On the Leavetaking of Pascha


The Constant Pascha

by Metropolitan Saba (Esber)

Tomorrow evening we say goodbye to the Feast of Pascha. For forty days, we are in the midst of the joy of the resurrection. For forty days, we chant with joy,

“Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!”

at the beginning and the end of every individual or group prayer, at home or in the church. There is an Orthodox tradition in which Christians substitute “Christ is risen!” for their everyday greetings for the forty days that follow Holy Pascha.

Tomorrow, we will say goodbye to the services of Pascha, while its spirit will remain with us, since we cannot live without it.

“And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins1!” (1 Corinthians 15:17).

Christ’s Resurrection loads us up with hope, strength, action, steadfastness, and the best life, which is always to come! It provides us with the strength to rise after every time we fall, to start building after every collapse, to once again spread the joyful spirit of life after every catastrophe– and there are so many in our tormented world! You live the resurrection every time you return in it to yourself and pay attention to what you have missed, when you rise to make right the sins you have realized, in yourself and in your society. You live the resurrection when you realize that you are a child of life– not passing, temporary life, but eternal, lasting life– a child of the life that brings tenacity out of pain, patience out of trials, strength out of weakness, joy out of sorrow, and hope out of despair.

Your believing in Christ’s resurrection from the dead means that you believe in your own resurrection and so in the resurrection of the world from every death. Or rather, you translate it in your life into resurrectional action, and so you are not happy to remain as you are, so you continue the struggle, seeking what is higher and better, striving for the good portion, which will not be taken from you (cf. Luke 10:42). A Christian is a person of the resurrection, in the sense that he lives the resurrection at every moment. Otherwise, he has not yet stepped onto the threshold of Christianity. If he languishes under a death, then he will quickly perceive his weakness and return to raise himself up by the grace of the resurrection of his Lord, to remain in the mystery of the resurrection, despite the many forms of death that may surround him. He receives from his risen Christ the pulse of life, hope, optimism and especially a correction of vision toward the highest and most fundamental purpose of his life.

These are nice words, but how are they lived? How are they realized in daily life? We have memorized the golden answers to this by heart. Most of the time, we repeat them without any internal awareness. We say: Christ rose to grant salvation to humankind and to open to them the way to the second life, which had been closed by Adam and Eve’s departure from living in the shelter of God. He rose to grant us the power to live eternal life, this that had been constantly forgotten by humankind. He rose because God does not die. And other correct answers that we have become accustomed to repeating. But we often forget that their live and demonstrable activity within us is the most important thing.

A person is aware of the activity of the resurrection and lives it when he realizes that he is created for eternal life and arranges his life on the basis of that conscious realization. He sees that he will not live upon this earth more than a number of years that, no matter how long, will not be more than a hundred in the best of circumstances, most of which are labor and sorrow, as the Psalm says (Psalm 90:10). He is aware that he is created for unending life and not to pass away with the passing away of his earthly life, but that it only starts in its fullness at that moment.

This consciousness grants him a new reading of his earthly life, its pains and difficulties. He sees in it what he did not see before and realizes that through his resurrectional faith he is able to derive benefit from it for himself and for others. The words of the Apostle Paul become true in him,

“All things work together for good to those who love God” (Romans 8:28).

In the cross, he sees joy and consolation because it makes it possible for him to struggle and ascend. He learns patience, kindness, mercy and sensitivity to those in pain, those suffering, those who are abandoned and acquires from his Lord an inexhaustible wellspring of tender compassion that can only be acquired through sincere suffering. He experiences the serene joy that wells forth from the presence of his Lord within himself, where he had prepared a place for Him and He will come to him and make a home with him (cf. John 14:23). He tastes the peace that no evil, no matter how great, can take away from him (cf. John 14:27).

The best sign that we have attained this level of faith is the degree to which we have been freed from that which binds us in this world and its lusts. Seeking eternal life requires of us constant change and an experience of God’s presence in our life. So let us love simplicity of life. Let us seek the essence and not give any importance to showiness material gain. Let us be strangers to extravagance and spectacle and instead be disgusted by them. Let us feel the suffering of others and be delighted to share in it with them. Let us sit, like Mary, at the feet of the Lord because our joy at that point is indescribable. Those who have touched it experience the grace of the resurrection and have truly known a change of mind and thus a change of their entire being.

The cross leads those of little faith to disbelief and perplexity, but it brings those who believe to grasp the most perfect meaning of life. The unbeliever detests hardship, trials and suffering and so despairs and rages at life, taking vengeance out on others, and his despair may lead him to suicide since he has no hope. The true believer sees ways to transcend his stumbles and space to make his love active, to give life to his faith, and a resurrection unto the best life, which leads him to thank God in good times and bad.

Many seek joy in the wrong place. They become dejected at the plight of our country and flee to a way out. They vent their anxiety and seek an outlet in things that grant them imagined happiness and temporary joy, winding up with what they had sought to replace and finding themselves in greater anxiety and deeper fear. Is there any clearer sign of the absence of the resurrection from our lives than our failure to realize it despite the adversities and fears that we are experiencing on account of what is happening in our country? If the resurrection is not present in us today, when will it be?

The Leavetaking of Pascha, tomorrow, is a reminder to us to live it throughout the year.



The Constant Pascha

Resurrection Victory

00 graves

by Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

Do we not see that death continues to reap its harvest around us? Are there not graves beside Christian churches as well? How can we say that ‘there is none dead in the tomb’, that Christ has conquered death by death?

In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Every Sunday throughout the year, century after century, the Orthodox Church proclaims the Resurrection of Christ. Each Sunday we relive once again our joy that Christ is risen. And that joy is so deep, so profound, that it bears witness of itself: we rejoice not only because the Lord is risen, but because his Resurrection is for us the beginning of new, renewed life. In the Sermon of John Chrysostom which is read on the night of Christ’s Resurrection each year, it is said that

‘Christ is risen, and there is none dead in the tomb…’

And we ourselves continue to pass on this message from one century to the next.

Yet is it true? Do we not see that death continues to reap its harvest around us? Are there not graves beside Christian churches as well? How can we say that ‘there is none dead in the tomb’, that Christ has conquered death by death?

We can say this because death has two completely different meanings, and the tombs are indeed empty. Until the coming of Christ, every human being, when he died — whether he was righteous or not — was deprived of the joy of meeting God. According to the Old Testament story of the primal sin of our ancestors, Adam and Eve, the whole human race was deprived of the radiance, the joy, the glory of God. Everyone who died thereafter entered into an abyss of horror, of separation from God and, as a result, of separation from those closest to him.

And his death was twofold: not just an earthly death when the soul, separated from the body, flies upward towards God and worships at the throne of the Lord, who consoles it for its earthly sorrows. There was another death as well, a second separation. While someone lived on this earth, he could, in one way or another, with just the tip of his soul, touch at least the border of the Lord’s garment. But after death, any separation became final, definitive, dreadful. And age after age people waited for the Saviour, for the one who would unite heaven and earth, God and creation. But until the Lord came, our Saviour Jesus Christ, that separation remained dark and terrible.

And then the Lord came and died on the Cross the death of every man, having first shared in the dreadful loneliness and torment that precedes death. Remember the garden of Gethsemene: ‘O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me…’ He shared in the horror of that separation when he cried out to God from the Cross:

‘My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?’

