Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!
The Paschal season is always one of great joy. It helps that Lent is so exhausting–physically and emotionally–and that the culmination is the Feast of Feasts–Christ’s resurrection.
This year was so much different than past ones have been. I have had numerous flashbacks of previous years’ struggles and joys this Lent and Pascha. Last year and this year are so very different from each other. Last year, I attended absolutely every service I possibly could while hurriedly planning a DIY wedding that was to take place about four weeks into the Paschal season. It was tiring, but everything was worth it. This year I hardly went to church at all. Partially because of the 40 days before my churching, partially because of my husband’s work schedule (and one car), and partially because sometimes I lacked desire to–especially if I were going without my husband. This year is so much harder than any other year, and I have put in so much less effort than I ever have. I suppose I’ve done all I could this year. I have to be content that I made my best effort and that if God is gracious to me and gives me another year, then I can do the best I can next year, too.
I know it’s only by God’s grace I’ve gotten this far, and that I got through the past week. Pascha was much more difficult than I imagined.
I’ve learned that I don’t handle exhaustion well right now. I have little tolerance for anything, and being tired makes it worse. At the midnight Paschal service, I was in a foul mood quickly because I was tired, then twisted my ankle on the way to church, then stood on my sore ankle for four hours, and was numbered among the “singles” who were assigned clean-up duties after the post-Liturgy snack. Three small babies were cuddled in close proximity to me during the service. I could feel the joy around me, but it was hard to let it creep inside of me. It seems the only “thick skin” I have developed is the wrong kind–a wall to barricade happiness, peace, and joy outside of me. Every time the troparion was sung, tears poured down my face: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!” That troparion is sung about a million times during the Paschal service. So I spent a lot of time crying.
It is so hard and so beautiful, simultaneously, to not only hear the troparion but realise what it means. Death is still a reality for us, so how do we understand Christ destroying death by His death? We understand that when Christ died (and subsequently resurrected Himself), the gates of heaven were opened, and it’s possible for us to join Him there. We don’t need to fear death because Christ sanctified it and made it a pathway to a better life. But right now death is so real. Its sting still feels so raw, like the skin has been stripped from my body and any contact or mention of it is painful.
I’ve had trouble reconciling with heaven since Seraphim died; I’ve had trouble thinking of my little one being there, praying for us and waiting for us. Pascha brought me face to face with that. I caught myself thinking, very genuinely, “How is Seraphim celebrating Pascha?”
And I smiled.
Seraphim’s first Pascha, and our first one without him.
The words from the homily of St. John Chrysostom echoed in my ears for hours and hours. This has always been the essence of Pascha to me, and now it has gained profound significance to me.
If anyone is devout and a lover of God, let them enjoy this beautiful and radiant festival.
If anyone is a grateful servant, let them, rejoicing, enter into the joy of his Lord.
If anyone has wearied themselves in fasting, let them now receive recompense.
If anyone has laboured from the first hour, let them today receive the just reward.
If anyone has come at the third hour, with thanksgiving let them feast.
If anyone has arrived at the sixth hour, let them have no misgivings; for they shall suffer no loss.
If anyone has delayed until the ninth hour, let them draw near without hesitation.
If anyone has arrived even at the eleventh hour, let them not fear on account of tardiness.
For the Master is gracious and receives the last even as the first; He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour, just as to him who has laboured from the first.
He has mercy upon the last and cares for the first; to the one He gives, and to the other He is gracious.
He both honours the work and praises the intention.
Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and, whether first or last, receive your reward.
O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy!
O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate the day!
You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today!
The table is rich-laden: feast royally, all of you!
The calf is fatted: let no one go forth hungry!
Let all partake of the feast of faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness.
Let no one lament their poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one mourn their transgressions, for pardon has dawned from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Saviour’s death has set us free.
He that was taken by death has annihilated it!
He descended into Hades and took Hades captive!
He embittered it when it tasted His flesh! And anticipating this, Isaiah exclaimed: “Hades was embittered when it encountered Thee in the lower regions”.
It was embittered, for it was abolished!
It was embittered, for it was mocked!
It was embittered, for it was purged!
It was embittered, for it was despoiled!
It was embittered, for it was bound in chains!
It took a body and came upon God!
It took earth and encountered Ηeaven!
It took what it saw, but crumbled before what it had not seen!
O death, where is thy sting?
O Hades, where is thy victory?
Christ is risen, and you are overthrown!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and life reigns!
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in a tomb!
For Christ, being raised from the dead, has become the first-fruits of them that have slept.
To Him be glory and might unto the ages of ages.