Beloved brothers and sisters,
CHRIST IS RISEN! TRULY HE IS RISEN! ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΑΝΕΣΤΗ! ΑΛΗΘΩΣ ΑΝΕΣΤΗ!
FROM THE DIVINE LITURGY OF SAINT JOHN CHRYSOSTOM
Having beheld the Resurrection of Christ, let us worship the Holy Lord Jesus, the Only Sinless One. We venerate Your Cross, O Christ, and Your Holy Resurrection we praise and glorify; for You are our God, we know no other; it is Your Name we invoke.
Come, all you faithful, let us worship Christ's Resurrection; for behold, through the Cross joy has come to all the world. Ever blessing the Lord, let us praise His Resurrection. For enduring the Cross for us, He destroyed death by death.
Shine, shine, new Jerusalem! For the Glory of the Lord has dawned over you. Dance now and be glad, Sion; as for you, pure one, rejoice Theotokos in the Resurrection of your Child.
O Divine, O Beloved, O Sweetest voice! You promised truly that You would be with us to the end of the age. With this pledge as the anchor of our hope, we rejoice.
Great and Most Holy Pascha, O Christ; Wisdom, Word and Power of God, grant us to partake of You more perfectly in the unwaning day of Your Kingdom.
THE TIME OF HOLY PASCHA
The liturgical season which is called the 'time of holy Pascha' begins on Holy and Great Saturday and ends on the eve of Pentecost. There are forty days between the Sunday of Pascha and the Thursday of the Holy Ascension, fifty days between Pascha and the Sunday of Pentecost, and six Sundays in this period of fifty days, not including the Sunday of Pascha.
The time of Pascha contains several special features of the holy services. The chief one is that at the beginning and end of each Divine Liturgy, the troparion of the Resurrection--'Christ is risen from the dead...'--is chanted. During the week that follows Holy Pascha, the doors of the iconostasion remain constantly open: in this way we symbolize the free access to the Holy of Holies that Jesus Christ, our Great High Priest, opened to us with His Precious Blood. The epitaphion remains on the holy Altar Table, so that the Divine Liturgies are celebrated on the icon of the Life-Giving Tomb of our Savior. One must neither fast, kneel nor prostrate oneself during the week of Pascha. Friday of this week is specially dedicated to the Holy Virgin, the 'Life-Giving Fountain', a reference to a tradition in Constantinople.
Pascha Week, in Greek, has a very beautiful name: "The Week of Renewal", also "Bright Week", which in fact suits the whole of the Paschal time. Jesus Christ wished to die and to Rise again at the threshold of Spring. In the same way that Christmas coincides with the victory of sunlight over darkness, when the days begin to lengthen, so Holy Pascha coincides with the renewal of nature (rebirth of nature or resurrection of nature), when grass and flowers appear, the universe itself is a symbol of spiritual realities. Springtime speaks to us--if we know how to interpret God's Creation--of inner renewal. There is a springtime of the soul. Holy Pascha, like springtime in nature, brings us a message of hope. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ tells us that we can be transformed. We need to feel the 'new creation' of the Paschal season, to which some sayings in Sacred Scripture apply very well:
'Purge out therefore the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, as you are unleavened. For even Christ Our Passover is Sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven...but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.'
'Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold all things are become new.' '...that like as Christ was raised from the dead...even so we also should walk in newness of life... that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.'
'As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that you may grow thereby.'
The two Sundays which follow Holy Pascha are dedicated to commemorating certain events that relate to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Second Sunday of the Paschal Season is called, in the Orthodox ecclesiastical calendar, the 'Sunday of Thomas'. As this designation indicates, the Church wants to draw our attention to the attitude of the holy Apostle Thomas on this Sunday, an attitude which was provisionally disbelieving, and then deeply believing. The event is told in the gospel which is read at the Divine Liturgy (St. John 20:19-31).
Our Lord Christ, in truth, does not blame Thomas. Moreover, the other disciples were no less to blame, for neither did they believe the Resurrection until they had seen the Risen Lord. Jesus allows for the fact that the human spirit needs credible grounds for belief before it can make the act of faith. It is right that we should know how to convince others that our faith, even if it goes beyond reason, is not, in itself unreasonable. Jesus proclaims the special blessedness of those who, without debate, believe as soon as they inwardly hear the word of the Lord, for they have recognize a unique and loved tone of voice in this world.
Today's holy Gospel also puts on guard against any presentation of the Christian message which seeks to eliminate the Cross and the crucifixion. The danger of such a falsification comes from two different sides. There are those who wish to soften and humanize Christ so that He becomes a mild and likable teacher of morals; the Mystery of the Cross seems too harsh to them, and unacceptable to the 'modern spirit.'
The third Sunday of the Paschal Season is called the 'Sunday of the Myrrh-bearing Women', or the 'Myrrhophores'. This Greek name means 'the spice-bearers'. It refers to the women who came to anoint Jesus' body in the tomb, and to whom the Resurrection was first announced. The episode is related in the gospel for the Divine Liturgy (St. Mark 15: 43-16-8), and the Church makes it the special object of our meditation for this Sunday.
The women disciples do not know how they will be able to get to the body of Jesus: "Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the tomb?" The holy Gospel makes it clear that it 'was very large'. Many of us might feel that the women's question applies to ourselves. For, in many souls, Jesus seems to be buried as if in a tomb. He seems to be inert, immobilized--even dead. He is covered by a heavy stone; the stone of sin, of ignorance, of indifference, the stone of bad habits that have accumulated over the years. It is possible we may desire to take away this stone and reach the Living Lord, but we do not have the strength, "Who shall roll us away the stone?'
The women's undertaking--humanly speaking--seems to have no hope of success. And yet, they have set out. Without knowing how they will be able to get into the tomb, they walk towards Him. In the same way, without knowing how the obstacle which may prevent us reaching our Savior can be removed, let us trust. We can make a first move: we can get up; we can set out. Let us walk towards Jesus Christ Who is separated from us by the heavy stone, and allow faith and hope to guide us. Amen.
With agape in Our Risen Lord Jesus Christ,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God