And he descended into hell… into hell!

And hell opened wide with joy in the hope that now the enemy whom it had found invincible on earth had been overcome and taken prisoner. Hell opened up, as John Chrysostom says, to take in flesh — and opened itself to God. Hell opened to imprison the incarnate Son of God become man — and before him stood, into him entered the Living God who fills all things, entering hell and destroying it for ever. Hell was no longer that former terrible hell of separation, because in it was the living God.

The Prophet David in his mysterious vision said:

‘Whither shall I go then from thy presence? If I go up into heaven, thou art there: If I go down to hell, thou art there also’.

For us this seems simple, because for us that eternal, hopeless hell of the absence of God no longer exists. But for the man of the Old Testament this was a puzzling statement: how can God be where God is not? How can he be in the place of separation from God? But David foresaw — and prophetically foretold — the coming of the Lord and the end of that final separation. Today death has become for us something else. Now it is a falling asleep. In the body we fall asleep to the anxieties of the earth, and peace descends upon our flesh. Our body now lies there like an icon of Christ lying in the grave on that mysterious, blessed Saturday when the Lord ceased from his works, from the work of saving mankind, from the labour of suffering, from the Cross, from crucifixion. Everyone who dies now, falls asleep in Christ, he falls asleep until the day his body rises at the last trumpet, on the day of the resurrection of the dead.

‘Blessed are they who die in the Lord’,

as John the Theologian says in the Apocalypse.

This is why for the Christian, death is not something terrible. This is why someone who meant a great deal to me was able to say to me: ‘Wait for your death as a young man waits for his bride’. With the same kind of trembling, with the same rejoicing of soul we can say to death: ‘Come, open for me the doors of eternal life, so that my rebellious flesh may find peace, and my soul may soar up to the eternal dwelling place of God’. This is why we can say truly and rightfully proclaim that ‘there is not one dead in the tomb’. For the grave has ceased to be a prison, a place of final and terrible captivity. It has become a place where the body awaits resurrection while the soul grows, to the extent it can, into eternal life.

Yet death, the separation of death, is none the less still present on earth to a certain extent. It has been defeated even in its own kingdom, yet man himself continues, by cutting off others from the mystery of love, to prolong that separation on earth. Just look at our human society. There is no need to look far: just look at your family, at those closest to you, at your friends, your parish, at the Church. Can we really say that we are so linked together by love that death, that separation, that separation from God, that separation from one another doesn’t exist on earth? Sadly, God has conquered death everywhere, but in the heart of man it must be conquered by man himself.

Death and love are inseparable from one another. And it is because of this that it is such a fearsome thing to love. To love just a little, to love irresponsibly, to love in such a way that a relationship is begun and then allowed to end when it becomes painful or difficult or dangerous — we can all do this. But to love as the Lord loved — this we seem unable to do. The Apostle Paul says to us: ‘Accept one another, love one another as the Lord loved you…’ But do we realize how the Lord loved us? He loved us so much that he did not want to be a stranger to us and became one of us, one among many others — and not just temporarily, but for eternity, for ever — with all the pain, with all the horror of that union.

The glory of God was extinguished when the Word became Flesh. No one knew him. His victory appeared to be defeat. He became the one whom the Holy Scriptures declared would be ‘a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief ‘. He became one with us forever. Can we become one with each other in this way? Can we so love one another that we can say: ‘For ever? In sorrow and in joy, in horror and in exultation, whatever happens, I will stand by you for ever’? If this were the case, how marvellous our world would be, how marvellous our Church would be, what parishes we would have, what families, what friends! But our meetings are like two ships meeting on the sea: they meet and pass on.

We haven’t enough depth, not enough faithfulness, not enough readiness to do what Christ did: to descend into hell, into the hell of suffering of someone whom we love, into the hell of his temptations, into the hell of his pain, into the hell of his destruction. Instead, we stand on the shore and call out: ‘Save yourself, swim over here to me — I will reach out my hand to you!’ But we ourselves do not enter that hell, and so it is terrible for us to talk about love, it is so difficult to love — because we should love only as the Lord has loved us. Death and love are bound up together because to love means to forget oneself until one doesn’t exist, not to remember oneself. The other becomes so dear to one that to think about oneself gets in the way. We need to say to ourselves what Christ said to Peter when he stood in front of him on the way to Golgotha: ‘Get behind me, Satan; you are thinking about earthly things, and not about heaven’. Can we forget about ourselves to that extent, can we love like that, can we die like that?

At the same time, so long as we cannot do this, we are touching only the border of the Lord’s garment, we are joined only to the outer edge of the light, the radiant light and brilliance of the Resurrection of Christ. To live the Resurrection is possible only for someone who has passed through death and is on the other side of death, not the death of this world, not material, bodily death, but the death which is also called love, when a person forgets about himself and loves so much that he lays down his life for his friend. Moses is called a ‘friend of God’ in the Scriptures, and what does he say?

‘Lord, if you do not forgive your people their sins, then strike out my name from the book of life. I do not wish to live, if others go to their death’.

The Apostle Paul says that he would prefer, if possible, to be separated from Christ, rather than see the destruction of the people of Israel. These are nonsensical words — nonsensical in the sense that when a man experiences such love, he is already on the other side of death. But humanly speaking that is all we are able to say:

‘Yes, it is better that I should perish, than that I should be separated from anyone’.

This is the standard shown us by the Cross — and by the Resurrection, for one is inseparable from the other. And so, from Sunday to Sunday, when you hear the news that Christ has risen, remember that we are all called to be, on this earth, people risen from the dead in love. But for this to take place, we must so love each other as to pass through the gates of death, to descend through the Cross into hell, to share through Love in the suffering of the other, to forget ourselves — and then suddenly discover that I am alive, alive with the life of Christ! Amen.


Pascha in the West and in the East

east west

by Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos)

The Orthodox Church is the Church of the Resurrection, because it gives prominence to Christ’s victory over death. Pascha is the overcoming of death, the passage of the Word to the human heart and not the reduction of the heart to human reason and senses. When one examines the “ethos” of Orthodoxy, one finds that it confers the “spirit” and life that comes out of the Tomb: the

“life in the tomb”

as the hymns say. It is a blaze of light and the ecstasy of life. This is where the difference between western Christianity and the Orthodox Church can be seen: Saint Francis, in Kazantzakis’ biography, reaches the highest degree of the spiritual life by feeling “God crucified” in his body. He said of this:

“It is a cross, Brother Leone, man’s body is a cross – open your arms and you will see, God is crucified upon it”.

And he prayed,

“My Christ, my love, I ask one favour of you, one favour for me before I die – that I may feel in my body and soul, as far as possible, Your pain and Your Holy passion…”

He reached the point of seeing the wounds of the Cross on his body, and when he asked for another, greater, experience, he heard a divine voice saying:

“Do not ask for more; this is where man’s ascent ends – at the Crucifixion!”

On the other hand, the Orthodox saint, St. Silouan the Athonite, saw the Resurrected Christ and experienced Pascha within his being and within creation. Following the vision of Christ resurrected he said: “I was living in a paschal feast. Everything was beautiful; the world was grand, people were pleasing, nature was unspeakably lovely, the body changed and became light, strength was added… the soul overflowed with joy; it had compassion on people and prayed for the whole world.”

