relates to how the kenotic Christ of the Cross of Friday becomes the resurrected Kyrios of Sunday and accomplishing once and for all the saving plan of God by entering the realm of death through his death. By conquering death, Christ made it completely powerless, thus giving to each person the ability to escape the authority of the devil and enter into the Kingdom of God.

Purpose of Essay

In this essay, it is proposed to look at some preliminary events necessary for understanding Paschal Triduum and the liturgical realization of them. It is then intended to focus on the sacrament of Baptism, Chrismation and Nipter which occur within the backdrop of services commemorating the events of the Triduum. Although the mystery of Eucharist is celebrated on two occasions during the Triduum, it is by its nature celebrated eschatologically and hence is ‘beyond time’, being the sacrament of all sacraments. This Eucharistic gift of Christ was instituted on the occasion of the Last Supper and hence has its genesis within the Triduum. It is these services that make real the Paschal Mystery of Christ by juxtaposing the Christ of sacred history and the eschatological Christ contemporaneously into the consciousness of the faithful today. Further, some suggestions will be proffered to restore Pascha to its proper place for all Christians, and hence make the Paschal Mystery of the Lord truly understood. It may well be that we cannot return to the original understanding of Pascha which saw the Passover as central to the life of the church. As Cross states:

There was one annual feast of Easter (the Passover) and this festival had commemorated simultaneously the Incarnation, the Redemption, the Resurrection and the Ascension, that is, the whole range of God’s redemptive activity for mankind.3

However, there is no reason why Pascha cannot be restored as the feast of feasts, instead of just another feast, where the majority of faithful through ignorance choose to attend either Good Friday or the Resurrection services as satisfaction of their faith obligation and who otherwise have little idea as to the awesome mystery that is remembered, namely that:

Christ’s resurrection is the greatest event in history. It is a matter of deification and resurrection of human nature and of a hope for deification and resurrection of our own person.4

The Need for Accuracy

In looking at the events of Paschal Triduum the question arises “why bother to get an accurate picture of those events historically, is it not appropriate just to celebrate the events for their sake only?” The problem that such an approach creates is that it misrepresents the principle “lex orandi lex est credenda” (the norm of prayer is the norm of belief). Christian faith is rooted in sacred history. If history fails then remembrance becomes symbolic and not real. As Schmemann states, “A theory of worship in the Church that does nor rest on historical data is itself fake and harmful in its consequences.”5 These similar comments can be directed to the order of services presently celebrated on the days of the Triduum.

Early Christians understood the interconnection between Baptism and Resurrection and saw each Easter as a celebration of their own Baptism into the life of Christ. Baptism was the entry into the Kingdom, Chrismation the fulfillment of Baptism, and the Eucharist as the fulfillment of Chrismation, thus allowing participation in the Kingdom. However, through the drift in the proper time for celebration, services began to lose their interconnectedness, and their meaning began to be obscured, to the cost of understanding of their significance.

Sadly, during Holy week, services to mark the events in the last days of historic Christ are not now celebrated by the Church at the appropriate times. Calivas makes plain that:

Beginning with Great Monday and lasting through Great Saturday, the divine services are in an inverted position. Morning services are conducted in the evening before and evening services are celebrated in the morning of the same day.6

Thus, the church is liturgically ahead of events by half a day. Although reasons of economy may dictate the events of Easter Friday be celebrated over a longer time frame to accommodate the pastoral needs of the faithful, the significance of interconnection of the three central events in the life of the Christian, namely Baptism, Chrismation, and their participation of Eucharist are denied their full understanding.

Preliminary Matters

Our church, following the Jewish tradition, considers the day to commence at sunset and end the corresponding time the following evening. Hence, as example, Friday would commence on Thursday evening and end on Friday evening with the service of vespers demarcating the change from one day to the next. Also, during the life of Christ, the Sabbath was the last day of the seven day week, as well as the focus of Jewish religious life. Work was forbidden under pain of death7 as the day was holy to the Lord.

