[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  (in   spite  of  its  misunderstandings  in  modern  times)  is  not  just  a  spectacularly  intricate  form   of  remembering  past  events,  a  mere  memorial  of  the  divine  economy;  ritual  is,  originally   and  essentially,  the  most  appropriate  way  of  experiencing  the  existential  substance  of   faith.  As  such,  recapitulating  the  living  dimension  of  faith  through  the  commemoration   of  the  salvific  events,  ritual  on  the  one  hand  recalls,  or  rather  re-­‐‑enacts,  the  past  events   and  on  the  other  transports  and  transforms  the  participants.  Furthermore,  ritual   represents  a  mystical  vehicle,  a  way  of  transferring  the  celebrating  community  illo   tempore  (‘to  those  times’),  beyond  the  immediacy  of  the  present  and  the  past  of  the   original  events,  to  the  eschatological  realities  foreshadowed,  signified  and  anticipated  by   those  events.  In  other  words,  ritual  builds  a  bridge  over  the  abysses  of  history,  creating  a   knot  between  present  times,  the  remembered  events  and  the  Kingdom  to  come.  As  such,   ritual  produces  the  simultaneous  metamorphosis  of  the  participants  into  witnesses  of   the  salvific  events  and  partakers  of  eternal  life,  contributing  to  the  renewal  of  God’s   people.     This  complex  function  of  ritual  is  abundantly  evidenced  throughout  the  Great  Week  of   the  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  we   celebrate  the  glorious  descent  of  Christ  to  Hades.  It  is  a  week  that  encapsulates  the   whole  message  of  the  New  Testament  by  way  of  a  dramatic  Christological  narrative  –   punctuated  by  powerful  eschatological  suggestions  –,  a  week  which  actually  transcends   the  cursory  seven  day  pattern  by  paradoxically  comprising  the  eight  days  between  the   two  mentioned  Saturdays.  The  same  way,  and  symmetrically,  the  Bright  Week  –  an   explosive  manifestation  of  the  eschaton  (fulfilment)  here  and  now,  in  the  midst  of  God’s   people  –  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  and   transformative  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  with   the  first  (prefacing  the  last  stages  of  the  journey  through  revealing  the  accomplishment   of  the  New  Covenant  and  depicting  the  serenity  of  Jesus  facing  death),  represent  an   extremely  dense  narrative  and  indeed  the  vehicle  of  our  transportation  back  to  the   historical  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  very   day:  σήήµμερον  κρεµμᾶται  ἐπὶ  ξύύλου,  ὁ  ἐν  ὕδασι  τὴν  γὴν  κρεµμάάσας,  today  is  hanged  on  a   tree  the  one  who  hung  the  earth  upon  the  waters…       The  story’s  threads  absorb  us  progressively  to  finally  place  us  among  the  disciples  at  the   mystical  supper  and  the  last  sermon,  then  making  us  witnesses  of  the  betrayal,  the   disciples’  cowardice,  the  unjust  condemnation  and  humiliating  death  of  the  Lord.  The   climax  of  the  experience  is  reached  with  the  presentation  of  the  crucified  Christ  in  the   middle  of  the  church  as  if  on  Golgotha,  acknowledged  and  worshipped  by  the  faithful  as   Creator  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  by   shouting  crowds  but  by  our  sins  and  failures.  Yet,  celebrating  full  of  reverence  the   tremendous  mystery  of  divine  humility,  we  evade  the  tragic  choreography  of  irrational   hate:  it  is  as  if  we  are  ready  to  climb  up  on  the  cross  together  with  the  humble  Lord  of   glory  –  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  and   objects  of  a  mysterious  transformation.  And  indeed  we  are  the  beneficiaries  of  the  Lord’s   immaculate  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  the   Crucified  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  the   meaning  of  the  lamentation  and  procession:  ἡ  ζωὴ  ἐν  τάάφῳ,  κατετέέθης  Χριστέέ,  you  who   are  the  life,  O  Christ,  were  laid  in  a  tomb…       From  another  viewpoint,  it  is  as  if  we  perform  our  own  memorial  service  together  with   that  of  Christ,  while  still  travelling  together  with  him  toward  the  tomb.  