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April 18, 2020

Sunday of Holy Pascha (Elder Epiphanios Theodoropoulos)

By Archimandrite Epiphanios Theodoropoulos

The "feast of feasts and celebration of celebrations" has dawned, the great and glorious day of Pascha. The word "Pascha" is a Hebrew word which means "to pass over". When the Angel killed the firstborn of the Egyptians, he passed over the homes of the Hebrews, without entering within and killing the children of the Hebrews, being prevented from doing so by the blood of the sacrificial lamb which they painted on their lintels and door posts. The Hebrews celebrate Passover in memory of this event, as well as the event of the wondrous passing over of the Red Sea and their salvation from bondage under Pharaoh. But these events were at the same time a type with another higher meaning. Egypt signifies sin, while the tyrant Pharaoh signifies the devil. Our Lord, the Lamb of God, came down from heaven to earth and was crucified and buried and rose again, saving us from the land of our bitter bondage and bringing us to the "pasture of abundant flowers" of the spiritual life, and crushed our enemy the devil. This is the passing over we celebrate today. The passing over from the guilt of sin to justification, from the works of darkness to virtue, from the curse to the blessing, from corruption to incorruption, from death to life, from earth to heaven; therefore, "let us praise the Lord, for by glorifying Him we are glorified".

The Service of the Sunday of Pascha, which is Matins and the Divine Liturgy of John Chrysostom, usually takes place at midnight on Saturday into Sunday. It begins with the chanting of the Canon of Great Saturday "Wave of the Sea" and the troparion "When You Descended Unto Death". This is followed by "Come Receive the Light" and "Your Resurrection". When the Gospel (Mk. 16:1-8) is read, "Christ is Risen" is chanted ten times with verses, then the Canon for Pascha, which is a poem of Saint John of Damascus, a true masterpiece. As the divine Nikodemos the Hagiorite says: "John, who was bright in life, brighter in word, and most bright in soul, wanted to brighten the bright day of the Resurrection of the Lord worthy of his own brightness with two bright things: first he brightened this Bright Day not with another tone, but with the first, because this tone has a melody that is straight forward, intense and noble...; secondly, the bright melodist brightened this Bright Day with the bright sayings of the most bright panegyrist Gregory the Theologian, so that a bright panegyrist, by a bright melodist, through a bright tone, with bright sayings, will brighten the bright day of Bright with the composition of a song" (Eortodromion, p. 148). The Canon is complete (with eight Odes). There is no acrostic. It begins with the Irmos "It is the Day of Resurrection". After the Exaposteilarion "You Awoke the Flesh", the Stichera of the Praises are chanted, as well as the particular Stichera of Pascha, namely "A Sacred Pascha", "Come Now From That Sight", etc. At the end of the Divine Liturgy the excellent "Catechetical Discourse of John Chrysostom" is read followed by his Apolytikion.

On the evening of Pascha Sunday the "Vespers of Love" takes place (in many churches today it takes place at either 10:00 or 11:00 in the morning). It is called this, because in olden times the Christians exchanged between themselves a kiss of love. It is called the "Second Resurrection", just as the Vespers of Great Saturday is called the "First Resurrection". During the Vespers is read, according to an old custom, the Gospel in various languages. This occurs because of the world-historic and universal character the event of the Resurrection of the Lord has had in its dissemination. Therefore, "It is the day of Resurrection, let us be radiant, O peoples! Pascha, the Lord’s Pascha; for Christ God has brought us from death to life, and from earth to heaven, as we sing the triumphal song."

To Him be the glory and the dominion and the honor and the worship, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Source: Η Μεγάλη Εβδομάς μετά ερμηνείας, 9η έκδ. Αθήνα, Αποστολική Διακονία της Εκκλησίας της Ελλάδος, 2002. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.