Each of the gospel accounts of the passion of Christ place events in the context of the Passover. The Gospels are not intended to be biographies or chronicles of the historical Jesus, but inspired theological writings, as perceived and arranged by each author who saw Jesus from their own witness, and focused on matters each considered important. Hence, the synoptics who insisted that the meal in the upper room was a Passover meal, desired to establish the Eucharist as the new Passover type and Christ as the new Passover lamb. As all four gospels mention that the artos (leavened bread) was used as part of the Passover meal, it could not be so, as part of the preparation was to be rid of leavening and its products by noon on the day prior to Passover.

Thus, the Johanine chronology is to be preferred, as it properly identifies the Last Supper as a Pre-Passover meal. This does not, however, diminish the other gospels. Indeed, no Evangelist is more inspired than any other. Hence, each Gospel provides insight into the Paschal Triduum and is used by the Church in the Gospel readings to provide a composite picture into the mystery of those days.

The Services of the Paschal Triduum

Liturgically the services relating to the events in the life of the historic Christ commence on Holy Thursday by anticipation and continue into Sunday. The emphasis of the Church liturgically on Great Thursday is the Eucharist meal of the upper room, and the focus of the church on Great Friday is on the cross, and on Easter Saturday the descent of Christ into Hades to release the dead. The resurrection of Christ is the centre of Easter Sunday.

It is important to understand that the services of Paschal Triduum do not seek to dramatically re-create and re-enact the historical death and burial of Christ. Nor are they intended to represent word pictures of the Gospel. Rather, what the services seek to do is to draw out the deepest spiritual meaning of the events that occurred with the full knowledge of their significance and power. Indeed, the hymnographers knew of the power of the Kyrios, and the establishment of His Church through the Holy Spirit, so each day of the Triduum is approached and dealt with in the knowledge that ultimately the Son of God as power will lead His Church in Glory. Thus, each service is underpinned by the victory of the resurrected Christ. Indeed, the resurrection of Christ is celebrated from the moment he descended into hell, which hymns are heard on Friday (through the vespers of Saturday sung by anticipation). lconographically the resurrection of Christ depicts his descent into Hell. Hence, death is never viewed as a winner in the Paschal Mystery.

Great Thursday

The events of Great Thursday established a number of aspects in the life of the Church. These include the institution of the Eucharist in the upper room by Christ as well as the Nipter Service. Also on Easter Thursday the church prepares the oil for Chrismation for the purposes of Baptism, which was traditionally held as a public service on Easter Saturday but is now seen as a private mystery celebrated through the year.

The Nipter Service

This service is practiced on Great Thursday only in some Cathedral Churches and it continues to be part of the Church offering. In the past, the service was held prior to the Divine Liturgy on Thursday, which according to a now defunct Typicon, was conducted by the Patriarch of Constantinople. The Nipter Service today is still conducted by the Patriarch of Jerusalem and also at St Johns Monastery in Patmos. It is a service where Christ demonstrates to his disciples by his action that all times the master of all through love and humility has to be the ruler of none and the servant of all.

Holy Chrism

The service of preparation of the oil of Chrism normally occurs at the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy and the right to consecrate the Chrism belongs to a Bishop. Chrism actualizes the gift of the Holy Spirit to the person and becomes the personal Pentecost of the baptised. To St Cyril of Jerusalem both baptism and Chrismation were necessary to put on the whole armour of Christ. Indeed, he was of the view that:

When you are counted worthy of this Holy Chrism, ye are called Christian, verifying also the name of your new birth. For before you were vouchsafed this grace, ye had properly no right to this title but were advancing on your way towards being Christians.8

Once Chrismated each person can say Jesus is Lord through the Holy Spirit, for the Spirit gives the talents and grace to each “just as he determines”.9

Great Friday

Great Friday has as its centre the death of Christ at Golgotha. Christ’s voluntary submission to human death is the Supreme kinotic act by Him. By this voluntary act Christ offered himself as salvation for and reconciliation of mankind with God. God coerces no-one including his Son to act. Although the monarchy of the Trinity is with the Father, it is the Son and the Father who co-will the Son’s action through the Spirit. Thus, it is the Son only who goes to and experiences that death, he agreeing to that through his incarnation.

