Christ is Risen!
Readers will forgive the dearth of posts following Holy and Great Friday - I have been extremely busy (well, not exactly busy but I've had my hands full). The past weeks have seen much joy and sorrow.
The Great and Holy Feast of Our Lord's Resurrection fell on the same day according to both the Julian and Gregorian Calendar this year. This feast of feasts is the most significant day in the liturgical year - it is a celebration of victory; the victory of the Cross over Death. In this victory that came through the Cross, Christ broke the bondage of sin, and through faith offers us restoration, transformation, and eternal life.
It may not appear obvious to a visitor at first glance, but much preparation went into the celebration, involving parishioner and visitor alike. Several women spent many days cleaning the church, readying the premises to receive massive numbers. Edward spent much time buried in liturgical sheet music, browsing through uncommon harmonies and obscure melodies to select the perfect mix of tunes for the evening. Whole families were involved preparing flowers and food. My role was minuscule by comparison: I merely cleaned the altar.
The evening of Holy Saturday bore witness to what was perhaps the largest gathering of Orthodox faithful in church to participate in the feast of feasts. All manner of visitors arrived, though Russians formed the bulk of the congregation this year. Edward was prepared for them - having prepared Slavonic texts for the music (in addition to Greek, Romanian, Arabic and Latin - yes, even Latin).
My little girls greeted visitors, giving out candles and other assorted paraphernalia. The girls were extremely useful in handling Russians: a bloke turned up and announced, "I am Russian; I do not speak English."
No light is present in church, symbolizing the darkness of the world without Christ. At midnight, the priest emerges from behind the icon screen and offers light to the congregation as the good news is proclaimed, "Christ is risen from the dead..."
The people are then led outside the church, where the Gospel of St Mark is read. Then comes the breathless moment as the people wait for the priest to start the hymn of Resurrection, which they join him in singing, repeatedly: "Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!"
From that moment, the service takes on a joyous atmosphere. People greet with the triple kiss as they wish each other, "Christ is risen!" The hymns of Odes that follow express it well:
It is the day of Resurrection, let us be radiant, O ye peoples: Pascha, the Lord’s Pascha; for Christ God hath brought us from death to life, and from earth unto Heaven as we sing the triumphal hymn.
A predominantly Russian crowd remained after that. Most Greeks have a curious of habit of leaving at the Third Antiphon, when the line "Let God arise! Let His enemies be scattered!" is sung.
In addition to the Greek, Slavonic, Arabic and Romanian, Edward sang the pre-Nikonian Slavonic Paschal troparion: "Хрїстосъ воскресе изъ мертвыхъ, смертїю на смерть настѹпи, и гробным животъ дарова!"
Eggs (coloured red to symbolise the bloodshed for us by Christ), symbolic of new life, are distributed at the conclusion of the service. A traditional game is played where each player hits the other players' egg with their own. The winner is the holder of the last intact egg. The losers get to eat their eggs.
I leave you with an excerpt from the marvelous sermon of St John Chrysostom, which is typically read during Pascha:
Enjoy the feast of faith;
receive all the riches of loving-kindness.
Let no one bewail his poverty,
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one weep for his iniquities,
for pardon has shone forth from the grave.
Let no one fear death,
for the Savior’s death has set us free:
he that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it!
Many thanks to Kenneth & Yaroslav for the photographs!