This difference between Western and Eastern thinking is seen in the difference between Jean-Paul Sartre and St. Seraphim of Sarov. The former (Sartre), disillusioned by western Christianity said:

“The other is my hell!”.

The latter (St Seraphim of Sarov) addressed everyone who met him with the greeting:

“Christ is Risen, my joy”.

Each and every ‘other’ is not ‘different’ a ‘stranger’ a ‘foreigner’, but a brother. The experience of the Resurrection overcomes death, neutralises selfishness, and abolishes Hades. Otherwise, man is enclosed in his own personal hell.

In celebrating “our Pascha” as

“the feast of feasts”

and as

“the death of death, the first-fruits of another life that is eternal”

we feel within ourselves and around ourselves the scent of spiritual death, of life that is before the Resurrection of Christ. We live this biological life simply for survival, but, indeed, as yet mortal. We chant “Christ is Risen!”, we celebrate on the outside, but the bitterness of Hades rules within us, often even in church life. The remembrance of death is bitter, so too is the pain of loneliness. These poisonous constraints, even in the field of Christianity are bitter; even in the Church itself, which continues to be the Church of the Resurrection and to preach the mystery of the Resurrection.

It is of course our various passions that keep us away from the existential festival of life. Various pressures also make Church life feel different from this. Christians divided by various political considerations, the Orthodox with various rivalries between themselves; these do not remind us of the Resurrected Christ at all.

So, the crucifixion of the Orthodox Church continues. The wounds of the Cross of the Church in Jerusalem, from its internal weaknesses and external influences blacken the “Holy Fire” that comes from the Sepulchre of Christ. The political opportunism, the nationalistic racists with their all too human passions do not allow the joy of the Resurrection to shine out as light to the people round about.

The domineering powers that can be seen in all Christian confessions drain away the “Joy to all”, the “Peace unto you”, the “be of good cheer”, because they are ruled by other alien powers, foreign to the “spirit” of the Resurrected Christ. Unfortunately, politics, often in ecclesiastical dress, are the nails of the crucified Church, the bride of the Resurrected Christ together with the worldly-led pressures that take place in the name of the term “mother Church”…

Our Pascha, as the victory over death and the experience of life, is lived out today despite these secular-minded powers and tendencies. It is experienced by those who live humbly and existentially within the sphere of the Church, away from secularisation, racism and political considerations and can be clearly seen in the relics of saints.

Normally, the bodies of those saints that have fallen asleep, which are a just mass of cells, within which are included the cells for ageing, should rot away. However, the power and grace of the Resurrection does not let them break up; something which proves they have overcome death. The saint is a person who is asleep awaiting the last wake up call.

This then is our Pascha, as a mystery of the Resurrection, and not as a Christianity of religiosity with the passions of the love of precedence, of division and of rivalry. ‘Our Pascha’ cannot be replaced by ‘our Religion’, which lives under the rule of death. The Resurrected Christ cannot be made up out of the political expressions of Christianity and the power of the Resurrection cannot fit within the so-called “Christian States”. It is experienced in a life beyond the imagination, thinking and speaking; transfigured by Divine Light, with a loving desire for God and with humility.


Trampling Down Death By Death: Reflections on the Orthodox Resurrection Service

Orthodox Resurrection service

A Protestant Visits the Orthodox Resurrection Service

By Brad Jersak

I shall never forget the beauty, wonder and spiritual culture shock the first time I experienced an Orthodox Resurrection service. It was 2006 and my new friend, Archbishop (ret.) Lazar had invited me to join their parish for the midnight service, the traditional Paschal liturgy, proclaiming and celebrating Christ’s victorious death and resurrection. At the time, I was a self-professed charismatic evangelical, ‘my antennas were up,’ hoping to discern the movement of the Holy Spirit in the midst of this other world—rites and rituals that I might have otherwise mistaken for religiosity. But by being attentive, what I underwent bears some theological reflection for the reader’s spiritual edification.

Orthodox Resurrection service

A pre-service ‘Matins’ starts at 11:00 pm with readings from Messianic Psalms preparing us for the service proper. As I entered, I was surprised by the variety of simultaneous activities: priests and deacons were in the altar area, moving around with candles, incense and chanting quietly around the table. Readers on the right were singing songs and reading the Psalms. A line up had formed on the left, waiting to confess to Bishop Varlaam, a St. Nicholas-type spiritual father who exudes the mercy of God. Children in pajamas scurried about, kissing icons and lighting candles. Folks of all types were crossing themselves or doing ‘prostrations’ at various points. It was more than I could take in—so sensual with the many lights, colours and smells. Incredibly tactile—I feel the smooth texture of the long thin candles that are being distributed to everyone, roll it under my nose to inhale the beeswax.

Then at the stroke of midnight, a bell rings and all the lights are extinguished except for those of the clergy, who begin to chant three times with increasing volume:

Thy Resurrection, O Christ Savior, the angels in the heavens sing;

enable us on earth to glorify Thee in purity of heart!

The priest emerges from the altar with a huge candle, wearing royal robes and a diadem. In this liturgical passion play—the drama of redemption—he is playing the part of Christ. He sings,

The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness is not overcome. Come ye and receive the light.

And with that someone lights their candle from his, then passes it on. Gradually, as candle lights candle, the whole sanctuary is illuminated and radiates the truth that in us, the glory of the Lord spreads from sea to sea and across the globe.

orthodox resurrection service

I fall into procession as the priest leads us out of the building. Bear in mind, I have no idea what’s coming next. We all join in the song as we walk slowly,

Thy Resurrection, O Christ Savior, the angels in the heavens sing;

enable us on earth to glorify Thee in purity of heart.

As we circumnavigate the church, my candle gives way to the wind or my stumbling, but others quickly relight it. I note how this is not unlike my faith journey at times through this present darkness. Finally, after circling the temple three times, the priest stands before the front doors. He reads a gospel text that announces the discovery of the empty tomb.

He pounds on the door three times and cries out,

Lift up your gates, O ye princes;

and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting gates,

and the King of Glory shall enter in.

Someone behind the closed doors responds,

Who is this King of Glory?

And the priest replies, with boldness,

The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in war.

Lift up your gates, O ye princes; and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting gates,

and the King of Glory shall enter in.

Again, from inside,

Who is this King of Glory?

And the priest, loudly,

The Lord of hosts, He is the King of Glory.

Again he pounds on the door and the dialogue is repeated. There are layers to this engagement. One way to see it is Christ entering his temple; but more poignant to the moment is that he is confronting the princes (Hades and Satan), shattering the gates of hades and binding the strongman to plunder his goods. Christ enters death, by death, to overcome death for us all.

The doors swing open and the congregation streams into the church with our candles. Once we are all in, a chant begins—repeatedly and rising in intensity:

Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death,

And upon those in the tombs bestowing life.

These words of victory rise as a ringing refrain that will be repeated again and again throughout the next three hours. This is the central confession of the Eastern Church: The divine Word and second person of the Trinity assumes human nature in the one Person, Jesus Christ, and suffers death to vanquish death. Gustaf Aulen would later refer to this as an atonement theory he called Christus Victor. The Orthodox faithful would raise an objection or two to that designation.

