Wednesday, April 15, 2009

For from death to life and from earth to heaven

[This weekend Orthodox Christians around the world will celebrate Christ's Resurrection. Because we do not use the same method of calculating the date of Pascha, our observance frequently differs from the Western tradition.]

It's already dark when we gather in the cavernous church. A few candles punctuate the shadows. We are hushed, exhausted after our long vigil. Friday's mourning services and Saturday's long service and preparations have taken their toll. Like the myrrhbearing women we have gathered before the tomb of Christ. Unlike them, we know the story and in our hearts the first thrills of expectant joy begin to stir.

At midnight all the lights in the church are extinguished. We stand together in the darkness, waiting. Time slips away and none of us could say how long until the first glimmer of light appears. Dancing across the ceiling above the altar, it is the first sign that the event we are all waiting for has come to pass. The clergy begin to sing one of the great hymns:

Thy Resurrection, O Christ our Saviour, the angels in heaven sing. Enable us on earth to glorify Thee in purity of heart.

Quietly at first and then with more and more strength until, still singing, they come out with lit candles. We hold our own to out to them and in a few moments the church is a blaze of light and song.

We process around the outside of the church. Our candles usually go out at least once and in the middle of the night the air is sharp. Our singing is a little breathless, but heartfelt nonetheless. As we return to the front door we re-light our candles from our neighbors'. Then the clergy sing for the first time the greatest hymn:
Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death and upon those in the tomb bestowing life.

As we enter the church suddenly everything is bright and full of flowers. The miracle has happened. Christ has triumphed over death and sin. We go through the rest of the service, pausing to cry out, "Christ is risen!" and to hear the answering, "In truth He is risen!"

Then, because we are Orthodox, we have a feast. Our whole being is rejoicing.

In the early hours of the morning we make our way home. We are even more exhausted but there is a smile on our lips and song in our hearts because the Day of Days has once more come and our Lord is Risen.


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