The Sunday of the Resurrection is the glorious day described by the Orthodox Church as the “…unique and Holy day, king and lord of days, feast of feasts, solemnity of solemnities…” Easter (Paskha) is the centre and heart of the Orthodox Christian year. It is on its date that the whole Liturgical cycle depends. The Resurrection of Christ is solemnly proclaimed during the matins service held at midnight on Great and Holy Saturday.
During this service we witness the Priest come out of the Sanctuary and stand in front of the Royal Doors holding a lighted candle. He holds the candle up and invites the congregation to take of this light, which represents the risen Christ, with the words:
- “Come ye and receive light from the unwaning Light; and glorify Christ, who has risen from the dead”.
The Orthodox Church represents the mystery of Easter (Paskha) in terms of a mystery of light. This Light, whose birth was marked by the star of Bethlehem, has been shining among us with growing intensity. Even the darkness of Golgotha on Great and Holy Friday could not extinguish it. It now reappears among us, and the lit candles of the congregation proclaim the triumph of this Light, which of course is our risen Lord and God, Jesus Christ. We cannot worthily celebrate the Resurrection of Christ if, in our soul, the light brought by the Saviour has not completely overcome the darkness of our sins. After the faithful receive the Holy Light that rapidly spreads through the Church, the congregation follow the Priest, altar boys and chanters in procession out of the Church. The Priest reads the Gospel account of the Resurrection. He then chants the great triumphal antiphon for Easter (Paskha):
- “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and to those in the tomb He has given life”.
This antiphon is repeated three times by the chanters and all the congregation. Following this the faithful kiss and greet one another with the words “Christ is risen!”, to which the response is “Truly He is risen”. In fact, from this moment on until the Feast of the Ascension of our Lord, Orthodox Christians use no other form of greeting. Everyone then re-enters the Church for the completion of matins and the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom which follows.
The reading from the Acts of the Apostles (Chapt 1: 1-8) during the Divine Liturgy tells about the fact of the Resurrection. It describes the various ways that Christ showed Himself for the 40 days after His glorious Resurrection. The Gospel reading surprisingly, is not an account of the Resurrection. Instead, the Church at the feast of Easter (Paskha), gives us the beginning of the Gospel according to St John The Theologian (Chapt 1: 1-17), . In it we hear:
- “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God; and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was made nothing that has been made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness; and the darkness grasped it not”.
It is clear here that the reference to the “Word” and “Light” represents Jesus Christ. This prologue to the fourth Gospel can be considered to be a summary of the entire Orthodox doctrine of Jesus Christ, our God and Saviour. During the Liturgy the Priest also reads the beautiful and moving homily of St. John Chrysostom for the feast of Easter (Paskha).
The words of this extremely moving homily seem to raise a problem. St. John Chrysostom seems to place those who have not prepared themselves spiritually for the Feast on an equal footing with those who have. And yet we know that only those who have carried the Cross and have died with Christ can share in the grace of His Resurrection. We know that the grief of Holy Friday is a necessary condition for the joy of Easter (Paskha). This is true, but equally true is Christ’s right to grant mercy to whomever He will. This is why, even though we may be poorly prepared and impure, our Lord Jesus still invites us to enter into the Easter (Paskhal) joy. If we truly open our heart to the forgiveness which flows from the empty tomb, if we allow ourselves to be penetrated by the light of this feast of feasts and if we adore the presence of the Risen Lord, then we too will receive the power of the Resurrection.This is what St John Chrysostom refers to when he promises the same reward to “…those who fasted and those who did not”.
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