To Meyendorf, the paschal message of Christianity is that death was vanquished because God tested death hypostatically in the humanity which he had assumed.10 Thus, without the crucifixion there would be no resurrection and without the resurrection, then Christianity would be not only in vain but according to Paul bearing false witness about God, “for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead”.11

Great Saturday

Great Saturday marks the descent to Hades to free Adam. This clearly is the ultimate purpose of the incarnated Christ. The Gospel accounts are understandably silent for this day. It is left to Peter who refers to Christ preaching unto the spirits in Hades.12 Thus, salvation by this one act is offered to all creation including those ignorant of the Gospel. On Great Saturday morning, there is celebrated by anticipation the vespers of Sunday and the liturgy of St Basil, hence Baptism and the Eucharist can now be discussed.

Baptism and Eucharist

The primitive Christian Church was a mystery religion whose cultus was to be kept from the uninitiated. Indeed, Dix makes the point that:

for two hundred and fifty years from Nero to Constantine to be a Christian was in itself a capital crime, always liable to the severest penalty, even when the law was not enforced13

Thus, care was taken to ensure that people who attended the Church were in fact true believers. However, by 350 AD the rubrics of the church had developed to the point where St Cyril of Jerusalem was catechizing into Christianity through Baptism, and his Procatecheses and five mystological catecheses still survive today. It appears from then that the practice was for the proposed candidates to give their names on the eve of the first Sunday of Lent and make public confession as to their intention. Thereafter, exorcisms and catecheses began which continued daily. Each candidate was instructed to “tell nothing to a stranger for we deliver to thee a mystery even the hope of life to come”.14 Nor indeed were the catechized to discuss matters with a believer. On Great Thursday, the candidates were instructed upon the Creed which had to be recited for Baptism. Baptism itself was extremely formal and symbolic for as St Cyril asserted, Baptism:

is a ransom to captives; the remission of offences; the death of sin; the regeneration of the soul; the garment of light; the wholly seal indissoluble; the chariot to heaven; the luxury of paradise; a procuring of the kingdom; the gift of adoption.15

Baptism itself occurred during Vespers of Great Saturday and involved exorcising, stripping, and triple immersion by the Bishop of each candidate before Chrismating and putting on the garb of white of the neophyte and parading into Church during the Vesperal Liturgy of St Basil to partake in the Eucharistic meal of the Lord. Vespers were extremely long and contained fifteen readings (now reduced to three) to accommodate the baptizing of the candidates in the Baptistery which was adjoined the Church.

The Significance of Baptism

Baptism was given by Christ who commissioned his Disciples to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit.16 Evdokimov makes clear that the sacrament of Baptism is then a real descent with Christ in his death. It is also a descent into hell. St John Chrysostom says, “the action of descending into the water and then coming out of it symbolizes the descent into hell and the coming out of that abode.”17 Thus, we die in baptism with Christ and are raised with him with all sins washed away.

Baptism Today

Today no Baptism is undertaken on Easter Saturday and the attempt may well cause scandal to today’s churchgoer. Indeed, baptism is now considered a private affair and infant baptism is the normal point of entry into the Kingdom of God. As Calivas states:

the gradual disappearance of baptismal rights has had a double effect. On the one hand, the Paschal celebration was robbed of an important theological dimension and perspective, and on the other, it lost one of its major liturgical components18

The Mystery of Chrismation

Chrismation bestows the Holy Spirit as gift and takes the neophyte beyond baptism. This gift opens the door to theosis and serves as a seal that identifies the baptized as Sons of God by adoption. Thus, we can participate in Christ’s life and he in ours.

