Beloved in the Lord,
On the joyous occasion of this Feast of Feasts, allow me to share with you the final stanza from one of the kontakia on the Resurrection of our Lord, written in the sixth century by the renowned hymnographer of our Church St Romanos the Melodist:
May my dead soul, O Saviour, rise again with you. Do not let grief destroy it, and may it not come to forget those songs that sanctify it. Yes, O Merciful, I implore you, do not abandon me who am stained with offenses, for in iniquities and in sins my mother bore me. My Father, holy and compassionate, may your name be ever hallowed, by my mouth and my lips, by my voice and my song. Give me grace as I proclaim your hymns, for you can do so, who grant resurrection to the fallen.
(The Resurrection, Stanza 24, St Romanos the Melodist – translation by Fr. Ephrem Lash)
This particular stanza is the concluding reflection of a liturgical poem on the experience of the myrrh-bearing women. We know that these women were bold and zealous enough to be the very first of Christ’s followers to rush to visit His tomb early in the morning, after the obligations of the Sabbath had passed, in order to fulfil the Jewish burial customs for their beloved Teacher and Lord. The themes and patterns of this and other kontakia artistically explore the events and theology of the Gospel, engaging with different points in the grand story of our salvation. With the final stanza of this particular kontakion, however, St Romanos brings us to a most personal conclusion: we ourselves are called to enter into the heart of this kontakion and of the Gospel itself, which is none other than the Resurrection of Christ. At the centre of everything—all the teaching and labouring, all the journeys and adventures of history with its losses and victories—we encounter the joyous proclamation that Christ is risen and mankind with Him, for death has finally been vanquished.
And as we see in this stanza, the central event of the Resurrection is not a singular point in history, but an ever-present reality that we are invited to enter into and experience for ourselves: God our Father grants resurrection to the fallen. But what does it mean for us to be fallen and in need of resurrection? And how are we invited to experience this resurrection for ourselves?
On this latter point, the Melodist is clear; we must first acknowledge what it means to be fallen. It is up to us to do the work to open the eyes of our hearts and to recognize the death inside of us: hard-heartedness, offenses against God and our fellow human beings, shortcomings of all sorts. This is an on-going process. Our spiritual vision can always become sharper. We can become infinitely more perceptive and sensitive to the condition of our hearts and our distance from true life. And yet, despite the painful realizations of our personal insufficiencies, we can then choose to turn toward God’s love and to sanctify our souls with songs and the proclamation of hymns. That is to say, when we recognize both the insurmountable dilemma of our inadequacy and the depth and breadth of God’s loving mercy, our hearts cannot help but to be filled to the brim with joy, causing us to open our mouths with hymns of praise. And this leads us to an answer for the former of the two questions above: mankind is resurrected when we open our hearts to share in Christ’s Resurrection, when we lay aside all sorrows and worries and choose to accept with doxology the salvation that is freely offered to us. Only then can we experience the supreme joy and realization that Christ’s Resurrection is our own resurrection, offered to us even right here and right now, as well as in the age to come. After all, joy is what marks a true Christian out from everyone else in this world. Christians are people that rejoice in the assurance of God’s love and grace, which is our salvation from death and destruction. For “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Every Sunday morning during Orthros, and every day during the week following Pascha we recite, “For behold, through the Cross joy has come to all the world.”
Of course, we know that we do not experience the joy of the Resurrection in a perfect and consistent manner; we often stumble and forget just what it means to be resurrected. We falter in our personal experience of the significance of the Resurrection. Perhaps we also have a limited or weak understanding of Christ’s Resurrection and its role in our lives. The Melodist is once again crystal clear in the above stanza: grief and forgetfulness are obstacles that deter us from receiving the sanctifying power of the Resurrection. However, every time we successfully turn away from the darkness of grief and forgetfulness and remember God’s light, we taste the Resurrection. Every time we acknowledge our own inadequacy and give thanks to God for His providence, which is life itself, we take a step toward the Resurrection. This concluding stanza from St Romanos is written so as to encourage us, to quicken our resolve that we may take heart and boldly seek out God, perhaps at first with a few faltering steps, but eventually to run to Him at every opportunity, just as the myrrh-bearing women did.
This is the personal dynamic of the Resurrection. This is how the tears and lament of Mary were replaced with joy, according to her Son’s promise, as expressed to us by the Melodist in one of his other hymns, “Courage, Mother, because you will see me first on my coming from the tombs.” Just as Christ provided this special reassurance to His mother, He speaks also to us, each and every day—if we have ears to hear—telling us to take courage and to be strong in the belief of His word in our own lives. This is how, little by little, we begin to share in the hope that His Mother kept in her heart like a treasure; this is how we can learn to emulate the fearlessness and loving dedication demonstrated by the myrrhbearers.
Having traversed the sacred drama of Holy Week, we have witnessed for ourselves the transformation of the cross from a symbol of suffering and death into the Life-Giving Cross. Now is the time to celebrate together with hymns of praise, “For, in your Cross, we may all boast. To it we have nailed our hearts, that on it we may hang our instruments and sing to you, the Lord of all from the songs of Sion” (Victory of the Cross, Stanza 18, St Romanos).
As I write these few words of reflection on this great feast, I convey to you my paternal love and blessings, with fervent prayers that each and every one of us may be filled with the gladness of spiritual songs and hymns, so that the beauty, peace and grace of the Resurrection may permeate our whole lives, illuminating and sanctifying us for the Glory of God.
CHRISTOS ANESTI – CHRIST IS RISEN
+ Archbishop Nikitas of Thyateira and Great Britain Easter 2023