Sunday, April 15, 2012

Christ is Risen, Even in a Tornado!

It was time.  The lights were turned off and the candles were all blown out, save one. Slowly we spread that one flame from candle to candle as we sang a solemn chant. Then, just as we walked out the front door of the church, an eerie sound joined our singing: the menacing wail of a tornado siren. A few people ran to the church basement, but most of us carried on, singing those ancient words:

Thy resurrection O Christ our Savior
The angels in heaven sing
Enable us O Lord
To worship thee in purity of heart.

We processed around the church, as we always do at midnight on Pascha, but our words were lost in the wind and the blare of the sirens. As we stood at the door of the church, our solemn chant turned into joyous song:

Christ is risen from the dead
Trampling down death by death
And upon those in the tombs bestowing life.

Christ is risen!
No, it wasn’t a normal way to celebrate this most joyous of Christian feasts, but somehow it was appropriate. After all, the procession commemorates Christ’s harrowing of Hades. We believe that when Christ died, he went down to Hades, the place of the dead, and preached to the souls there. My friend Ray Richards said that when the sirens went off, “it was as if Hades itself caught sight of Jesus and was shrieking out with terror . . . it was as if we were literally with the Lord during his descent and harrowing of Hades.”

Father James banged on the door of the church. The doors opened, the light streamed out and the bells rang, and we proceeded into the church. The joyous celebration that followed was punctuated by more sirens, but the choir kept on singing, even though half the congregation was out in the narthex, ready to run for the basement at a moment’s notice. And then Father Nick read those beautiful words from the Homily of St. John Chrysostom:

"Let no one fear death, for the Savior's death has set us free. He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it. By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive. He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh. And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry: Hell, said he, 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 slain. It was embittered, for it was overthrown. It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains. It took a body, and met God face to face. It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen."

How appropriate that we were facing the fear of death in the midst of this celebration.  Just as Christ’s resurrection drowns out the fear of death, our joyous singing drowned out the wail of the sirens. To quote Ray: “we were truly immersed in the experience and reality of the redeeming works of our Savior. For scream, kick, and resist as it might, nature, sin, death, Satan and his demons are no match for God and His True Church.”

Quoting St. John Chrysostom: “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 the grave. For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen."

In the end, no tornadoes touched down. Perhaps it was our singing that kept the tornadoes away.

In this video you can hear the sirens:

Here's a video of our choir singing excerpts from "Christ is Risen" and "The Angel Cried": No sirens in this one, just joyful singing.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

O Gladsome Light: The Earliest Christian Hymn

People like to talk about old hymns, but in truth, the oldest known Christian hymn, outside of the Bible, is a beautiful little song called "O Gladsome Light."

We sing this as part of vespers and also during the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts during Lent. Both the words and the melody are hauntingly beautiful, and it's a beautiful song of praise focusing on God.

I realize the song was originally written in Greek, but I love the English translation we use. Just the word "gladsome" sends chills down my spine.  And I love the archaic phrase "for meet it is at all times." And I love the idea of the "light of evening."  I believe it's talking about the wonderful time of twilight, when the light takes on a mystical, otherworldly essence.

Most of all, I love the way the song draws our focus toward God and not ourselves.

Here are the words we use in our church:

O Gladsome Light of the holy glory of the Immortal Father, heavenly, holy, blessed Jesus Christ. Now we have come to the setting of the sun and behold the light of evening. We praise God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. For meet it is at all times to worship Thee with voices of praise, O Son of God and Giver of Life, therefore all the world doth glorify Thee.

There are many melodies used, but this one comes closest to the one we sing in our church:

Monday, April 2, 2012

Why Do Orthodox Christians Sometimes Celebrate Easter on a Different Day?

This has long been confusing to people.  Some years the Orthodox celebrate Easter (which we call Pascha) on the same day as the west, and some years it is later.  It is never earlier.  Why the difference?

The first council of Nicea established Easter as the first Sunday after the first full moon that falls on or after the Vernal Equinox. But all Orthodox Christians use the old calendar to calculate the date of the Equinox.  (See my post on the Old Calendar.) This means that the Old Calendar and New Calendar Orthodox are united for the Paschal season (from the start of Great Lent through Pentecost), even though they are 13 days off for the liturgical calendar and the rest of the great feasts.

During 2010 and 2011 Easter and Pascha fell on the same day.  This year and for the next few years the dates are different.  Here are the dates:

2012April 8April 15
2013March 31May 5
2014April 20April 20
2015April 5April 12

Orthodox Response to "Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus" Video

Here's an Orthodox response to the viral video "Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus." This was created by the Orthodox Christian Network.