Paschal Greetings – Christ is Risen!

“Come receive the light, from the never-setting light; and glorify Christ who has risen from the dead.”

Dear brothers and sisters,

Christ is Risen! Христос воскресе! Hristos a înviat! Χριστός ἀνέστη!

As we reflect on the meaning of the resurrection in the life of the Church and the lives of individual believers, we can all too easily forget the sheer confusion and uncertainty of the first Pascha for the apostles and first Christians: traumatised and confused, and mourning the Saviour’s death – especially after the wonder of the raising of Lazarus and His triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

After the euphoria of Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday, their world had come crashing down around them: collapsed and swallowed in spiritual, mental and emotional darkness.

At the death of the Saviour, there was darkness over all the land as the sun was eclipsed, but we should remember that, ironically, darkness also characterised the moment of the resurrection in the last hours of the night, in which the Saviour rose from the dead in the Divine Dawn, as the “Everlasting Sun of Righteousness”.

The imagery and symbolism of Christ the Light dominates our Paschal night: as the faithful carry candles circumambulating the temple; as the priest repeatedly censes the Church with the Troitsa candlestick in his left hand and the censer in his right, making the sign of the cross with the recurring joyful cry – “Christ is Risen!”

Reflecting the miracle of the Holy Fire, in Jerusalem, in Byzantine tradition, at the end of the midnight office the priest emerges from the sanctuary into the darkened temple chanting,

“Come receive the light, from the never-setting light; and glorify Christ who has risen from the dead.”

The sustained light-symbolism is not just a poetic and allegorical detail, but presupposes that the light of Christ is desired, to illuminate those who follow Him and to bring spiritual-light to those surrounded by the darkness of the world, whatever it makes of Christ. During the Liturgy, the Prologue of the Gospel of St John was read, declaring this very point:

“In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.”

Sadly, the world still has little understanding of the Light of the World, who dawned from the tomb, but for us, as those who have been baptised into His death and resurrection, we celebrate this wondrous dawn in the feast, and are called to be light-bearers, reflecting the light of Christ.

Just as the flame of Pascha spreads around the temple from candle to candle before our symbolic processional-journey seeking the Body of Christ, so the light of Christ must be carried in our hearts and illumine our lives, so that we become participators and heralds of the Light of the World: burning with the flame of faith, hope and love.

No matter how confusing and fearful the world is, in ever-deepening darkness, with the swelling persecution of Faith, sinister socio-political agendas, growing authoritarianism unnoticed by the masses, and the wholesale violent rejection of traditional Christian values and morality, the light of the resurrection cannot be taken from those who truly believe in Him, Who has risen for the dead; despoiling Hades and trampling down death by death; bestowing life upon those in the graves.

The greater the darkness that surrounds us, the brighter even the smallest burning flame appears, and however much the looming darkness of the world grows, Christ our Light and Life is risen, and nothing can change the reality of His victory and the radiance it sheds upon the world.

As the third ode of the Paschal Canon reminds us,

“Now all things are filled with light: heaven and earth, and the nether regions. So let all creation then celebrate the Resurrection of Christ, by which it is strengthened.”

Now, walking in the light and radiance of our Paschal celebration of the resurrection, we must not only ensure that nobody and nothing is allowed to rob us of the light and joy of the resurrection, but also take the flame of Faith and the light of the Risen Christ into the surrounding darkness, so that others may be kindled and delivered from fear, hopelessness and uncertainty.

Like those passing the Paschal flame to others around them in our wonderful Paschal celebration, we must do this spiritually in our darkening, suffering world, shedding the Light of Christ upon friend, colleague, neighbour, and those whom our lives touch, through words and deeds – even if simply in unrecognised and hidden acts of kindness, generosity and love in His Name.

One of the abiding memories of Pascha will be the wonderful sight of our Greek friends in the greyness of the first light, guarding the Paschal in their lanterns as they headed homewards through the quiet streets.

As that flame went with them, may this also be the spiritual reality of Pascha for each and everyone of us, as we take Christ the Light and Life into our streets, homes, families, workplaces, schools and colleges – taking head to the Saviour’s words, recorded by St John the Theologian,

“Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

May we shed His light upon the world.

Christ is Risen!

Fr Mark

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