fr thomas hopko


Resurrection

by Fr. Thomas Hopko
from "The Orthodox Faith, Volume I, Doctrine"

And He rose again from the dead on the third day, according to the Scriptures.

Christ is risen from the dead! This is the main proclamation of the Christian faith. It forms the heart of the Church's preaching, worship and spiritual life. "... if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain" (1 Cor 15:14).

In the first sermon ever preached in the history of the Christian Church, the Apostle Peter began his proclamation:

Men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man attended to you by God with mighty works and signs and wonders which God did to him in your midst, as you yourself know -- this Jesus delivered up according to a definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. But God raised him up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it (Acts 2:22-24).

Jesus had the power to lay down his life and the power to take it up again:

For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have the power to lay it down, and I have the power to take it again; this charge I have received from my father (Jn 10:17-18).

Easter Sunday: The Holy Pascha

by Fr. Thomas Hopko,
from "The Orthodox Faith, Volume II, Worship"

A little before midnight on the Blessed Sabbath the Nocturne service is chanted. The celebrant goes to the tomb and removes the winding-sheet. He carries it through the royal doors and places it on the altar table where it remains for forty days until the day of Ascension.

At midnight the Easter procession begins. The people leave the church building singing: The angels in heaven, 0 Christ our Savior, sing of Thy resurrection. Make us on earth also worthy to hymn Thee with a pure heart.

The procession circles the church building and returns to the closed doors of the front of the church. This procession of the Christians on Easter night recalls the original baptismal procession from the darkness and death of this world to the night and the life of the Kingdom of God. It is the procession of the holy passover, from death unto life, from earth unto heaven, from this age to the age to come which will never end. Before the closed doors of the church building, the resurrection of Christ is announced. Sometimes the Gospel is read which tells of the empty tomb. The celebrant intones the blessing to the "holy, consubstantial, life-creating and undivided Trinity." The Easter troparion is sung for the first time, together with the verses of Psalm 68 which will begin all of the Church services during the Easter season.

Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered; let those who hate him flee from before his face!

Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life. (Troparion)

This is the day which the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!

The people re-enter the church building and continue the service of Easter Matins which is entirely sung.

Holy Saturday: The Blessed Sabbath

by Fr. Thomas Hopko
from "The Orthodox Faith, Volume II, Worship"

The first service belonging to Holy Saturday -- called in the Church the Blessed Sabbath -- is the Vespers of Good Friday. It is usually celebrated in the mid-afternoon to commemorate the burial of Jesus.

Before the service begins, a "tomb" is erected in the middle of the church building and is decorated with flowers. Also a special icon which is painted on cloth (in Greek, epitaphios; in Slavonic, plaschanitsa) depicting the dead Saviour is placed on the altar table. In English this icon is often called the winding-sheet.

Vespers begin as usual with hymns about the suffering and death of Christ. After the entrance with the Gospel Book and the singing of Gladsome Light, selections from Exodus, Job, and Isaiah 52 are read. An epistle reading from First Corinthians (1:18-31) is added, and the Gospel is read once more with selections from each of the four accounts of Christ's crucifixion and burial. The prokeimena and alleluia verses are psalm lines, heard often already in the Good Friday services, prophetic in their meaning:

They divided my garments among them and for my raiment they cast lots (Psalm 22:18).
My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me (Ps 22:1).
Thou hast put me in the depths of the Pit, in the regions dark and deep (Ps 88:6).