“The world was dark, and Someone brought in light and warmth. The world was sad because it had become a cemetery, and Someone said, “Death is no more.” This is what Christ did in this world. It was cold and sinful and cruel, and He came and said, “Rejoice!” This is the way Christ addressed His disciples. “Rejoice! Peace be with you!” Paschal joy is, therefore, the beginning of Christian experience.” (Schmemann)
Our Liturgical celebration of the Feast of Feasts, of the Great Day—Velykden’, reflects the mystery, wonder, and joy of the Resurrection. Our symbolic recollection of events in Jerusalem so long ago gives us the opportunity to enter more deeply into the meaning of our life today—in our current time and place.
Our services are magnificent, and recalling their purpose enriches their beauty and effect on us, personally and as a community of faith.
Before dawn on the morning of this Greatest of Days, we dress in our festive best (often our Ukrainian traditionally embroidered shirts), and we make our way in the still darkness to church. Despite our sleepiness, there is an element of excitement and anticipation in the gradual awakening of the day. If we are driving, our basket laden with Easter foods might be filling the car with the mouth-watering aroma of paska, meats, and all kinds of rich deliciousness. Perhaps this is when our stomach first begins to grumble!
The church is candle-lit and quiet. The Plaschanytsja lays on the tomb and we approach, on our knees, make 3 prostrations, and just as we join our fellow parishioners, the service of Nadhrobne (at the tomb) begins. At this time, our collective prayers begin with psalms of entreaty for forgiveness and transform into songs of awe because the anguish of death has bestowed Life. We sing (x3) of Joseph of Arimathea, who took down Christ’s dead body from the cross, anointed it with aromatic oils, as was customary, wrapped it in a shroud and laid Him in a tomb. This service holds our sorrow and joy in a visceral tension. As we repeat the tropar of Joseph of Arimathea, the Plashchanitsja is removed from the centre of the church and placed on the altar, where it will be until the Ascension. This ends the Nadhrobne.
Resurrection Matins, (Utrenja) begins as we all leave the darkness of the church/the tomb with lighted candles and walk three times around the church. The sun is rising. We are the myrrh-bearing women, believing in Christ, knowing He is our Saviour; we are weary with the injustice and cruelty that humiliates and destroys, but we hurry forward because we have faith and hope in Christ our Lord.
It is important that we walk outdoors, as we are not hiding from the world that denies Christ; we confront our souls as our material bodies confront the weather: the wind, rain, cold, of the dawn of our new life in Christ. The Resurrection icon and Artos lead the procession (counter-clockwise) and when reaching the church doors the third time, the procession stops. Resurrectional verses are sung and then the priest knocks on the church door, as if coming to the tomb and finding it empty. This is the first time that we officially proclaim: “Christ is risen” He is truly risen!” The church bells begin ringing. Joyfully singing the Resurrectional tropar, we re-enter the church, now brightly lit, the priest wearing bright vestments. We have passed from darkness into light!
“Come, o faithful! Let us drink a new drink produced miraculously not from a barren rock, but springing from the tomb which is a fountain of immortality: the tomb of Christ by which we are strengthened.” (Irmos)
During the Resurrection Matins, we repeat the glorious knowledge of life that we are to spread to others through our example of living love, peace, and hope.
This is the day of the Resurrection
Let us be illumined by this celebration
Let us embrace each other,
Let us call “brothers and sisters” even those who hate us
And forgive all by the Resurrection
And so let us cry: Christ is Risen from the dead,
by death trampling on death
and on those in the tombs bestowing life!