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Doru Costache - From Darkness to Resurrection

Doru Costache - From Darkness to Resurrection

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Published by Doru Costache
an attempt to decipher the meaning of paschal rituals between Holy Friday (Thursday night) and Easter, with emphasis on the re-enacting dimension of ritual
an attempt to decipher the meaning of paschal rituals between Holy Friday (Thursday night) and Easter, with emphasis on the re-enacting dimension of ritual

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Published by: Doru Costache on Apr 22, 2008
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11/28/2012

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[Published in
The Greek-Australian Vema
(April 2008) 10]
From Darkness to Resurrection and Beyond: A Glimpse of the Paschal Mystery
Revd Dr Doru Costache
According to our tradition and in line with an archetypal religious perception, ritual (inspite of its misunderstandings in modern times) is not just a spectacularly intricate formof remembering past events, a mere memorial of the divine economy; ritual is, originallyand essentially, the most appropriate way of experiencing the existential substance offaith. As such, recapitulating the living dimension of faith through the commemorationof the salvific events, ritual on the one hand recalls, or rather re-enacts, the past eventsand on the other transports and transforms the participants. Furthermore, ritualrepresents a mystical vehicle, a way of transferring the celebrating community
illotempore
(‘to those times’), beyond the immediacy of the present and the past of theoriginal events, to the eschatological realities foreshadowed, signified and anticipated bythose events. In other words, ritual builds a bridge over the abysses of history, creating aknot between present times, the remembered events and the Kingdom to come. As such,ritual produces the simultaneous metamorphosis of the participants into witnesses ofthe salvific events and partakers of eternal life, contributing to the renewal of God’speople.This complex function of ritual is abundantly evidenced throughout the Great Week ofthe Lord’s Passion, which begins with the Saturday of Lazarus (as suggested by the
apolytikion
 , or dismissal hymn, of the feast) to end with the Holy Saturday, when wecelebrate the glorious descent of Christ to Hades. It is a week that encapsulates thewhole message of the New Testament by way of a dramatic Christological narrative –punctuated by powerful eschatological suggestions –, a week which actually transcendsthe cursory seven day pattern by paradoxically comprising the eight days between thetwo mentioned Saturdays. The same way, and symmetrically, the Bright Week – anexplosive manifestation of the
eschaton
(fulfilment) here and now, in the midst of God’speople – comprises the eight days between the Sunday of Pascha and that of the
 Antipascha
(in ancient times, the ‘Higher Sunday’).In the following, however, I will focus not on this symbolically symmetric architecture,choosing rather to refer to the mystical meaning, existential significance andtransformative grace of the rituals between Holy Friday and the Pascha.
Orthros
(Matins) of Holy Friday
(Thursday night)
 
The service of the twelve gospel readings guide us methodically toward the apex of the
theodrama
of the Logos incarnated and crucified for our salvation. The texts, starting withthe first (prefacing the last stages of the journey through revealing the accomplishmentof the New Covenant and depicting the serenity of Jesus facing death), represent anextremely dense narrative and indeed the vehicle of our transportation back to thehistorical setting of the events. We are no longer, therefore, mere listeners of a story.Hearing the sacred account, we become participants in the events that happen this veryday: σήµερον κρεµᾶται ἐπὶ ξύλου, ὁ ἐν ὕδασι τὴν γὴν κρεµάσας,
today is hanged on atree the one who hung the earth upon the waters…
 The story’s threads absorb us progressively to finally place us among the disciples at themystical supper and the last sermon, then making us witnesses of the betrayal, thedisciples’ cowardice, the unjust condemnation and humiliating death of the Lord. Theclimax of the experience is reached with the presentation of the crucified Christ in themiddle of the church as if on Golgotha, acknowledged and worshipped by the faithful asCreator God and Lord of glory. In light of the re-enacting function of ritual, however,Christ stands alone once again – an embodied call to repentance – on the cross,immolated for our salvation. He is again rejected, despised and mocked, although not byshouting crowds but by our sins and failures. Yet, celebrating full of reverence thetremendous mystery of divine humility, we evade the tragic choreography of irrationalhate: it is as if we are ready to climb up on the cross together with the humble Lord ofglory – like all the martyrs of old – to realise ‘the fullness of him who fills all in all’(Ephesians 1:23).
Orthros
(Matins) of Holy Saturday
(Friday night)The Lordly burial service, the lamentation, finds us crucified with Christ. Paradoxically,we are once again active witnesses of the events, participants in their development andobjects of a mysterious transformation. And indeed we are the beneficiaries of the Lord’simmaculate Passion; for us has he immersed into the waters of our transience and death;we are those to whom he descends to bring salvation. Witnessing the agony of the Lord,his death and interment, we contemplate both the all-encompassing salvific love of theCrucified one and the profound misery of a humanity failing to acknowledge its Lord.Now, we are the faithful disciples accompanying the Lord to the tomb, for this is themeaning of the lamentation and procession: ἡ ζωὴ ἐν τάφῳ, κατετέθης Χριστέ,
 you whoare the life, O Christ, were laid in a tomb
From another viewpoint, it is as if we perform our own memorial service together withthat of Christ, while still travelling together with him toward the tomb. Being put todeath every day (cf. Romans 8:36) for the name of the Lord (cf. Matthew 5:11), we arenow – literally – interred together with him, willingly and compassionately. This is infact the significance of us passing ritually under the holy
epitaphion
(a large cloth on
 
