Forefeast of the Precious Cross and Feast of St Joseph the Righteous of Arimathea
ANOTHER REASON why the seventh day was blessed is that He who formed this world in six days foresaw that man would turn towards evil and would, as a result, go back to the ground, descend to Hades and be imprisoned there, and this whole world would grow old and useless because of man, but would be renewed by God becoming man. This renewal was effected when God incarnate descended into Hades through death and declared there on the sabbath the recall of souls. It was because He foresaw that this would happen on the sabbath that He rightly deemed it the only day worthy to be blessed. However, although this work was secretly made ready on the seventh day, the sabbath, everything was clearly brought to light and accomplished when the body too had been summoned to immortality through the Lord’s resurrection on the eighth day. This is why we call it the Lord’s Day. As Friday, the day of preparation, stands in relation to the sabbath, so is the sabbath in comparison with Sunday, which is obviously superior to it. As perfection and reality surpass beginning, pattern and shadow, so is Sunday more excellent and honorable, because on it the exceedingly blessed work was finished, and on it we await the General Resurrection of all, the perfect entry of the saints into the divine rest and dissolution of the world into its elements.
Whatever is said in praise of the seventh day applies even more to the eighth, for the latter fulfills the former. It was Moses who unwittingly first ascribed honor to the eighth day, the Lord’s Day. The Jubilee year (Lev. 25.8ff), which Moses regarded as a year of forgiveness and named accordingly, was not counted among the “weeks of years” under the law, but came after them all, and was an eighth year proclaimed after the last of these seven year periods. Moses did the same with regard to periods of seven weeks. However, the lawgiver did not only introduce in this hidden way the dignity of this eighth day, which we call the Lord’s Day because it is dedicated to the Lord’s resurrection, but also on the feast named “Trumpets” referred to the eighth day as the “final solemn assembly” (cf. Lev. 23.36 LXX, Num. 29.35), meaning the completion and fulfillment of all the feasts. At that point he clearly said that the eighth day too would be called holy for us, proclaiming in advance how divine, glorious and august Sunday was to be after everything pertaining to the law had passed away.
Moses esteemed the seventh day because it led into the truly honorable eighth day. Just as the law given through him is honorable in so far as it leads to Christ (cf. Gal. 3.24), so the seventh day is honorable because it leads into the eighth day on which the Lord’s resurrection took place. The eighth day comes next after the seventh, and if you look carefully you will find that after the seventh day, when we are told that all the dead from past ages were resurrected, on the eighth day Christ rose. Not only was Christ’s resurrection accomplished on the eighth day, but it was both the eighth day in relation to the day before, and also the first day in relation to the hoped-for resurrection, the rising again, of all men in Christ. That is why Christ is hymned as “the firstfruits of them that slept” (1 Cor. 15.20) and “the first begotten of the dead” (Rev. 1.5). In the same way, Sunday is not just the day eighth in order after the preceding days, but the first of the days that come after. So it becomes in its turn the New Day, the first of all days, which we call the Lord’s Day, and which Moses referred to not as the first day but as “one day” (Gen. 1.5 LXX), being exalted above the others and the prelude of the one day without evening of the age to come.
—St Gregory Palamas, Homily Explaining the Mystery of the Sabbath and of the Lord’s Day