Orthodox Resurrection service

First, Christ’s victory over Satan, sin and death by his death and resurrection is not an atonement theory. It is the gospel proclaimed in the New Testament. It is no theory that Christ defeated death and rose from the grave in power: it is the faith once delivered by Christ to the apostles that we proclaim.

Second, Orthodoxy certainly does speak in terms of victory. But let no one imagine this victory in terms of a dualistic cosmology that takes two competing sides deep into extra time. In Canada, we would call this a ‘trouncing.’ Throughout the Paschal liturgy, we hear the ancient and triumphant theology of the same fathers who gave us our New Testament and Creeds,

Let God arise and let His enemies be scattered,

and let them that hate Him flee from before His face.

Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death,

and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.

As smoke vanishes, so let them vanish, as wax melts before the fire.

And so the liturgy continues, deep into the night. In that setting, only a few chairs lined the walls for the aged and infirm … the rest of us stood for hours on end. My legs were sore, my eyes were tired and a newcomer might be excused if the wonder of the first hour was fading into what seemed like the tedium of repetitive litanies. All of this took longer because parts of the liturgy were repeated in English, Greek, Slavonic and other European tongues.

On the upside, I would regularly be jarred back to attention whenever the priest would nearly shout,

“Christ is risen!”

and the congregation would burst out,

“Truly he is risen!”

Some of the men would even lunge forward onto their front foot, shouting emphatically each time. And I repented for simply assuming that liturgy is always ‘dead’ and those who practice it do so mindlessly.

Eventually, we came to my favourite moment in the service: the Paschal homily of St John Chrysostom (‘Silver Tongue,’ referring to his anointed preaching). In fact, this sermon was considered so authoritative that the Eastern Church chose to preach it verbatim every Pascha as part of the liturgy until the Lord returns. It’s only four paragraphs, riffing off the parable of the day-workers (Matt. 20:1-16) to welcome all to the Feast, and proclaiming again Christ’s descent into hades and the utter defeat of death. It’s worthy of recording here in its entirety:

If any man be devout and love God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast. If any man be a wise servant, let him rejoicing enter into the joy of his Lord. If any have labored long in fasting, let him now receive his recompense. If any have wrought from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward. If any have come at the third hour, let him with thankfulness keep the feast. If any have arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; because he shall in nowise be deprived thereof. If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near, fearing nothing. If any have tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness; for the Lord, who is jealous of his honor, will accept the last even as the first; he gives rest unto him who comes at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who has wrought from the first hour.

And he shows mercy upon the last, and cares for the first; and to the one he gives, and upon the other he bestows gifts. And he both accepts the deeds, and welcomes the intention, and honors the acts and praises the offering. Wherefore, enter you all into the joy of your Lord; and receive your reward, both the first, and likewise the second. You rich and poor together, hold high festival. You sober and you heedless, honor the day. Rejoice today, both you who have fasted and you who have disregarded the fast. The table is full-laden; feast ye all sumptuously. The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away.

Enjoy ye all the feast of faith: Receive ye 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 shown 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. By descending into Hades, He made Hades captive. He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh. And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry: Hades, said he, 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 slain. It was embittered, for it was overthrown. It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains. It took a body, and met God face to face. It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.

O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your 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 the grave. For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen.

The first time I heard that homily, given the venue and the build-up towards it, I was transfixed, transported … I … we had come

… to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel (Heb. 12:22-24).

Orthodox Resurrection serviceAfter this, the liturgy led us toward its true climax: the Eucharist. I could have been offended at not being invited to partake (with Chrysostom’s inclusive words still ringing in my ears), the Lord spoke to me and said,

“You have participated to this point; now be a respectful observer.”

It would be another decade before I could wholeheartedly join in their confession,

I believe, O Lord, and I confess that Thou art truly the Christ, the Son of the Living God, who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the first.

I believe also that this is truly Thine own most pure Body, and that this is truly Thine own most precious Blood. Therefore I pray Thee: Have mercy upon me and forgive me my transgressions, committed in word and deed, whether consciously or unconsciously. And make me worthy to partake without condemnation of Thy most pure Mysteries, for the remission of sins and unto life everlasting.

Of Thy Mystical Supper, O Son of God, accept me today as a communicant. For I will not speak of Thy Mystery to Thine enemies, neither like Judas will I give Thee a kiss; but like the thief will I confess Thee: “Remember me, O Lord, in Thy Kingdom. “May the communion of Thy Holy Mysteries be neither to my judgment, nor to my condemnation, 0 Lord, but to the healing of soul and body.

As the Orthodox believers lined up to receive it, arms crossed over their hearts, they would turn to the congregation and say,

“Forgive me brothers, forgive me sisters.”

Those near the front would reply,

“God forgives,”

while the rest would sing,

“Receive the body of Christ, taste of the fountain of immortality.”

Happily, at this point, Bishop Varlaam came and grabbed me by the arm. He led me to the line where any and all may receive the blessed bread, cut from the same loaf as Eucharist bread (many congregations also have wine available). That felt better … and then he insisted that I stay for the love feast. Indeed, he seated me as a guest of honour at the clergy table next to the Archbishop.

Yes, an agape feast, signifying the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (with actual lamb and mint sauce and red wine and plumb brandy and a dizzying multi-cultural banquet to break the fast ):

On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine—the best of meats and the finest of wines (Isa. 25:6).

But wait, you should interrupt, if you’re keeping track. A banquet at 3:30 am? Absolutely. With children? Not just awake, but truly wired! In one case, by sunrise of Resurrection morning, the congregation had spilled out into the church parking lot where a lamb was roasting on a spit, and the priest shared cans of Guinness and smoked pipes with his joyful friends. As I said, spiritual culture-shock …

Eventually I would be chrismated by Archbishop Lazar and was later ordained ‘Reader Irenaeus’ by Archbishop Irenée. While the Orthodox Church may not be every believer’s cup of tea, I believe it has something to offer the rest of the Body of Christ, particularly in its stewardship of the faith of the great Fathers and Mothers of the Church, and in its emphasis on Jesus Christ as the revelation of

“a good and merciful God, who loves humankind.”

Even for those who are not called to that stream of Christianity, I hope this reflection on the Orthodox Pascha will build another little bridge upon which we might extend our embrace to a much wider Christian world.

And if you get the opportunity, please do visit the Liturgy of the Resurrection at least once in your life. This year it will begin at midnight (Sat. night, April 30 / Sun. morning May. 1).


On The Death & Resurrection Of Christ

by St. Gregory the Theologian

ResurrectionYesterday I was crucified with Him; today I am glorified with Him.

Yesterday I died with Him; today I am made alive with Him.

Yesterday I was buried with Him; today I am raised up with Him.

Let us offer to Him Who suffered and rose again for us … ourselves, the possession most precious to God and most proper.

Let us become like Christ, since Christ became like us.

Let us become Divine for His sake, since for us He became Man.

He assumed the worse that He might give us the better. He became poor that by His poverty we might become rich. He accepted the form of a servant that we might win back our freedom.

He came down that we might be lifted up. He was tempted that through Him we might conquer. He was dishonored that He might glorify us. He died that He might save us. He ascended that He might draw to Himself us, who were thrown down through the fall of sin.

Let us give all, offer all, to Him who gave Himself a Ransom and Reconciliation for us.

We needed an incarnate God, a God put to death, that we might live. We were put to death together with Him that we might be cleansed. We rose again with Him because we were put to death with Him. We were glorified with Him because we rose again with Him.

