Christ is Risen!
“Let all creation celebrate the rising of Christ”
The bright night of Pascha has finally arrived. The priest has put on his most splendid and bright vestments, the Resurrection icon in the Church has been decorated with flowers, altar boys are holding candles, censors and banners. Literally thousands of people have come Church dressed in their finest clothes, holding candles and waiting for the priest to announce the resurrection of Christ. Now everything is dark and silent.
The priest suddenly comes out inviting all to come and receive the true light who is Christ. The priest then makes his way to the front of the church where he will sing along with the choir: “Christ is Risen from the dead, by death trampling upon death and on those in the tombs bestowing life”.
And all of a sudden everything is flooded with light and bursting with joy. The faithful greet each other saying “Christ is Risen” “Truly He is risen”! In fact this affirmation that “Christ is Risen” contains the entire essence of the Christian faith.
During this explosion of resurrection joy, where night literally becomes brighter than day, you might ask yourself:
“So what! …what has this event, which took place nearly two thousand years ago have to do with me? What does this event really mean? What does it mean to celebrate Holy Pascha in a world filled with so much suffering, hatred, triviality, war and hunger and death? What does it all mean when we sing “by death trampling upon death” when death is all around us and will surely come to us as well, despite the fact that in our day to day hurry we forget the absolute certainty of death?”
Are we simply kidding ourselves when we come together on this radiant and triumphant night of Pascha … are we momentarily escaping from reality, taking a spiritual drinking binge which sooner or later will bring us face to face with our sober routine in life, that same grey and even apparent inevitability of death and non-existence? Is this all a fabrication, a mirage to delude us from reality? Does the night end only to find ourselves coming back to earth to re-enter our normal state of affairs where nothing has changed?
One possible answer to all these questions is that it is not possible for this inexplicable joy which has gladdened the hearts of people for so many centuries to be all a fabrication. The saints of our church have experienced and reflected upon this joy and have articulated it for our benefit so we too can experience the beauty of living with the risen Lord. Being created in the image and likeness of God (Gen 2:16) means that our whole being – both body and soul – will not find rest until it has experienced the light of the risen Lord. In fact when we realise we have been created to experience the living Christ and come to accept it, we have begun to experience Heaven right down here on earth. Sadly however, when we realise this truth of being created in the image and likeness of God and do not accept it, this is our hell.
Like the saints of our church, we too have to leave ourselves open, and allow room for God to enter within us. Then we too we will be filled with a joy that is so utterly independent from anything in this world. Our soul and heart thirsts passionately for this but too often cold reason seems to take over and rule us. I think that if we search the deepest recesses of our conscience we will realise that there is more to life than what we simply see around us. The good news is that Christ is alive today and can also visit us, illumine and sanctify us, only if we allow Him. In the gospel of St John, Christ says “I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to you” (John 14:18). We too can experience the joy and thrill of meeting Christ by feeling His presence in prayer, in the Church and in the Sacraments (especially in Holy Communion). Jesus says that He loves and shows Himself to anybody who loves Him (cf. John 14:21).
We have to allow the Church to take us back to the events of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection so that we too may experience what the first Christians saw in the first century. We too should cry at the Cross and experience everything that occurred nearly two thousands years ago. On Holy Saturday, when Christ is in the tomb, we should feel the excitement and hope that the first Christians felt knowing that Christ would be victorious over death. The entire celebration is an invitation to sing with the Church:
This is the day of the Resurrection
Let us be illumined by this celebration
Let us embrace each other,
Let us call “brothers and sisters” even those who hate us
And forgive all by the Resurrection
And so let us cry: Christ is Risen from the dead,
by death trampling on death
and on those in the tombs bestowing life!
Dr Philip Kariatlis
Academic Director and Senior Lecturer in Theology,
St Andrew’s Greek Orthodox Theological College
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia