Pascha is the highlight of my year. I love all the feasts, but Holy Week, when entered into fully, comes as near to heaven for me as I think something here can. As an Orthodox I have been blessed in being a member of three parishes: first St. Nicholas Russian in Bethlehem, PA; from there I went with my Fr. confessor, the Rev. Thomas Edwards, to a wonderful little parish in Glen Gardner, NJ, called St. Gregory Palamas; and upon Fr. Tom’s retirement from the pastorate (though he still has charge over my wayward soul), I took up life at an Antiochian parish about ten minutes from my house, St. Paul’s, Emmaus, PA. Each place was different in regard to the particulars of Holy Week services, and each has its positives (I don’t know of anything about any of them that I would say is a negative). But in all of them I found the reality that “Through the cross joy has come into the world.” It is not that Lent is a horrible time: it can be tedious as regards the fasting, but I always love the services, especially the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts. And I love the renewed energy in emphasizing the life of prayer. But coming at last to Bright Week, and to the joy of the resurrection, we can begin to see why Lent has taken the form it has: it has nothing to do so much with penitence, even though this is part of what Lent is. It has instead to do with the anticipation of our salvation, which we see so marvelously on the Vesperal Liturgy of St. Basil on Saturday morning, and of course the great Pascha service on Saturday night into Sunday morning. The joy one feels during and after the service is almost tactical, and certainly palpable.
The laments of the Virgin sung on Friday night, and then again at the Nocturnes of the resurrection, are not merely laments for Christ, but laments for us, for our status as wallowing in death, creatures who desire not life but death, and who are separated from the Life in God. Thus, while we can see why the Virgin bewails her Son, she bewails us fallen children of Adam and Even as well. In her lamentations, though, is also the promise of our future glory: “Do not lament Me of my mother, seeing me in the tomb, the Son conceived in the womb without seed, for I shall arise. and be glorified; and as God I shall unceasingly exalt all those who extol thee in faith and love.”In this lament, we see also the promise or life eternal, and the tacit proclamation of the resurrection. You can see it in this video, taken at a service as one would find in the Slavonic tradition. Most Greek and Syrian churches would already have the icon of Christ entombed on the altar. But that is but a point of emphasis, and one I but slightly missed in last night’s service at St. Paul’s.
The more important point is that Christ has brought an end to lamentations, and in their place, through his cross, joy, wild joy.
It is with this that we come the procession. Leaving our laments and coming anew to the grave of Christ, where the priest intones the 24th Psalm, and with the opening of the door we here the angelic cry: “He is not hear, but He is Risen.” Yes, Christ is risen indeed, and through his passion upon the cross, joy has come into the world.