As Sons of God we now share in the Kingship, priesthood and prophecy of Christ. The Holy Spirit is ever present with Christ as is the Father. Although Christ was incarnated the Spirit was inseparable from Him. It was the Spirit that performed the will common to the three and worked miracles. Therefore, the spirit was with Christ on the Cross. Indeed, it was not until Jesus had fulfilled his mission on the cross did he say that it was finished and “with that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit”.19 Through Pentecost:

the creature has become fit to receive the Holy Spirit and He descends into the world and fills with his presence the Church which has been redeemed, washed and purified by the blood of Christ.20

Through Chrismation this same Spirit is actuated which gives to all the ability to grow in Christ towards God in the truth that illuminates. Thus, without Chrismation the neophyte would invariably fall to sin and not rise and hence their baptism would be in vain.

The Eucharist

The Eucharist is the centre and source of the whole life of the Church. As Schmemann states:

The Eucharist is the Sacrament of the Church her eternal actualization as the Body of Christ, united by Christ by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the Eucharist is not only the “most important” of all offices, it is also source and goal of the entire liturgical life of the Church. Any liturgical theology not having the Eucharist as the foundation of its whole structure, is basically defective.21

Accordingly, the Church remembers and enacts sacramentally the Paschal mystery eschalalogically each time the liturgy is celebrated by making the resurrected Christ present in the liturgy. To take the point further, the liturgy is independent of time for celebration as while the liturgy “is performed as a repetition in time, it manifests an unrepeatable and supra-temporal reality”22 whenever it is celebrated.

Accordingly, the Eucharist does not attempt to reclaim the past event of the Last Supper, but rather celebrate the gift of a reasonable service and living bloodless sacrifice allowing us to partake in the divine. Cabisilas points out:

the sacrifice is truly an act and a reality, but since the priest performs no action, but simply pronounces the words he describes it not as an active, but as a reasonable service.23

The Divine Liturgy is an offering of a total prayer to God for his gift of the Eucharist. The preparation, hymns, readings, litanies all culminate towards the anamnesis and epiclesis that actualize the body and blood of Christ allowing the faithful to be in Christ as Christ is with them.

The words of the double institution in the liturgy connect the present with the past and also the future. It is the Holy Spirit that creates the change from the physical elements to the divine. Hence, without Pentecost and the sending of the Holy Spirit to the Church, the Eucharist could not be celebrated. By elevating the gifts, we acknowledge that what we offer is from God and the gifts that are returned are also from God. We can then partake in the bond between God and us allowing us to be saved in Christ.

The significance of the liturgy celebrated “out of time” during the period of historical remembrance of Paschal Triduum is that Christ who is crucified and entombed, is through the liturgy celebrated as the Lord of the second parousia in his Church on the eighth day. Thus, whilst memory of the kenotic Christ can be recalled by the faithful, there is experienced at the same time Christ, as King for all. For:

God is the initiator of the sacrifice through which reconciliation is offered to man as a gift. Christ is at the same time the one making the sacrifice, the sacrifice itself and the sacrificial altar24

Thus, in the ineffable mystery of the Eucharist we not only find our lost humanity but also partake in the divinity of Christ. The purpose of liturgy is for the celebration of the Eucharist. The Eucharist makes present the resurrected Christ who through the Spirit gives to mankind the gift of eternal life which is the gift par excellance given without seeking anything in return. By participating we also share in the Paschal Mystery which becomes real for us.

Easter Sunday

Although Pascha is now celebrated on Sunday according to Schmemann:

in the early tradition the term Pascha denoted not Sunday alone, as it does today but the indivisible mystery of the triduum paschale of the three days; Friday, Saturday and Sunday. And it is this unity, this inner interdependence of the day of the Cross, the day of the Tomb and the day of Resurrection that reveals to us the victory of Christ and His enthronement as King and therefore the nature of the Kingship bestowed by Him on us.25

Schmemann talks of the victory of Christ and his enthronement which was foreshadowed by Paul who talks of Christ’s “Righteousness, Holiness and Redemption”.26 Thus, through his resurrection we now have Christ in His Kingly, His prophetic and in His Priestly office. For on Sunday we have the eighth day established and on each Sunday the resurrection of Christ is celebrated.

Proposals to Make the Paschal Triduum and Paschal Mystery Better Understood

Easter is the centre of the Christian faith. It is time consideration should be given to instigate changes so as to restore the centrality to the Church of the Paschal Mystery. The following suggestions may be of assistance to this.

Firstly, the ordo should be changed so that the services commemorating the passion of Christ can be held at the appropriate times. It is not correct to have, for instance, the service of St Basil, which is a paschal liturgy, held on Saturday morning whilst Christ was still in Hades. Further, if the services on Good Friday take up the entire day in service, so be it. How else can the passion be understood if not held in real time. If we do not correct this, then why should we not also consider altering any other service on the basis of convenience? Thus, there is a potential danger that the services will become parodies of divine mysteries as convenience becomes the arbiter of the sacraments.

Secondly, an effort should be made to return Baptism to the Vesperal liturgy of St Basil on Easter Saturday. It would make sense to have the newly baptised entering church thus giving real meaning of the special variations to this service, which without the connection to Baptism make the service archaic and open to the pressure of change culminating in the same potential for danger as outlined above.

Thirdly, instruction should be introduced to all faithful as to the importance and true meaning of Baptism and Chrismation. Schmemann sees the return to the rites of the eighth day, that is to continue the baptismal liturgy for the entire week following and by catechesis, to illuminate the mind for “just as the liturgy of the Triduum Paschale developed with the baptismal rites, it is this mystagogical week that is the origin of a Paschal bright week”.27 Thus, by re-education, the nexus between baptism, Chrismation and Eucharist is understood. This new teaching can be epiphany to the new life and meaning of Baptism. For Bright Week was intended to bestow understanding of the eighth day – the eschatological day of the new Kingdom.

Fourthly, take from the events of the Triduum and the Paschal Mystery of Christ the need to instill in the faithful a reverence for what most so called faithful appear to take for granted, namely the gift of Christ through the Eucharist. For the church has Christ as its head, and without the participation and sharing of Christ his body and blood through the Holy Spirit, understanding of a life in Christ is not possible.

Fifthly, the view that Christianity and the church as experience should be explored. Christ came to offer himself on the cross and through the Eucharist. This offer should permeate through the church and the voice of the church should be of the spirit and not as some institution amongst other human institutions competing with the interest of people.

Sixthly, the Nipter service should be returned into the ordo in its appropriate place. This is a service that teaches the lesson of humility and reminds the Church that Christ is to be imitated and so is emptying of self to all.


The Paschal Triduum sets out the last events in the earthly life of Christ. It is a time for remembrance of what human injustice, cruelty and hatred can do to silence a love which is not understood, and hence rejected in the most barbaric way. From this death came resurrected life, and the Christ became the KYRIOS of all mankind. Moreover, through the Holy Spirit at Pentecost the Holy Spirit went to the disciples to baptize other nations.

During the Paschal Triduum Christ gave to his Church the Eucharist. This gift allows the resurrected Christ and mankind to be united. The Eucharist further allows the body and blood of Christ to be present here and now through the Holy Spirit, whenever a liturgy is celebrated. This eschatological presence means the liturgy belongs to no human time hence it can be celebrated at any day and time other than Easter Saturday. Further, each Eucharist, no matter where or when, celebrates participating the one Christ hence uniting the Church as one.

Further, the Paschal Triduum inspired Baptism to be undertaken during vespers of Easter Saturday. This in turn allowed for the vesperal liturgy to develop appropriately. Hence, in the context of the commemoration of the death of Christ, the paschal liturgy announced, through the newly baptized, the resurrection of Christ at a time that was liturgically Sunday thus making the Paschal Mystery alive.

