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Easter celebration and its relevance to personal life

by Very Rev. K. Mathai Corepiscopa, Philadelphia

"Christ is risen" is the message of Easter. It is the most important Feast that all Christians in the world celebrate in commemoration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

In fact every Sunday is the celebration of the Easter. Annually, it is observed on the first Sunday after the full moon (first Sunday after 14th of the month of Nisan), by those who follow the Gregorian calendar. It is the center of the liturgical calendar of the Orthodox churches. It is the celebration of victory over the death and sin - Christ is the Victor (Christu Victor).

In this short message, mainly two questions are dealt with:
(I) How was the Easter celebrated in the early church?
(II) What is the relevance of Easter celebration in personal lives of the faithful?

(I) How was Easter celebrated in the early church?

In early centuries the Easter was celebrated with utmost reverence and in great detail. The accounts of the Easter celebrations especially in the church of Jerusalem in 4th century AD are available from the great sermons of Cyril of Jerusalem and the Armenian lectionary. Some of the information regarding the celebrations is given below:

a) Easter services were conducted during Easter Sunday night through the daybreak. The place of worship was the Church of Anastasis which stood at the Tomb of Christ. The worship started with a gospel reading from St. Mathew 27:62-66, which was a reference to the Jewish leaders' request to the governor Pilate to seal the tomb of Christ that no one would steal Christ's dead body.

After the gospel reading would take place the reading of Psalm 88 considered as the prophetical oracles of the Christ's entry into the Hades to preach the good news of salvation to the souls of the departed assembled there.

Following this reading was the lighting of three candles by the bishop after a recital of "Let the name of the Lord be praised both now and forevermore" from PS 113:2.

Then the priests, deacons and the faithful would come forward and light up the candles in their hands from the candles lighted by the bishop.

Then starts a procession with the lighted candles towards the Martyrium where all martyrs were buried. The emperor Constantine had insisted on lighting the candles during the Easter night.

b) As soon as the procession reaches to the Martyrium, the service continues with a recital of "This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it" (Ps 118:24). During the prayers there would be reading from twelve biblical passages with direct or indirect reference to the Resurrection of Christ and a psalm is sung after each reading.

c) Subsequent to the prayers, readings and psalms, baptism was administered to the catechumens (learners of faith) who underwent long period of learning of faith and preparation for the same.

From the 3rd century on, the church believed that the day of Easter was the suitable time for giving baptism for the catechumens (learners of faith). This belief was based on the meaning of baptism taught by St. Paul through Rom. 6:2-5; Col. 2: 12-14. To St. Paul, baptism is the participation of the baptized in the death and resurrection of Christ. The period of great Lent and Holy Week was the final days of preparation for baptism.

After the baptism, anointment with Holy oil and wearing white dresses the baptized and all faithful under the leadership of the bishop would go to the Church of Anastasis where the bishop would pray for the baptized and the faithful.

4. Then everybody goes back to the Martyrium where the Holy Qurabana is celebrated, thus the Easter celebration is concluded.

II. Relevance of Easter celebration in the personal lives of the faithful

a) The Easter kindles a flame of hope in the dark areas of life. The death of Jesus Christ shattered the composure and the hope of the disciples who placed their complete trust and high expectation in Him. They dreamed of Christ as a king who would establish an earthly kingdom where they could play dominant roles. But their hopes seemed gone down the drain. Now they felt that they were left alone leaderless, and hopeless.

The words of the two disciples walked on the road to Emmaus on the Easter Sunday evening reflected the somber moods and hopeless future of the disciples, "We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel" (St. Luke 24:21). They really thought that the Messiah had come in Jesus Christ. "We had hoped", they said. They knew the past and present, but they had no future. They were in the darkness not knowing where to go and what to do next.

It was in such a gloomy state of mind that they saw the brightness of Resurrection of Jesus Christ which they never expected. The resurrection opened a spring, a new hope, in them again.

God works when men cannot. God brings light where it is dark. He brings peace to those who are troubled. "Peace be with you" was the first gift Jesus gave to the disciples when He met them first. He cares about those who would follow Him. He will not leave His children and followers as orphan.

The resurrected Christ said "I am with you always." (St. Mathew 28:19). The spirit of the disciples that plunged into the pit of despair rose again with a new vision and enlightenment. The vision of the risen Christ fills in with strength and vigor in those who are weak and mentally and spiritually anemic.

b) Death is not an end of life. The Resurrection of Christ has proved it by defeating death and raising a hope of life beyond the tomb.

Until Jesus' resurrection, death was a subject people were afraid of, but the fear of death was abolished from the hearts of believers now. St. Paul challenged death saying, "Where O death, is your victory? Where O death, is your sting?" (1Cor. 15:55). The Apostle again instructs "Do not be misled" by the philosophy "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die." (1 Cor. 15:32-33). Jesus promised that He was ascending up into the Heaven to prepare the mansion for all the faithful who put their trust on Him.

Jesus died so that we may live. Those who believe in him shall have eternal life.

Life comes out of death. A German theologian Helmut Thielicke cited an example of beauty of life coming out of death. One spring day he went out for a walk. On the way he turned aside to look at a beautiful lilac bush in full bloom. As he looked more closely, he discovered that the beautiful lilac was growing out of a German soldier's dead body. Seeing this he said "beauty and death exists side by side."

How wonderful it is to see the living Christ out of the tomb! All believers are destined to the beauty of eternal life, for which we need to be prepared during the time we have on earth.

The church is a community of faithful hoping for the life beyond the graveyard and waiting for the Second Coming of Christ, as we recite in the Nicene Creed, "We look for the resurrection of the dead; and the New Life in the world to come." Amen.

See Also:

Passion Week Resources

Meaning of Passion Week
What does passion week mean to us? It is more than just an annual remembrance of the passion - the pain and suffering, crucifixion, death, and resurrection of our Lord - for all of us.

Devotional Thoughts for Easter
If one would call the greatest event in Christian history, that event will be the Resurrection of our Lord.††The greatest of the miracles is the Resurrection and the greatest of the mysteries also is the Resurrection.

Easter Greetings
The message of Easter is the good tidings. Jesus is risen. It is a good news for the whole world. It proclaims Jesusí victory over death. It is the victory of all those who accept the good news.

The Easter Sermon of St. John Chrysostom

Easter Message from Baghdad, Iraq
The life and teachings of Jesus have inspired people throughout the ages to strive for a better world and a more meaningful life. Jesus' death stands out in history as the perfect example of unconditional love.

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About The Author:

Fr. K. Mathai Corepiscopa is the Vicar of St. Gregorios Church, Philadelphia

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