A few drops of Blood recreate the whole of creation!

The Historical Development of Holy Week Services In Orthodoxy

kirill holy week

The Paschal fast of Holy Week1 is the most ancient part of the Great Fast.2 It is already well attested by the second century, in conjunction with the rites of Christian initiation through baptism. At first spanning one or two days, the fast lengthened to four and then to a full six already by the third century. With the conversion of Constantine, the ensuing flood of people desiring to enter the Faith and imperial interest in holy places, the fourth century witnessed tremendous development in ritual for Holy Week. This evolutionary process continued in the middle ages and shows itself even in our own time.

Within the New Testament, we see little indication of a preferred time for celebrating baptism. Baptism was understood primarily as a putting off of the old in order to become part of

“a society of persons that was in marked contrast to all others.”3

The original emphasis was on baptism for the remission of sins and a filling with the Spirit. The stress soon evolved into baptism as a death and resurrection of the individual, as a personal participation in Christ’s suffering and exaltation.4 As such, Pascha became the normative occasion for baptism. As the numbers of catechumens waned, however, Lent and Holy Week were transformed to a commemoration of past events and to a time of repentance. The attendant rites have, over this course, taken on dramatic elements and a growing sense of sentimentality.

The Beginnings: Second and Third Centuries

By the second century, the very ‘structure’ of initiation in the early Church included instruction in preparation for baptism. The length of this preparation varied and often spanned several years. Then,

“As many as are persuaded and believe that these things which we teach are true, and undertake to live accordingly, are taught to pray and ask God, while fasting, for the forgiveness of their sins; and we pray and fast with them”5

for one or two days—Saturday only, or Friday and Saturday—a fast without any food or drink.

By the mid-third century, in many but not all places, the fast had lengthened to six days. Few could have kept a week of total fast. In some places, bread and salt were eaten Monday through Thursday after the ninth hour, then, those who could, kept a total fast Friday and Saturday.6 On Holy Saturday, those who had been elected as being ready for illumination would

meet together as catechumens for the last time. Here they are “catechized” by undergoing a final exorcism; they renounce Satan, are anointed with the “oil of exorcism” which has been blessed along with the chrism the preceding Holy Thursday, and recite the Creed which they have memorized since hearing it in the fourth scrutiny [on the preceding Sunday]. They kneel for prayer, and are then dismissed, being told to go home “and await the hour when the grace of God in baptism shall be able to enfold you.”7

Dionysius of Alexandria, in writing his Letter to Basiliades around 260, provides us the earliest source for an incipient ritual of Holy Week. Dionysius takes great pains to link each day and hour of Holy Week to events in Christ’s passion, sojourn in the tomb and resurrection. The Syriac Didascalia do the same.8 Hippolytus’ Apostolic Tradition (ca. 215) and Cyprian (d. 258) both link the hours of prayer—for Holy Week and throughout the year—with specific events during Christ’s final week.

The Formative Age: Fourth Century

Cyril of Jerusalem, in the Catechetical Homilies he delivered ca. 350, makes no mention of daily commemorations and ritual. The Cross and the Resurrection, for example, were part of a single, united celebration on Saturday night, for which the six days of fasting were simply preparation. Friday did not yet specifically commemorate the crucifixion.9 But the “current of the times”10 in the fourth century was a historicizing one: eschatological notions were giving way to historical commemoration.

From Jerusalem comes innovation. By the time a pilgrim from Spain named Egeria visited, between 381-385, when this same Cyril was in his final years as bishop of the Holy City, there had evolved unmistakable correlation between passion events and the services for each day. Egeria was able to describe the rites in great detail in her diary. The close proximity of the actual sites where the events of our Lord’s passion took place, and the influx of pilgrims, no doubt suggested visiting and venerating at those locations. Dix condenses well Egeria’s diary, showing

“a fully developed and designedly historical series of such celebrations in which the whole Jerusalem church takes part:”11

It begins on Passion Sunday with a procession to Bethany where the gospel of the raising of Lazarus is read. On the afternoon of Palm Sunday the whole church goes out to the Mount of Olives and returns in solemn procession to the city bearing branches of palm. There are evening visits to the Mount of Olives on each of the first three days of Holy Week, in commemoration of our Lord’s nightly withdrawal for the city during that week. On Maundy Thursday morning the eucharist is celebrated (for the only time in the year) in the chapel of the Cross, and not in the Martyrium; and all make their communion. In the evening after another eucharist the whole church keeps vigil at Constantine’s church of Eleona on the Mount of Olives, visiting Gethsemane after midnight and returning to the city in the morning for the reading of the gospel of the trial of Jesus. In the course of the morning of Good Friday all venerate the relics of the Cross, and then from noon to three p.m. all keep watch on the actual site of Golgotha (still left by Constantine’s architects open to the sky in the midst of a great colonnaded courtyard behind the Martyrium) with lections and prayers amid deep emotion. In the evening there is a final visit by the whole church to the Holy Sepulchre, where the gospel of the entombment is read. On Holy Saturday evening the paschal vigil still takes place much as in other churches, with its lections and prayers and baptisms….

Visitors like Egeria carried back to their native lands the memory of what they had experienced in Jerusalem and tried to emulate it in their own liturgical practices. Thus historical commemorations and stational liturgies spread quickly throughout the Christian world, for both Holy Week and the rest of the year. For example, because of the unique situation in Jerusalem, where multitudes of pilgrims descended, they would occupy the church all night in order to have a place for matins, and similarly for the other hours of prayer. Thus, in order to keep the people occupied, services and hymns were celebrated continuously. Clearly it was impossible for the bishop to preside around the clock, so services would begin without the bishop, who would then make an entrance some time later. This practice was imitated in many places, such that ever since the latter part of the fourth century the entrance of the bishop/clergy for vespers, Liturgy, etc., has moved from the opening of the service to some point later, for Holy Week and throughout the year!

Also noteworthy is that in the fourth century there developed a consensus that the full celebration of the Eucharist, always a joyful event, was inconsistent with the austerity of the fast. Instead, vespers with Communion was instituted on Wednesdays, Fridays and saints’ days,12 though Egeria declines to attest to the practice of presanctified Communion during Holy Week during the time of her visit.

The Studite Revisions: Ninth through Fifteenth Centuries

In the ninth century, two learned brothers at the Monastery of Studios in Constantinople—Theodore the Studite and Joseph the Studite, Archbishop of Thessalonica—created a work called the Triodion.13 Covering the period from three Sundays before the start of Lent through Pentecost, including, of course Holy Week, they compiled and composed original hymnography, seeking to bring a return to biblical roots, particularly the Psalms and the Old Testament.14 In doing so, the Studites furthered the earlier historicizing trends and nearly obliterated baptismal themes from Lent and Holy Week texts. Their emphasis was on commemorating salvation history and drawing out ethical and ascetical teachings.