However, by far the greatest gift Christ gave was the gift of understanding through the Holy Spirit. This third person of the Godhead gives spiritual life to the Church and without Him there could be no Eucharist. It is this gift that was with the human Christ to the last breath on the cross that actualizes and vivifies faith. This same Holy Spirit is presented to each newly baptised through Chrismation. Hence, Baptism and Chrismation are needed to enter the kingdom of God. It is the Eucharist that sustains as well as strengthens the faithful who grow in love and understanding through the Spirit.

This gift of Christ has been changed by mankind so the significance of the gifts given by the Triduum are obfuscated. Some suggestions have been proferred to enlighten the true meaning of the Paschal mystery. Make no mistake without the Paschal Triduum there would be no Paschal mystery and without the Paschal Mystery there would be no Church. Hence, the sooner that the fullness of Pascha is restored to the centre of faith, then not only will the services held during the Paschal Triduum make the Paschal Mystery of the Lord clear, but the faithful of all Christians be strengthened toward theosis.­­



1 Jn 14:16-18

2 Lossky, V. Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church. SVS Press: Crestwood, 1976, p. 239

3 St Cyril of Jerusalem. Lectures on the Christian Sacraments. Ed. FL Cross. SVS Press: Crestwood, NY, 1986, p. 19

4 Archbishop Kokkinakis. The Liturgy of the Orthodox Church. Mowbvrays: London 1979, p. 275

5 Schmemann, Alexander. Introduction to Liturgical Theology. SVS Press: Crestwood, NY, 1996, p. 21

6 Calivas, A.C. Great Week and Pascha in the Greek Orthodox Church. Holy Cross Press, 2002, p. 15

7 Ex 31:14­­

8 St Cyril of Jerusalem. Lectures on the Christian Sacraments. Ed. FL Cross. SVS Press: Crestwood, NY, 1986, p. 66

9 1 Cor 12:11

10 Meyendorff, John. Byzantine Theology: Historic trends and doctrinal themes. Fordham University Press: NY, 1979, p. 160

11 1 Cor 15:15

12 1 Pet 3-19

13 Dom, Gregory Dix. The Shape of the Liturgy. A & C Black: London, 1960, p. 145

14 St Cyril of Jerusalem. Lectures on the Christian Sacraments. Ed. FL Cross. SVS Press: Crestwood, NY, 1986, p. 47

15 St Cyril of Jerusalem. Lectures on the Christian Sacraments. Ed. FL Cross. SVS Press: Crestwood, NY, 1986, p. 50

16 Mat 28:19

17 Evdokimov, Paul. Ages of the Spiritual Life. Trans M. Plekon and A.V. Inogradov (Crestwood, SVS Press: Crestwood, NY, 1998, p. 98

18 Calivas, A.C. Great Week and Pascha in the Greek Orthodox Church. Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2002, p. 111

19 Jn 19:30

20 Lossky, V. Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church. SVS Press: Crestwood, 1976, p. 159

21 Schmemann, Alexander. Introduction to Liturgical Theology. SVS Press: Crestwood, NY, 1996, p. 24

22 Schmemann, Alexander. Introduction to Liturgical Theology. SVS Press: Crestwood, NY, 1996, p. 43

23 Cabasilas, N. A Commentary on the Divine Liturgy. Trans. J. N. Hussey and P. A. McNulty. SVS Press: Crestwood, NY, 1998, p. 116

24 Sijakovic, S. Between God and Man: Essays on Greek and Christian Thought, Academia Verlag/Sanlit: August 2002.

25 Schmemann, Alexander. Of Water and the Spirit. SVS Press: Crestwood, NY, 1974, p. 89

26 1 Cor 1:30

27 Schmemann, Alexander. Of Water and the Spirit. SVS Press: Crestwood, NY, 1974, p. 121



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