which is embroidered or painted the image of Christ’s preparation for burial), the verysymbol of Jesus’ tomb and reminder of the day when – in the baptismal waters – wedied to the old ways to walk the path of a renewed life (see Romans 6:3-4). The tombremains the ultimate testimony of the entire drama and its unexpected end, theglorification of the Crucified one and of us, his faithful.The
epitaphion
being now laid on the altar’s holy table, there it will rest – asunquestionable witness of Christ’s resurrection this time – till the eve of the deifyingascent of the Lord. Made transparent by the resurrection, the tomb becomes a window tothe promised Kingdom to come; for the moment, however, it offers no hope.
Holy Pascha
After the Saturday of the Lord’s descent to Hades – where he found also us (this is whyon this Saturday we do not eat, since the dead no longer need food), enslaved by oursinfulness –, we meet again in the lightless church, a desolating scene of death anddefeat.
…We were hoping that it was he who was going to redeem Israel…
(Luke 24:21).Living the fear and hopelessness of the old Israel (see Hebrews 2:15), it is as if we are notyet God’s people, a nation of trust, joy and light (see 1 Peter 2:9). Still dominated by theprince of darkness, we are terrified by the darkness of ‘this world’. The church is now animage of our own tomb and the tomb has no comfort yet to bring us. It is also, andproperly, the cave where the Lord was interred and us with him: in the darkness of thetomb there is no horizon, no zenith, no escape… We remain silent and disoriented, sincethere is no sign yet of a victory; the only thing that keeps us safe, above all insecurity, isthe power of prayer.Suddenly, however, the joyful light emerges in the tomb and rapidly spreads from theLord of glory (the Light which shines in the dark) toward us. We are now resurrected byhim and together with him!
…Trampling down death by death and to those in the tombsbestowing life…
We are witnesses and participants, the righteous – sanctified by his grace– brought to the renewed life (cf. Matthew 27:51-3). Neither the soldiers have seen himfirst nor the myrrh-bearing women. It is us who have, since we are those being raised
today
together with him, a reality witnessed and poetically proclaimed by St JohnDamascene, the author of the divine
Paschal Canon
:Ἀναστάσεως ἡµέρα / The day of resurrection,λαµπρυνθῶµεν λαοί, / let us be radiant, O peoples!Πάσχα Κυρίου, Πάσχα, / Pascha, the Lord’s Pascha;ἐκ γὰρ θανάτου πρὸς ζωήν, / for from death to life,καὶ ἐκ γῆς πρὸς οὐρανόν, / and from earth to heaven,Χριστὸς ὁ Θεός, ἡµᾶς διεβίβασεν, / Christ God has brought us,ἐπινίκιον ἄδοντας. / those chanting the hymn of victory.

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