Much of their material originated in Palestine in the sixth through eighth centuries, especially from the great Lavra of St. Sabas Monastery. They intended the Triodion for monastic communities. They had no catechumens. Even in the “world” by that time only infants remained to be baptized. Partly for this reason and partly because of the general influence monastics were gaining in the Church, especially in the area of spiritual direction, the monastic rites of the Triodion began replacing the cathedral rite in the twelfth century. By the fourteenth century, the process was complete.15

Within the basic structure of the Triodion, additional hymnography was inserted up until the fifteenth century—obviously an abrupt terminus at the fall of Constantinople. It is only at the end of the 14th and beginning of the 15th centuries, for example that the popular enkomia16 of Matins for Holy Saturday first appear.17

It must be noted that all printed editions of the Triodion are incomplete. They represent only a selection of the material in the manuscripts,

“and many of the unpublished texts are of a high standard artistically and spiritually.”18

Holy Week Services As Celebrated Today

Egeria testified to historicizing and emotional tendencies beginning in the fourth century. Not only has this trend continued within the Church from then up to the present, the Orthodox Church has also been influenced by humanistic movements in the Protestant and Roman Catholic Churches, particularly leanings toward the dramatic, intended to elicit sentimental responses of “feeling” in the faithful.

Nevertheless, the Church has always been conservative and doubly so when it comes to her lenten and Holy Week services. Thus, as we examine, ever so briefly, the various Holy Week rites, it should be noted that many of the differences we encounter between structures of the services for Lent/Holy Week and their usual order arise from this tendency toward archaism. It is not so much that a service has a special structure in Holy Week; rather, in Holy Week “we do it the old way.”19

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday

On the first three days of Holy Week, the full cycle of offices is prescribed, with distribution of Presanctified Gifts after vespers. One indication of the ancient order of these services is the instruction to offer incense with a katzion, a hand censer, instead of the modern censers on chains.

After his entry into Jerusalem, Christ spoke to the disciples about signs that would precede the Last Day (Mt. 24-25). Eschatological themes show up in the troparion of the Bridegroom and the exaposteilarion “I see thy bridal chamber…” at matins. The parables of the Ten Virgins and of the Talents pervade these three days.20 On Monday we also remember the innocent suffering of the Patriarch Joseph as a type of Christ’s. The barren fig tree which Jesus cursed serves as a reminder of coming judgment. Wednesday contrasts the agreement made by Judas with the Jewish authorities to repentance with tears of the sinful woman. The Triodion texts making it clear that Judas’ fall was not so much because of his betrayal as his despair of forgiveness.

Since we understand healing and forgiveness in a holistic manner, without a soul versus body dualism, the sacrament of Holy Unction is served in many parishes on Holy Wednesday evening. This practice provides an example of a continuing evolution, a practice which is not prescribed in the Triodion or typicon. In many parishes, this sacrament replaces celebration of Holy Thursday matins.

In parish churches today, in order to schedule the services to be more accessible to attendance by the faithful, they are often served “by anticipation.” For example, the typicon prescribes matins to be served at 1 a.m. This is, therefore, anticipated and the service started the evening before. This then pushes the other hours forward, such that vespers and the Presanctified Liturgy are served in the morning.


On this day we commemorate four historical events:

  1. Jesus washing his disciples’ feet;
  2. institution of the Eucharist;
  3. the agony in Gethsemane;
  4. betrayal by Judas.

A full eucharistic Liturgy of St. Basil the Great is served in combination with vespers. Repeated use of the hymn “Of thy mystical supper…” combines the themes of Holy Communion and Judas’ treachery. It is used even as the cheroubikon, the hymn that accompanies the transfer of the gifts.21 At this Liturgy the Holy Chrism is also consecrated in patriarchal cathedrals or their equivalents.

A foot-washing rite often follows the Divine Liturgy. Here the bishop or other proestamenos renders a dramatic re-enactment of Christ’s washing the feet of his disciples, usually twelve presbyters or deacons.


Three importants variants from the usual order of matins are found on Holy Friday, Holy Saturday and on the Feast itself. These exhibit a

“particularly pronounced dramatic character in which the symbolic aspect of the liturgical action is greatly emphasized.”22

This matins is a solemn service, with many extra hymns, in a variety of tones and twelve Gospel lessons, with lighted candles held by the faithful; yet it is interesting that the Great doxology is to be read rather than sung.23 The matins of Holy Friday clearly harks back to the Jerusalem practice of passion services celebrated at the locations where the events took place, as described in the twelve Gospel lessons which we read at this service.

After the fifth Gospel lesson and during the last of the fifteen antiphons of the service, we find a recent development in the rite: a procession with the Cross is made in Greek/Mediterranean churches. Having originated in Antioch, it was adopted in Constantinople in 1824. After the Cross is placed in the middle of the church, a figure of Christ is transfixed thereto with nails, then all venerate it.

The sufferings of Christ form the theme of the Holy Friday services: mockery, crown of thorns, scourging, nails, thirst, vinegar and gall, crying out , plus the confession of the good thief. It is vital to note, however, that passion is never separated from Resurrection, even in the darkest moments:

“We venerate thy Passion, O Christ: Show us also thy glorious Resurrection.”24

The Hours take on a special, fuller form on this day, called Royal Hours. First, Third, Sixth and Ninth hours of prayer each include a Prophecy, an Epistle and a Gospel Lesson.

We find more late, “dramatic” developments—not mentioned in the Triodion—in the vespers service. In the Greek/Mediterranean usage, at the conclusion of the Gospel lesson, the corpus of Christ on the Cross is taken down. In those churches which practice this custom, the vespers service itself has come to be known as “Un-nailing Vespers.”

Another, slightly older—yet still recent—development of the fifteenth or sixteenth century25 is a procession with the epitaphios26 during the aposticha, where it is carried around the church and deposited on a decorated bier in the center of the church.

The vespers on this day may be combined with the Divine Liturgy if the Feast of the Annunciation fall on this day.27 A Presanctified Liturgy was celebrated on Holy Friday up until at least the middle of the eleventh century. By 1200, however, it disappeared abruptly.28 It is interesting to note that while in the Byzantine practice the Presanctified on Holy Friday has dropped out, this is the only day of the year in which the Latin rite has retained the Presanctified Liturgy.


It is on the Sabbath, the “Day of Rest,” that truly no Liturgy is properly prescribed (the vesperal Liturgy now commonly celebrated on Saturday morning or afternoon being the original vigil and Liturgy of the Feast). This is the one Saturday of the year where the Eastern Church prescribes and permits fasting.

The matins of Holy Saturday begins like any other daily matins, up through “God is the Lord…” and a set of troparia. Then the Triodion prescribes kathisma 17 (Ps. 118 LXX) in three stases, with each verse followed by a special megalynarion in praise of the buried Christ. Little litanies separate the stases. Next there follow the resurrectional troparia known as the evlogetaria. Daily matins then continues except that there is no magnificat on the ninth ode of the canon. At the Trisagion at the end of the Great Doxology, since the 15th/16th century introduction of a procession with the epitaphios at “Un-nailing Vespers,” we process around the outside of the church with the epitaphios, passing under it as we re-enter the church. Then we have the troparion of Holy Saturday, a prokeimenon, and a reading from the Prophecy of Ezekiel. Then we sing another prokeimenon, followed by an Epistle lesson, Alleluia as at the Liturgy, and a Gospel lesson. Finally, we have litanies and a conclusion like that of Sunday matins.29

