Easter - The Brightest Night

By Very Rev. Father George M. Benigsen

Life in the Church is a constant victory over time. "Past," "present," and "future" in the usual human meaning vanish in the Church. "Past" becomes often truly "present," future has already been achieved in the past, and "present" loses its significance and wanes in the unfading light of the only Church measure of "time" -- eternity. Thus, through Christ's redeeming sacrifice, the future Kingdom of God and the future everlasting life have already been returned to us. Thus, too, all that historically, in time and in the past, has happened on the Golgotha and after it, is still happening today with as much authenticity and reality as it did 2,000 years ago.

In the light of all this, we do not always have a right conception of the Church. We see in her an accumulation of traditions, rituals, symbols and sacred memories that are dear to a believer's heart but seem far from the reality of life and so are extremely abstract. Such an understanding of the Church is wrong and close to heresy. All symbols and rituals of the Church and of Church life are justified only when they are full of inner meaning and content, when they are calls, reminders of the fact that Church is life and reality, that all the "realities" of everyday life are but shadows, that only the realm of the spirit is truly real and eternal.

All our experiences during the holy days of the Passion Week and Christ's Resurrection are not only symbols and sacred memories. The power of the Church lies precisely in that she takes us out of time and into that past which, in its eternity, is both the present and the future...

The most bright Easter night is the only night in the year when all are in church. The night on which no Orthodox would think of staying home, as long as he is physically able to stand. The last echoes of the Passion fade away after the short midnight service. The Holy Shroud is carried into the sanctuary. In the yet dark church are heard the sounds of the first Easter prayer: "The angels in heaven, O Christ our Savior, sing Thy resurrection. Make us also who are on earth worthy to glorify Thee with pure hearts." With this prayer, ever increasing in power and persuasion, a procession leaves the church. This isn't the Way of the Cross. It isn't either the descent into Hades. It goes the way of the myrrh-bearers, following dark paths to the tomb of their Divine Teacher. The holy night brings us with them to the never-setting sun of the Resurrection. We hear of it for the first time at the closed doors of the empty church -- the Lord's tomb -- where the Easter matins begin the joyous prayerful news: "Christ is risen from the dead..." From that moment on, during forty days, to the day of the Ascension, this triumphant hymn will sound countlessly in all Orthodox churches in the world. The church doors open, and a host of people, a host of human hearts warmed and illumined by the Resurrection, fills the bright and joyful Easter church. The whole character of the service is changed: except for the exclamations of the priest and the words of the Holy Scriptures, reading stops in the church for a whole week. Everything is sung, and this very fact fully testifies to the joy of the great holy day. Even the rhythm of the singing is changed: it is full of joy, triumph and holy-day feeling. The matins end with the reading of the one of the most remarkable Christian sermons: the Easter Catechetical Address of St. John Chrysostom. But all this is only a majestically growing crescendo leading to the service which is undoubtedly the center and apotheosis of the Holy Easter: the Easter Divine Liturgy. Here is that Table of which St. Chrysostom is speaking in his Easter address. No matter how wonderful may holyday tables be in our homes, they cannot compare with this table of Eternal Life. It is the final realization of everything we have witnessed during the great days of the Passion week. Here is the Lamb slain for our salvation, Who has just been the Victim and Who is offering Himself to us, for our nourishment into life eternal. It is impossible for an Orthodox Christian not to participate in this service. And to participate is to receive the Gift, Gift of the Body and Blood of Christ, offered to us by the hands of Him Who has just suffered and risen for our sake.

Church Life Bulletin
English Pages Of The Information Bulletin
Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Cathedral, San Francisco, California
May 1962

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