Being  put  to   death  every  day  (cf.  Romans  8:36)  for  the  name  of  the  Lord  (cf.  Matthew  5:11),  we  are   now  –  literally  –  interred  together  with  him,  willingly  and  compassionately.  This  is  in   fact  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  very   symbol  of  Jesus’  tomb  and  reminder  of  the  day  when  –  in  the  baptismal  waters  –  we   died  to  the  old  ways  to  walk  the  path  of  a  renewed  life  (see  Romans  6:3-­‐‑4).  The  tomb   remains  the  ultimate  testimony  of  the  entire  drama  and  its  unexpected  end,  the   glorification  of  the  Crucified  one  and  of  us,  his  faithful.       The  epitaphion  being  now  laid  on  the  altar’s  holy  table,  there  it  will  rest  –  as   unquestionable  witness  of  Christ’s  resurrection  this  time  –  till  the  eve  of  the  deifying   ascent  of  the  Lord.  Made  transparent  by  the  resurrection,  the  tomb  becomes  a  window  to   the  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  why   on  this  Saturday  we  do  not  eat,  since  the  dead  no  longer  need  food),  enslaved  by  our   sinfulness  –,  we  meet  again  in  the  lightless  church,  a  desolating  scene  of  death  and   defeat.  …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  not   yet  God’s  people,  a  nation  of  trust,  joy  and  light  (see  1  Peter  2:9).  Still  dominated  by  the   prince  of  darkness,  we  are  terrified  by  the  darkness  of  ‘this  world’.  The  church  is  now  an   image  of  our  own  tomb  and  the  tomb  has  no  comfort  yet  to  bring  us.  It  is  also,  and   properly,  the  cave  where  the  Lord  was  interred  and  us  with  him:  in  the  darkness  of  the   tomb  there  is  no  horizon,  no  zenith,  no  escape…  We  remain  silent  and  disoriented,  since   there  is  no  sign  yet  of  a  victory;  the  only  thing  that  keeps  us  safe,  above  all  insecurity,  is   the  power  of  prayer.     Suddenly,  however,  the  joyful  light  emerges  in  the  tomb  and  rapidly  spreads  from  the   Lord  of  glory  (the  Light  which  shines  in  the  dark)  toward  us.  We  are  now  resurrected  by   him  and  together  with  him!  …Trampling  down  death  by  death  and  to  those  in  the  tombs   bestowing  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  him   first  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  John   Damascene,  the  author  of  the  divine  Paschal  Canon:     Ἀναστάάσεως  ἡµμέέρα  /  The  day  of  resurrection,   λαµμπρυνθῶµμεν  λαοίί,  /  let  us  be  radiant,  O  peoples!   Πάάσχα  Κυρίίου,  Πάάσχα,  /  Pascha,  the  Lord’s  Pascha;   ἐκ  γὰρ  θανάάτου  πρὸς  ζωήήν,  /  for  from  death  to  life,   καὶ  ἐκ  γῆς  πρὸς  οὐρανόόν,  /  and  from  earth  to  heaven,   Χριστὸς  ὁ  Θεόός,  ἡµμᾶς  διεβίίβασεν,  /  Christ  God  has  brought  us,   ἐπινίίκιον  ἄδοντας.  /  those  chanting  the  hymn  of  victory.  

  The  gospel  reading  of  the  liturgy  deciphers  this  mystery:  Christ  is  the  light  shining   triumphantly  in  the  darkness  (see  John  1:5),  transforming  those  who  believe  in  him  into   sons  and  daughters  of  God  (see  John  1:12-­‐‑3).     The  narrative  of  the  sorrowful  and  glorious  journey  of  Christ,  the  Lord  of  Glory,   becomes  in  the  framework  of  the  ritual  a  pretext  to  explore  our  own  spiritual  journey  as   God’s  people.  We  cannot  achieve  renewal  without  first  dying  mystically.  Therefore,   along  with  the  ritual  we  have  to  learn  to  die  to  our  old  habits  and  rhythms,  to  our  mind   corrupted  by  the  darkness  of  ignorance.  Only  in  this  way  are  we  ready  to  enter  the   paschal  week,  an  image  of  the  eighth  day,  announcing  the  unending  day  of  the   Kingdom  to  come  –  of  the  Kingdom  that  has  already  manifested  its  dawn  in  the  radiant   night  of  Pascha  and  in  the  glorious  day  of  ascension.  The  transformative  energy  of  this   radiance  will  pervade  the  entire  world  and  history  through  the  outpouring  of  the  Holy   Spirit  in  the  Sunday  of  Pentecost,  the  eighth  of  the  Pentikostarion.    

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