Friday, April 13, 2007


Last weekend was wonderful, and I'm finally getting to putting some of my thoughts on it together. Here are a few of the highlights of the celebration of Jesus' death and Resurrection:
It is Good Friday; what gruesome and unjust death but our Savior's could be celebrated as Good two millennia later? We gather to remember His descent into Hades. The atmosphere is one of mourning and lamentation, but even in the sadness there is the certainty of coming victory. Candles are lit to symbolize the Triumph of the Light of the world. We walk slowly around the church building singing "Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, Have mercy on us." Outside the door of the church a bier that represents the tomb is held high and we all walk beneath it and back into the sanctuary. It is a reminder that through Christ's death "we have passed from death into to life." (John 5:24)
Saturday morning finds us back at church. We remember that Christ is still in the tomb, but there begins to be a change in the "feeling" of our worship. My favorite point in the service is when our pastor walks through the church with a large basket of fresh laurel leaves, a symbol of victory from ancient times. He scatters them, and as the leaves fall around us he cries "Arise, O God, and judge the earth, for You shall take all nations for Your inheritance" to which we respond with various verses, my favorites being "Judge the orphan and the poor; justify the humble and the needy" and "Rescue the needy and the poor, and deliver from the hands of sinners." I can't help but think of our Saviour coming into Jerusalem on the donkey, treading on palm branches; now we, His people, are reminded of His triumph over death as our footsteps release the spicy scent of the laurels.
Saturday evening our home is quiet; we put the children to bed and lie down to rest for a while ourselves. After only a few hours we pull the sleeping ones gently from their beds and make the drive back to church. We join with the many other worshipers who have come to celebrate the ultimate victory of Life over death. All light is extinguished; it is still, dark, and quiet, like a tomb. At midnight a single candle is held up. Death could not contain Him, the Light of the World! He is Risen! We are invited to "Come receive the light from the light that is never overtaken by night, and glorify Christ Who is risen from the dead". Quickly the glow of candles, symbolizing the light of Christ, fills the building and we walk outside to pray and sing loudly that "Christ is risen from the dead. By death He has trampled upon death, and has bestowed life to those in the tombs." When we return to the church we find it filled with light and we celebrate with worship, praise, and festivity. We hear the Paschal (Passover) homily* of St. John Chrysostom and all shout together, with hearts full of joy, that "Christ is Risen!" These words, written over fifteen hundred years ago, ring with freshness and life as one and all are invited to the Lord's feast. Later we hear John 20:19-25 read in several languages to remind us that this good news is for all people, that the Light we have received is not to be hidden, but is to illuminate the whole world. We are sent ones, the message of Jesus is for all people and we are to go into all the world with it.
It is Friday again, and my heart is still singing ""Christ is risen from the dead. By death He has trampled upon death, and has bestowed life to those in the tombs." I hope that yours is too!

*The Homily
(Everyone stands for this, and we all shout out the phrases that are in bold type. This is done in all Orthodox Parishes on Easter morning.)

If anyone is devout and a lover of God, let him enjoy this beautiful and radiant festival.
If anyone is a wise servant, let him, rejoicing, enter into the joy of his Lord.
If anyone has wearied himself in fasting, let him now receive his recompense.
If anyone has labored from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward. If anyone has come at the third hour, with thanksgiving let him keep the feast. If anyone has arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; for he shall suffer no loss. If anyone has delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near without hesitation. If anyone has arrived even at the eleventh hour, let him not fear on account of his delay. For the Master is gracious and receives the last, even as the first; he gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour, just as to him who has labored from the first. He has mercy upon the last and cares for the first; to the one he gives, and to the other he is gracious. He both honors the work and praises the intention.
Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and, whether first or last, receive your reward. O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy! O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate the day! You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today! The table is rich-laden; feast royally, all of you! The calf is fatted; let no one go forth hungry!
Let all partake of the feast of faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness.
Let no one lament his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one mourn his transgressions, for pardon has dawned from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Saviour's death has set us free.
He that was taken by death has annihilated it! He descended into hades and took hades captive! He embittered it when it tasted his flesh! And anticipating this Isaiah exclaimed, "Hades was embittered when it encountered thee in the lower regions." It was embittered, for it was abolished! It was embittered, for it was mocked! It was embittered, for it was purged! It was embittered, for it was despoiled! It was embittered, for it was bound in chains!
It took a body and, face to face, met God! It took earth and encountered heaven! It took what it saw but crumbled before what it had not seen!
"O death, where is thy sting? O hades, where is thy victory?"
Christ is risen, and you are overthrown!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and life reigns!
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in a tomb!
For Christ, being raised from the dead, has become the First-fruits of them that slept.
To him be glory and might unto ages of ages. Amen.

1 comment:

  1. Indeed, He is Risen! What a beautiful post.


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