By Fr. Tom Parthenakis
One of my earliest recollections of Pascha as a child, attending Holy Trinity-St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church (Cincinnati, Ohio), about 65 years ago, was the Resurrection Service. It was a memory I have relished my entire life. Earlier in the day, my mother (of blessed memory) tried to explain the significance of the service to me and my two brothers, but we had to experience the beauty of the service to attempt to fathom it.
We had no liturgical books to follow and had to rely on our imperfect senses to take it in. We did not have to understand the Hellenistic Greek of the hymns to appreciate the meaning beauty of the service. Years later, even as a priest, I am still attempting to understand the mystery of the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and I am learning something new every year, especially the significance of the opening hymns of the Resurrection Service.
“Δεύτε λάβετε φως εκ του ανεσπέρου φωτός και δοξάσατε Χριστόν τον αναστάντα εκ νεκρών” (“Come, receive the Light, from the unwaning light, and glorify Christ, Who has risen from the dead”).
This hymn is chanted when the priest exits with a lighted candle through the Royal Doors. He shares the light (taken from the eternal vigil light over the altar) with the eagerly awaiting acolytes, choir members, chanters, and congregation. The once pitch dark church now blossoms in the glowing of Christ’s Light, until everyone is bathed in this light. Hundreds of millions of Orthodox Christians from all over the world replicate this rite, which symbolizes the Light of the Resurrected Christ piercing the powerless darkness of the sinful world. This light, described by John the Evangelist (1:1-5), entered the world through the Incarnation of the Word, in which God humbled Himself by becoming man for our salvation (and in turn, man striving to become divine-like). This light was not extinguished by the darkness of the sinful world into which it had entered. Nor was it extinguished by Jesus Christ’s Passion and death in the flesh on the Cross. Nor were the gates of Hades able to contain Christ Jesus. By the grace of God, Jesus was raised from the dead, and once again He permeated the world for our sake, granting us the promise of our own bodily resurrection. By the grace of God, Jesus sent the Light of the Holy Spirit upon His disciples and ordaining them as Apostles to preach and teach the Good News to all nations and baptizing them in the name of the Father the Son and Holy Spirit. His Light through the holy Spirit continues to sanctify us today as we commune in and renew ourselves with Him in the Body of Christ (His Church) through the Eucharist.
As we receive the unwaning light of Christ this Pascha, as brothers and sisters in Christ, let us also take the Light of Christ to the world, beyond the confines of our church building and our friends and relatives. We are called to be His disciples and take the Good News everywhere. Most importantly, we must live the Faith and live in His imitation every moment, every day, as best as we can, in every way that we can. This must be a priority throughout the ecclesiastical year, and not just during the Great Lent through Pentecost seasons. Prayer, fasting, and charitable works, punctuated by serving The Church: we not only receive the Light, but also are called to share the Light with everyone, all of God’s children. In this way we can do our part in pushing back the darkness of this sinful and tragedy-filled world.
Father Tom Parthenakis is the Priest of the St. Catherine Church in Ithaca, New York.