At this unique matins service, we find a

constantly rising intensity of the musical tension curve: the service begins with the somber fifth tone, becoming somewhat more joyful in the second stasis, and still brighter during the third stasis, sung in the festive third tone. The first high point is reached with the resurrectional troparia, while the second high point occurs during the Great Doxology, especially in the solemn trisagion during the procession. The heightened mood continues through the Scripture readings and to the conclusion of the service.30

The order of the service given above is that found in the Triodion. Evolution of this service continues, however, such that modern Greek/Mediterranean practice is to delay the kathisma with its megalynaria until later in the service, to after the canon. Instead of being up front in the service, this relocation follows a general trend in the Greek church of moving “high points” to later in the services, so that a greater number of the people who arrive habitually late to services will be able to be in attendance.31

While Christ has descended to Hades,32 the theme of the enkomia33

“is watchful expectation rather than mourning. God observes a Sabbath rest in the tomb, while we await his Resurrection, bringing new life and recreating the world.”34


Historicizing and dramatic elements have shaped our Holy Week observance into the majestic Byzantine rites which we know today. The process began in the first century and continues down to our own age. Regretfully, however, many of our people turn out for these beautiful services and are not seen the rest of the year. The services have become such that people want to observe them as they would a beautiful opera, in small doses, but they fail to connect the paschal events with their own lives. The celebration has become so much a commemoration of something so long ago, that it is time we begin sending the pendulum back on this trend and find ways to recover the eschatological dimensions of Pascha. People need to recover the sense of something happening to them, for which they need to prepare, something that sets them apart from the rest of mankind, something that affects the way they live and relate to one another.

Theodore and the Studites devised the Triodion precisely because the form of the celebration at the time, with its emphasis on baptism, failed to connect to a society where there were no adult catechumens. They, therefore, transformed Lent and Holy Week to a time of repentance and renewal of one’s baptismal commitment. Now, however, people are ignorant of the Triodion, and the fast is viewed as no more than a set of external dietary rules. Following the example of these ninth century saints, we, in our own time must strive to find ways to bring back a personal connection to the historical events.

A Selected Bibliography

Deiss, Lucien. Springtime of the Liturgy: Liturgical Texts of the First Four Centuries. Tr. Matthew J. O’Connell. Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1979.

The Didache. Tr. and annotated by James A. Kleist. In Vol. 6 of Ancient Christian Writers. Johannes Quasten and Joseph C. Plumpe, eds. New York: Newman Press, 1948.

Dix, Dom Gregory. The Shape of the Liturgy. 2nd ed. London: Adam and Charles Black, 1945.

Egeria. Diary of a Pilgrimage. Tr. and annotated by George E. Gingras. Vol. 38 of Ancient Christian Writers. Johannes Quasten, Walter J. Burghardt and Thomas Comerford Lawler, eds. New York: Newman Press, 1970.

Kavanagh, Aidan. The Shape of Baptism: The Rite of Christian Initiation. New York: Pueblo Publishing Company, 1978.

Mary, Mother and Kallistos Ware, trs. The Lenten Triodion. London: Faber and Faber, 1984.

Nassar, Seraphim. Divine Prayers and Services of the Catholic Orthodox Church of Christ. 3rd ed. Englewood, New Jersey: Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, 1979.

Papadeas, George L. Greek Orthodox Holy Week and Easter Services. Greek and English. Published by the author, 1977 ed.

Schmemann, Alexander. Great Lent. Revised ed. Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1974.

________. Of Water and the Spirit: A Liturgical Study of Baptism. Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1974.

Schulz, Hans-Joachim. The Byzantine Liturgy. Tr. Matthew J. O’Connell. New York: Pueblo Publishing Company, 1986.

Taft, Robert. Beyond East and West: Problems in Liturgical Understanding. Washington D.C.: The Pastoral Press, 1984.

Triodion. Greek. New, expanded ed. Athens: Phos (no date).

Vaporis, Nomikos Michael. The Services for Holy Week and Easter. Brookline, Massachusetts: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1993.

Uspensky, Nicholas. Evening Worship in the Orthodox Church. Tr. and ed. Paul Lazor. Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1985.

von Gardner, Johann. Orthodox Worship and Hymnography. Vol. 1 of Russian Church Singing. Tr. Vladimir Morosan. Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1980.


1 The term “Holy Week,” attested in Rome and the West by the fourth century, is equivalent to the “Great Week” used in the East from the same time. Egeria makes note of the difference in terms, Diary of a Pilgrimage, 30.

2 Known as “Lent” in the English-speaking world, from the Old English lencten, meaning spring.

3 Aidan Kavanagh, The Shape of Baptism: The Rite of Christian Initiation (New York: Pueblo Publishing Company, 1978), pp. 23ff.

4 Cf. Rom. 6.1-14, where St. Paul interweaves both of these dimensions.

5 Justin, Aplology, quoted in Kavanagh, p. 43. See also: Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, who cites Irenaeus; Tertullian, On the Fasts, Hippolytus; Apostolic Tradition.

6 Kallistos Ware, “The Meaning of the Great Fast,” The Lenten Triodion, tr. Mother Mary and Kallistos Ware (London: Faber and Faber, 1984), p. 29.

7 Kavanagh, p. 61, quoting from the Gelasian Sacramentary.

8 Robert Taft, Beyond East and West: Problems in Liturgical Understanding (Washington, D.C.: The Pastoral Press, 1984), pp. 23-24.

9 Ware, p. 30.

10 Dom Gregory Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy, 2nd ed. (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1945), p. 348.

11 P. 348.

12 Council of Laodicea, canon 49. Trullo, canon 52, made an exception for the Annunciation, however, when it came to be celebrated on March 25. Ware, p. 49, n. 58.

13 So called because they reduced the number of biblical odes used in canons for weekday matins to just three from the usual nine. Later manuscript copies and printed editions of the Triodion split the work into two volumes: the Lenten Triodion and the Pentecost Triodion, or even simply Triodion and Pentecostarion.

14 Ware, pp. 40f. In practice, though the new hymnography was scripturally based, it superseded and displaced actual scriptural texts from the services.

15 Ware, p. 43.

16 What are sometimes called “Lamentations” in English, in a flagrant mistranslation.

17 Ware, p. 42.

18 Ware, pp. 42f. Note further that the English edition of the Triodion published by Faber and Faber does not include any of the Pentecost volume. It gives full texts only for the first week of Lent and for Lazarus Saturday through Holy Week. Otherwise it gives little more than Sunday texts, and even there it includes neither the syanaxaria for the Sundays and for Holy Week nor the synodikon for the Sunday of Orthodoxy. Some of these additional texts are available in mimeograph form and paper bound from the Monastery of the Veil of the Mother of God, Bussy-en-Othe, France.

19 As we discuss the services for the six days of Holy Week, we face the question, “To which day does vespers belong? Given that the day begins at sunset, does the service which bridges two days belong to the day that is closing or to the one that is beginning?” Orthodox service books have not always been very consistent here. We will include vespers with the old day, to avoid difficulty with Divine Liturgies, which may be delayed and combined with vespers on fast days, so as not to break the fast early with the joy of the Bridegroom’s presence in the Eucharist. Besides the Presanctified Liturgies, the Liturgy on Holy Thursday and possibly for the Annunciation are cases in point.

