“Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, And upon those in the tombs bestowing life.”
This is one of the Paschal hymns our little groups sang over and over today, as we walked among the graves at several cemeteries, rejoicing with those who wait in hope.
It is called the Day of Rejoicing, or Radonitsa,
and is always the second Tuesday after Pascha.
Today the wind was blowing, so we could not keep our candles lit. The sun peeked out from behind clouds from time to time.
More wildflowers than I’ve ever seen were blooming in the non-endowed cemeteries. This must be because of the very wet winter and spring we have had.
The rattlesnake grass was blowing in the breeze and making a graceful and wavy dance.
I knew that Scarlet Pimpernel was a flower, but I didn’t know it was this flower
growing among the lupines. My godmother told me.
My husband is buried at one of the cemeteries we visited, and my goddaughter at another.
We sang and burned incense and sprinkled holy water over the graves of dozens of others
who are resting in the earth, awaiting the Resurrection of the Dead.
This year I remembered to bring the shells from our red Pascha eggs
to sprinkle on the graves, and flowers from my snowball bush, too.
We were all so happy to be there!
“We celebrate the death of death, the destruction of hell, the beginning of eternal life.
And leaping for joy, we celebrate the Cause,
the only blessed and most glorious God of our fathers.”
When I walked up to the open doors of the church this evening of Bright Thursday, the flower scents streamed out and welcomed me to Paschal Vespers. Inside, the altar doors are wide open all this week, and after the service the decorated bread called Artos was placed before them. It stays in the church all through Bright Week, representing our risen Lord, the Bread of Life. This Sunday we will cut it up and eat it together.
Pots of lilies and bouquets are all over the place, and many icons are draped
with flowers carefully and lovingly arranged.
I want to back up and show you some scenes from Pascha, starting with the midnight service and our procession around the property, after which we arrived back inside the church to sing “Christ is risen!” by means of many words and melodies. We did this for a few hours, ate our joyous agape meal, and got to bed about 4:30 in the morning.
I was battling a cough that kept me from many services last week, but I managed to come back for Bright Monday Liturgy. This service always has a lighter and sweeter tone than Pascha, perhaps from the daylight that warms our bodies and reveals the beauty of the church. And of course, we are rested a bit, and not so wired as we were Saturday night.
Tuesday I drove a couple of hours to “Silicon Valley,” to attend the funeral of a dear uncle. I spent that night with an old friend, and we walked in the afternoon along the Guadalupe River Trail, a refreshing green space in the middle of urban and suburban sprawl.
Wednesday I was heartened to spend some time with my husband’s cousins and pray at the grave of a man of prayer. He had included me and my family in his prayers for decades.
Now I am back home, and taking care of my garden again.
Flowers are bright here, too, of course!
In the past I have written a little about the atmosphere of Holy Week in the Orthodox Church. I have only been breathing it by means of a few, perhaps shallow, breaths, over the years. I feel that way because of the distractions that I haven’t been able to avoid, or the weaknesses of my flesh and will, which prevent me from staying close to the Lord through this last week before Pascha. I suppose I am like His disciples that way.
With all that, I have been affected, and every year finds me looking forward to the riches that we live in, this week that does indeed carry the scent of holiness. The days with their minutes and hours are not in themselves vessels for the treasures, but it is in the services of the Church and their rich liturgical hymnography and prayers that we receive the gift.
Even after years of knowing better, I still occasionally notice the thought trying to push itself forward: “Why would I want to go to another church service? Won’t I be bored, since it is basically the same as the last one, and it is so long?” I have to laugh, because of the ways that the idea is so silly. Do you ever get tired of your spouse or your child saying, “I love you?” It takes a while in church to settle oneself enough to really hear God speaking, and then, He says “I love you” with so many hymns and songs and words of Scripture, not to mention bread and water, wine and oil, candlelight and incense….
I suppose you could say that the message is always the same, but no two services are ever exactly the same. The message, essentially being the Giver of Life Himself, is never tiresome; in this life we barely begin to experience His Life.
I am writing this a few days before, so as to keep my calendar as free as I can. I wanted to pass on this meditation that I saved from when I read it last year – I hope it is a grace-filled breath of fresh air to you.
HOLY WEEK: A MYSTIC TORRENT
As we enter Holy Week, the festal atmosphere of Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday yields to the solemnity, sobriety and sadness of Holy Week as the Lord moves toward His voluntary and life-giving Passion. The Son of God came into the world “to bear witness to the truth” and “to give His life as a ransom for many.” It is our privilege and responsibility to accompany Christ to Golgotha to the extent that our lives make that possible, especially by our participation in the services that guide us to Golgotha and beyond—to the empty tomb.
As Father Sergius Bulgakov wrote, “The beauty, the richness and the power of these services take possession of the soul and sweep it along as upon a mystic torrent.” Therefore, during Holy Week we are challenged to “lay aside all earthly cares” and focus on our Lord Jesus Christ, whether we are at a particular service or not. This is a week filled with school, church and other necessary responsibilities. There is no room or time for worldly entertainment -— not when the Lamb of God will be slain for the sins of the world.
At the services of Holy Week, we enter into the “today” of the events being reactualized so that the event and all of its salvific power is made present to the gathered community. Thus, we are not simply commemorating a past event for its dramatic impact, or presenting something of an Orthodox “passion play.” Rather, we re-present the event of the Crucifixion so that we participate in it within the liturgical time of the Church’s worship.
As Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev writes, “Each one of us receives Christ as our personal Savior, and so we each make our own all the events of Christ’s life through personal experience, to whatever extent we can. The feast day is a realization here and now of an event that occurred once in time but is always happening outside time.” And he adds, speaking of the great saints and their faith in the Resurrection of Christ, “They lived… by their experience of eternity and knew that Easter was not a single day of the year, but an eternal reality in which they participated daily.”