SUNDAY, APRIL 16, 2006 12:00 AM
4th-century homily best exemplifies Pascha
BY FR. JOHN PARKER
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the last of four columns by Fr. John Parker leading up to Easter.
At first, all is quiet, dark. The church is lighted nearly entirely by candlelight. Stillness and solemnity fill the air. The faithful gather for peaceful prayers and hymns, which mount with joy. Robed in his brightest vestments, the priest enters into the midst of the congregation and chants boldly and beautifully, "Thy resurrection, O Christ our Savior, the angels in heaven sing. Enable us on Earth, to glorify Thee in purity of heart!" All then go in procession around the church, singing the same all the while.
It is now nearly midnight - Holy Saturday is turning into Pascha Sunday. We announce the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead with joyful and fervent singing, "Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!"
The celebrant opens the doors of the church, and all enter into the brightness of the paschal celebration. The lights are all on. Bells are ringing. Once sleepy children have come back to life and sing along with youthful gladness.
We then celebrate the morning service followed immediately by the Divine Liturgy (Holy Communion). The services are quick, but not rushed. They are voluminous, but not loud. The wonder of the feast is upon us. Christ is risen! Truly he is risen!
And we don't wait until Sunday afternoon for our parties. Immediately after the service, the priest blesses dozens of baskets, each of which is filled with the rich foods from which we have fasted for the past 40 days: meats and cheeses from around the world. Breads that are artfully made. Ruby-red eggs.
And with the blessing, we then feast well into the night, going home at 2:30 or 3 a.m. to get a few hours sleep before our next service, which is at noon Sunday. This is Pascha (this year on April 22/23) in the Orthodox Church.
If the reader has been keeping up with these columns, he'll remember that this marvel follows a full eight days of daily and more-than-daily services in preparation. We have walked with Christ into Jerusalem and up onto Golgotha, and now we are celebrating his empty tomb.
The main question pastors ask themselves at this holy juncture is, "What do I preach?" This is the easiest question in the world for Orthodox priests on this day, because we all offer the same homily every year, decade after decade, century after century. It was preached best in the fourth century, and so St. John Chrysostom's homily has become the sermon in every Orthodox Church in the world on Pascha.
With the joy of the feast, I offer it here to you today, greeting you with the Paschal greeting, Christ is risen!
Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom (circa 400):
"Is there anyone who is a devout lover of God? Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival! Is there anyone who is a grateful servant? Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord! Are there any weary with fasting? Let them now receive their wages!
"If any have toiled from the first hour, let them receive their due reward. If any have come after the third hour, let him with gratitude join in the Feast! And he that arrived after the sixth hour, let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss. And if any delayed until the ninth hour, let him not hesitate; but let him come too. And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour, let him not be afraid by reason of his delay. For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first. He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour, as well as to him that toiled from the first. To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows. He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor. The deed He honors and the intention He commends.
"Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord! First and last alike receive your reward; rich and poor, rejoice together! Sober and slothful, celebrate the day! You that have kept the fast, and you that have not, rejoice today for the Table is richly laden! Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one. Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith. Enjoy all the riches of His goodness! Let no one grieve at his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again; for forgiveness has risen from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free. He has destroyed it by enduring it. He destroyed Hades when He descended into it. He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.
"Isaiah foretold this when he said, 'You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below.' Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with. It was in an uproar because it is mocked. It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed. It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated. It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.
"Hell took a body, and discovered God. It took Earth, and encountered Heaven. It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see. O death, where is thy sting? O Hades, where is thy victory? Christ is risen, and you, O death, are annihilated! Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down! Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice! Christ is risen, and life is liberated! Christ is risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead; for Christ having risen from the dead, is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To Him be Glory and Dominion unto ages of ages. Amen!
Fr. John Parker is priest-in-charge of Holy Ascension Orthodox Church in I'On. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 881-5010.
This article was printed via the web on 4/16/2006 9:37:29 PM . This articleappeared in The Post and Courier and updated online at Charleston.net on Sunday, April 16, 2006.
Fr. John ParkerPriest-in-ChargeHoly Ascension Orthodox Churchwww.ocacharleston.org843-881-5010 parish and fax843-810-9350 cell