Great and Holy Pascha

Pascha-Chelsea

All of Holy Week has led to this moment. All of Lent. In fact, the whole life of the church orients itself around the Resurrection. We all feel the weight of it. And the joy. Barely contained, pressing against the borders, eager to erupt.

Elsewhere in the building each of us has left a basket of delights, indulgences we have not tasted since the beginning of Lent. We have salivated as we prepared them, tortured by the delectable scents. But all of this is ornament. A coda to what will happen among us in this sacred space tonight.

We begin with David’s confessional Psalm. “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy great mercy…” The washing. The making right. A worthy beginning. After several readings and prayers, the lights fade to black. The priest comes out of the altar with the lighted Paschal candle singing,

“Come ye, take light from the Light, that is never overtaken by night. Come, glorify Christ, risen from the dead.”

As we all join the song, deacons light their candles from the Paschal candle and we light our candles from theirs. Soon the temple glows and familiar faces are beatified by the glorious light and I wonder if this is how we always look to God.

We then commence the procession out of doors and around the church. We return to find the doors closed. Standing before the doors we hear the gospel reading from Mark that tells of the women who come to the tomb and find it empty. We pray. We sing the Paschal troparion “Christ is risen from the dead trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life,” vaulting our candles toward the night sky. Then the priest pounds on the closed door with the cross and says,

“Lift up your gates, O ye princes; and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting gates, and the King of glory shall enter in.”

To which a voice from within responds,

“Who is this King of glory?”

“The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in war!”

Three times this happens, and on the third the doors swing open and we enter in triumph. Then the celebration verily erupts. We sing songs of joy and remembrance and celebration. The priests run up and down the aisle carrying the Paschal candle and the censor with its beautiful bells and shouting “Christ is risen!” in multiple languages, to which we respond “He is risen indeed!”

This goes on for some time, yet no one is eager for it to end. Then we hear this wonderful benediction,

Today is the Day of Resurrection! Let us shine with the Feast! Let us embrace one another. Let us say, brethren! And because of the Resurrection, let us forgive all things to those who hate us, and in this wise exclaim: Christ is risen from the dead trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.

And seamlessly, as easy as breathing, we move right into the Divine Liturgy. The same Divine Liturgy we pray every Sunday. And yet, the light of Resurrection is so radiant, and recent, and real, that everything is illuminated and vivified by it. The songs and prayers, the bread and wine; Body and Blood, the one-ing of Eucharist.

“Christ is risen, and life reigns!”

Then, while the world sleeps, we feast into the night. And the Resurrection becomes a breathable, taste-able, shareable reality as we break bread (and eggs, and cheese, and “flesh meats”) together, and laugh, and remember who we are.

*Photo courtesy of Chelsea Beazley who is also one of the designers responsible for the exquisite floral artistry you see. Thanks, Chelsea!