Of the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia,
CHRIST IS RISEN!
“The Angels in Heaven, O Christ our Saviour, sing of Thy Resurrection; enable also us on earth with pure hearts to glorify Thee.”
This hymn of the Church does not ‘belong to the Pascha service alone. It enters into the makeup of the Sunday service of the Sixth Tone and is sung in its prescribed place each time this service is sung at Saturday vespers. But who of the faithful children of the Orthodox Church does not know how majestically and in what a completely special form this hymn is proclaimed on the Radiant night of Christ’s Resurrection?
Before the very beginning of the procession and Easter Matins, with the altar still closed, the clergy sings this hymn; at the beginning, softly, as if from afar, and then all the more loudly and triumphantly sound the holy words, and at last – the Royal doors of the altar are opened, and the Easter Procession begins, in which the whole church takes part, processing with the sacred treasuries and banners as if to meet the Coming Conqueror of death and hell.. . .
The holy fathers of the Church teach us that this procession reminds us of how the holy myrrh-bearing women “at deep dawn” – “while it still was dark” – hastened to the Sepulchre of Christ, so as OIYW more to anoint with fragrant perfumes the body of their beloved Teacher and Lord. But at the same time, there is also an essential difference between our procession and the journey of the holy myrrh-bearers to the tomb. The holy women did not yet know of the resurrection of Christ the Saviour, and hastened to Him, as to One Dead, so as to show for the last time the signs of their reverence and devoted love. . . . But we go to Him as to Him Who has to arise as the Conqueror of Death, so as joyously and triumphantly to glorify Him Who arose and with Himself resurrects all!
This is why, by an ordinance of the Church which has a deep meaning, it is directed to serve the Nocturns of Great Saturday before the ‘beginning of the Easter procession and even before the hymn cited above is sung. At this Nocturns is glorified the Accomplisher of our Salvation, the Lord Jesus Christ, still reposing in the tomb. For it was to Him, as the One in the tomb, that the holy women hastened, having not yet heard the wonderfully joyful news of His resurrection – The procession approaches the Western doors of the church. But, they are closed – the procession stops before them, and there begins the most triumphant service in the whole Church year – the Radiant Paschal Matins.
But this multitude of praying people gathered at the church doors with candles in their hands, in the midst of the deep night, does it not remind us of the Saviour’s parable of how the wise virgins hastened with lamps in their hands to meet the Bridegroom? And at the same time, according to the deep thought of the wise Hierarch Philaret of Moscow, does it not also remind us that until the resurrection of Christ, mankind was forbidden entrance into the radiant palaces of the kingdom of heaven? Man-kind stands as if before the locked gates of paradise; “such it was until the resurrection of Christ, and such it would have been forever without the resurrection of Christ,” says the Great Hierarch.
The triumphant Paschal service begins. “Glory to the Consubstantial, Life-creating, and Undivided Trinity,” exclaims the priest. “Amen,” reply those gathered – and for the first time thunders, so as to ‘be ceaselessly repeated afterwards, the victory hymn of the Resurrection of Christ: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and on those in the tombs bestowing life. . . .” With the Holy Cross, three candles, and censer, the priest signs the shut doors – they open wide, and with the same victory hymn of the Resurrection, the procession pours into the Church – and now in the radiant, shining, and decorated church continue’ the Radiant Matins which began outside the church and in the dark of the night. . . .
But let us turn back, to the very moment when the Church offered the Lord the, prayer that He would enable us to glorify Him with a pure heart – as His holy angels sing Him in the heavens. Are we capable now to glorify the Risen Lord from the whole heart and whole soul – so that nothing would hinder US in being completely given over to the radiant joy of the great Feast?
Yes – once it was so! In the good old days, in Holy Russia. the feast of the Radiant Resurrection of Christ was celebrated as triumphantly as, perhaps, it was ever celebrated in any other land. The whole Russian people took this greatest triumph of our faith and hope namely as “the’ feast of feasts and triumph of triumphs,” and everywhere, in all the vast expanses of the Russian land, Orthodox people rejoiced over their Risen God and Saviour!
But now, alas, we see something else. . . . Of course, even now there are faithful Christian souls devoted to the Lord, who are given over completely to the heavenly joy of the Great Feast, forgetting all that is earthly and not thinking of the misfortunes of the present life. But are there many of them? Do not many of us submerge ourselves in earthly vanity, in the cares and anxieties of earthly life, so much that even on the radiant days of Easter our soul turns out to be incapable of tearing itself away, of freeing itself from these things which bind its way to glorify “with a pure heart” the Risen Originator of Life?
Yes, just as the sun, shining with all its strength, sometimes is hidden behind the clouds, and its rays do not pierce through the thick and dark cover of the clouds, so also the spiritual light, the light of the joy of the Greatest of our feasts, now turns out to be hidden from the children of earthly vanity, which blinds the man who gives himself wholly over to it. But this is not all. We cannot help but see how more and more the clouds are gathering on the civil and political horizons of contemporary mankind. With horror, we see how falsehood in all its forms – falsehood in the political sphere, falsehood in the sphere of cultural understandings and values, and the most frightful, falsehood – spiritual falsehood – with its poisonous adulterations replacing Divine Truth, as all this is becoming more and more like a powder keg which can explode any minute. We see all this – and our soul is filled with horror before the misfortunes coming upon us, already threatening us, and the heart cannot forget about all this and be given over to the joyous and radiant experiencing of Holy Pascha. . . .
But – let not our heart be troubled!‘. . . Let us remember again in these radiant days our great Righteous man, “poor Seraphim” – St. Seraphim of Sarov; let us remember the touching, encouraging detail of his life which tells us that this great Saint of the Russian land, not only during the radiant days of Pascha but throughout the whole year, every day, meeting with love the visitors who came to him, greeted them with the joyous Paschal greeting: “My joy – Christ is Risenl” And what truth, what power of the victory of Christ’s Resurrection over all the temptations and horrors of life sounded in these words on his holy lips! The Great Elder knew what he was saying! In his toilsome, ascetic life he victoriously endured such attacks of evil, and repelled such temptations of the enemy as the children of earthly vanity cannot imagine. And he well knew that not ‘by his own personal strength, but by the power of the crucified and Risen Lord he won the victory over the forces of evil. And therefore he was always filled with radiant paschal joy, and by this joy comforted, encouraged, and strengthened those who rushed to
him for help and consolation. . . .
May the Lord grant us also the grace in these great and radiant days to be communicants of His joy!
Honorable fathers and brethren, and our beloved flock in the Lord
-C H R I S T I S R I S E N !
+ Metropolitan Philaret