20 Ware, pp. 59f.

21 The cherubic hymn was introduced into the order of the Liturgy by the Emperor Justinian in 573 or 574. For the Liturgy of St. Basil, the proper, original cheroubikon is “Let all mortal flesh keep silence…”, borrowed from the Liturgy of St. James and now retained only on Holy Saturday. See Hans-Joachim Schulz, The Byzantine Liturgy, tr. Matthew J. O’Connell (New York: Pueblo Publishing Company, 1986), pp. 35-37.

22 Johann von Gardner, Orthodox Worship and Hymnography, vol 1 of Russian Church Singing, tr. Vladimir Morosan (Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1980), p. 84.

23 von Gardner, p. 87.

24 Ware, p. 61.

25 Ware, p. 62.

26 A specially painted or embroidered shroud. At one point this was the antimension from the holy table.

27 For those churches which observe fixed feasts according to the Gregorian calendar and Pascha according to the Julian calendar, the Annunciation will always fall before Lazarus Saturday. Despite directions in the typicon and Triodion that the Annunciation is always to be celebrated on the 25th of March, Greek practice in this century has delayed observance of the Annunciation to Bright Monday if it should fall anywhere between Holy Thursday and Pascha.

28 Ware, p. 62, n. 81.

29 This is basically a resurrectional-type matins, and the Greek/Mediterranean custom calls for the clergy to be fully vested in bright, gold vestments.

30 von Gardner, p. 88.

31 As in moving the matins Gospel for Sundays and feast days to between the 8th and 9th odes of the canon.

32 Not hell!

33 Praises, not lamentations!

34 Ware, pp. 61f.


A Letter From One Of ‘The Folks’


I have learned over the years that the best feedback about preaching comes from ‘the folks’ – the ones who actually listen (not just hear). If you are not used to getting feedback from laypeople, other than an occasional ‘attaboy’ on Sundays, I strongly recommend it. Their insights cut right to the bone of what we are trying to do. They are great allies, and I treasure every opportunity to examine information like this.

This letter came to us earlier this year in anticipation of the Paschal Vigil. Every priest in the world can take some honey from this flower. To the author, Magdalena, I can only say – Thank you for taking the time to help us preach better. May God grant you your heart’s desire for doing so.

Dear Father,

May I have your blessing?

Personally, I think it’s pretty nice of the Church to provide you with a sermon for Pascha. Let’s face it, by the time we get to the sermon, we’ve been on our feet for hours, you’ve been on your feet for days, and now you don’t have to write a new sermon.

It’s nice for us parishioners as well. Listening to the Paschal Sermon of St. John Chrysostom is a beloved tradition, hearing words that have echoed down through the centuries. We understand why St. John was called “Golden-Tongue” after hearing the simplicity and complexity in a mere 500 words.

With loving regard for the priests that have served my parish over many years, let me say that the best rendition of this sermon was not in a church, but in a garage, during a Pascha party held by a local Greek priest. Stuffed with lamb, giddy with exhaustion and joy, I heard the priest and his beloved parishioners give and respond to St. John’s amazing words. Stomping! Shouting! Exhilaration! This was what it was meant to be!

It’s coming up again. Lent is here and we approach the Feast of Feast with renewed love for our Savior, care for our parish and hopefully, more repentance in our souls. You’re faced with the challenge of presenting this great sermon. Let me offer a few humble but serious suggestions from the left side back of what we in the front of the altar want to see.

1. A little excitement, please.

St. John wasn’t known as Golden Tongue simply for what he wrote. Most of the people who heard his first presentation probably couldn’t read. It was what he said and how he said it that made it so powerful. Even in a language I don’t understand, a well-read version of the sermon is delightful because it expresses JOY. Look at this sermon on YouTube: from St. Nicholas Church in Red Bank, New Jersey. I haven’t a clue what he’s saying but I can tell from the expressive way the priest is reading that this is no funeral dirge, this is no ordinary talk – this is important. This is exciting. This is God we’re talking about!

We’re all tired, but some vocal variety will help. I could tell you what words to stress, how to raise and lower your voice, when to speed up and when to slow down – but really? Do you need me to do that? This sermon is made not for silent reading but for a vocal presentation.

2. What’s the point?

St. John made it simple. It doesn’t matter when we come. It doesn’t matter if we fasted. All that matters is that Christ rose from the dead! Hell is destroyed and we have eternal life! This is the Gospel, the Good News! Please don’t mumble. Please don’t whisper. Please, don’t make it sound like you’re reading an academic paper. Read it like you believe every single word! Please, don’t edit, don’t add to it. You don’t have to! The table is full-laden! Would you steal from the feast? Everything is there!

3. We’re part of this too.

There will be plenty of people who disagree because they didn’t grow up with the traditions of the Greeks or the (fill in the blank). But there are great little “t” traditions (customs) that allow the parishioners to participate in this sermon. Please, don’t tell us to sit down – this sermon is traditionally received with the parish standing. In the sermon when the priest reads “Christ is risen!” why shouldn’t we get to answer “Indeed He is risen” in response? Crying out “Embittered!” – like many of the Greeks call out – gives us a chance to shout the victory of Christ over death and hell. Encouraging your parish to participate even in one way may feel awkward – but only once, I promise. Next time, it will be a cherished and beloved tradition of your parish.

4. We don’t need it explained to us.

Even if there’s a first time visitor who’s wandered unaware into our festal services, the Paschal sermon does not need any help. Yes, there are plenty of references to the Gospel teachings of Christ. St. Paul is liberally quoted.

  • The hours stated in the sermon don’t match up with our current method of telling time – but everyone will understand anyway.
  • The eleventh hour isn’t an unknown to the average American.
  • A guest might not understand the Great Fast – but this is not the time to explain it.
  • “Embittered” is not an archaic word that no one understands – even if it’s a new word that someone had never heard, in context, they’ll figure it out. And if they don’t, let it be something they seek to learn by returning.

Let them be drawn by the love they see. We can teach the theology of Christ as the first-born of the dead during the feasting afterward.

If you absolutely, positively feel that you must explain it, consider this: When interpreting a famous speech, remember why it’s famous. We remember the Gettysburg Address. We may not understand it, but would anyone consider interrupting those magnificent words to clarify Lincoln’s thoughts? Successful interpreters will explain the difficult concepts before giving the speech so the audience, now educated, can understand and appreciate the rolling power of that speech.

This sermon is no different. If you feel compelled to expound, do it before St. John’s sermon is read, and keep it super short. Then please read the whole thing without interruption.

I hope you have a joyous Pascha, Father. Take advantage of this chance for you to rest and enjoy the beauty of St. John’s Paschal Sermon along with the rest of us.

In Christ,



Sermon On Thomas Sunday

by St. John of Kronstadt

Our righteous father John of Kronstadt was an archpriest of the Russian Orthodox Church. Born in 1829, from 1855, he served as a priest in St. Andrew’s cathedral in Kronstadt. Here, he greatly committed himself to charity, especially for those who were remote from the church, and traveled extensively throughout the Russian empire. He was already greatly venerated at the time he died. His feast days are commemorated on December 20 and October 19.

Christ is Risen!

Beloved brothers, so Bright Week has passed and taken with it our deeds to the throne of the Heavenly Master and Judge: there, brothers, there are our deeds now. I say this in order to frighten with the fear of the heavenly judgment those who unworthily, not Christian-like, spent the feast of the bright Resurrection of Christ and to comfort those who spent it with temperance and spiritual joy. Continue reading Sermon On Thomas Sunday