GREAT AND HOLY PASCHA
Great and Holy Pascha, Agape, Chionia, and Irene, the Holy Martyrs, Righteous Amphilochios of Patmos, Leonidas and Charissa, Nike, Galene, Kallida, Nounenchia, Vasilissa, and Theodora the Martyrs
ACTS OF THE APOSTLES 1:1-8
In the first book, O Theophilos, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commandment through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. To them he presented himself alive after his passion by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days, and speaking of the kingdom of God. And while staying with them he charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, "you heard from me, for John baptized with water, but before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.
So when they had come together, they asked him, "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom of lsrael?" He said to them, "it is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light.The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father. (John bore witness to him, and cried, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, for he was before me.'”) And from his fullness have we all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
HOLY PASCHA: The Resurrection of Our Lord
Enjoy ye all the feast of faith; receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness.
(Sermon of Saint John Chrysostom, read at Paschal Matins)
The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the center of the Christian faith. Saint Paul says that if Christ is not raised from the dead, then our preaching and faith are in vain (I Cor. 15:14). Indeed, without the resurrection there would be no Christian preaching or faith. The disciples of Christ would have remained the broken and hopeless band which the Gospel of John describes as being in hiding behind locked doors for fear of the Jews. They went nowhere and preached nothing until they met the risen Christ, the doors being shut (John 20: 19). Then they touched the wounds of the nails and the spear; they ate and drank with Him. The resurrection became the basis of everything they said and did (Acts 2-4): “. . . for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have” (Luke 24:39).
The resurrection reveals Jesus of Nazareth as not only the expected Messiah of Israel, but as the King and Lord of a new Jerusalem: a new heaven and a new earth.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. . . the holy city, new Jerusalem. And I heard a great voice from the throne saying “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people. . . He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away (Rev. 21:1-4).
In His death and resurrection, Christ defeats the last enemy, death, and thereby fulfills the mandate of His Father to subject all things under His feet (I Cor. 15:24-26).
Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing (Rev. 5: 12)
THE FEAST OF FEASTS
The Christian faith is celebrated in the liturgy of the Church. True celebration is always a living participation. It is not a mere attendance at services. It is communion in the power of the event being celebrated. It is God’s free gift of joy given to spiritual men as a reward for their self-denial. It is the fulfillment of spiritual and physical effort and preparation. The resurrection of Christ, being the center of the Christian faith, is the basis of the Church’s liturgical life and the true model for all celebration. This is the chosen and holy day, first of sabbaths, king and lord of days, the feast of feasts, holy day of holy days. On this day we bless Christ forevermore (Irmos 8, Paschal Canon).
Twelve weeks of preparation precede the “feast of feasts.” A long journey which includes five prelenten Sundays, six weeks of Great Lent and finally Holy Week is made. The journey moves from the self-willed exile of the prodigal son to the grace-filled entrance into the new Jerusalem, coming down as a bride beautifully adorned for her husband (Rev. 21:2) Repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation, prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and study are the means by which this long journey is made.
Focusing on the veneration of the Cross at its midpoint, the lenten voyage itself reveals that the joy of the resurrection is achieved only through the Cross. “Through the cross joy has come into all the world,” we sing in one paschal hymn. And in the paschal troparion, we repeat again and again that Christ has trampled down death—by death! Saint Paul writes that the name of Jesus is exalted above every name because He first emptied Himself, taking on the lowly form of a servant and being obedient even to death on the Cross (Phil. 2:5-11). The road to the celebration of the resurrection is the self-emptying crucifixion of Lent. Pascha is the passover from death to life.
Yesterday I was buried with Thee, O Christ.
Today I arise with Thee in Thy resurrection.
Yesterday I was crucified with Thee:
Glorify me with Thee, O Savior, in Thy kingdom (Ode 3, Paschal Canon).
The divine services of the night of Pascha commence near midnight of Holy Saturday. At the Ninth Ode of the Canon of Nocturn, the priest, already vested in his brightest robes, removes the Holy Shroud from the tomb and carries it to the altar table, where it remains until the leave-taking of Pascha. The faithful stand in darkness. Then, one by one, they light their candles from the candle held by the priest and form a great procession out of the church. Choir, servers, priest and people, led by the bearers of the cross, banners, icons and Gospel book, circle the church. The bells are rung incessantly and the angelic hymn of the resurrection is chanted.
The procession comes to a stop before the principal doors of the church. Before the closed doors the priest and the people sing the troparion of Pascha, “Christ is risen from the dead…”, many times. Even before entenng the church the priest and people exchange the paschal greeting: “Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen!” This segment of the paschal services is extremely important. It preserves in the expenence of the Church the primitive accounts of the resurrection of Christ as recorded in the Gospels. The angel rolled away the stone from the tomb not to let a biologically revived but physically entrapped Christ walk out, but to reveal that “He is not here; for He has risen, as He said” (Matt. 28:6).
In the paschal canon we sing:
Thou didst arise, O Christ, and yet the tomb remained sealed, as at Thy birth the Virgin’s womb remained unharmed; and Thou has opened for us the gates of paradise (Ode 6).
Finally, the procession of light and song in the darkness of night, and the thunderous proclamation that, indeed, Christ is risen, fulfill the words of the Evangelist John: “The light shines in darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).
The doors are opened and the faithful re-enter. The church is bathed in light and adorned with flowers. It is the heavenly bride and the symbol of the empty tomb:
Bearing life and more fruitful than paradise
Brighter than any royal chamber,
Thy tomb, O Christ, is the fountain or our resurrection (Paschal Hours).
Matins commences immediately. The risen Christ is glorified in the singing of the beautiful canon of Saint John of Damascus. The paschal greeting is repeatedly exchanged. Near the end of Matins the paschal verses are sung. They relate the entire narrative of the Lord’s resurrection. They conclude with the words calling us to actualize among each other the forgiveness freely given to all by God:
This is the day of resurrection.
Let us be illumined by the feast.
Let us embrace each other.
Let us call “brothers” even those who hate us,
And forgive all by the resurrection. . .
The sermon of Saint John Chrysostom is then read by the celebrant. The sermon was originally composed as a baptismal instruction. It is retained by the Church in the paschal services because everything about the night of Pascha recalls the Sacrament of Baptism: the language and general terminology of the liturgical texts, the specific hymns, the vestment color, the use of candles and the great procession itself. Now the sermon invites us to a great reaffirmation of our baptism: to union with Christ in the receiving of Holy Communion.
If any man is devout and loves God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast. . . the table is fully laden; feast you all sumptuously. . . the calf is fatted, let no one go hungry away. . .
THE DIVINE LITURGY
The sermon announces the imminent beginning of the Divine Liturgy. The altar table is fully laden with the divine food: the Body and Blood of the risen and glorified Christ. No one is to go away hungry. The service books are very specific in saying that only he who partakes of the Body and Blood of Christ eats the true Pascha. The Divine Liturgy, therefore, normally follows immediately after paschal Matins. Foods from which the faithful have been asked to abstain during the lenten journey are blessed and eaten only after the Divine Liturgy.
THE DAY WITHOUT EVENING
Pascha is the inauguration of a new age. It reveals the mystery of the eighth day. It is our taste, in this age, of the new and unending day of the Kingdom of God. Something of this new and unending day is conveyed to us in the length of the paschal services, in the repetition of the paschal order for all the services of Bright Week, and in the special paschal features retained in the services for the forty days until Ascension. Forty days are, as it were, treated as one day. Together they comprise the symbol of the new time in which the Church lives and toward which she ever draws the faithful, from one degree of glory to another.
O Christ, great and most holy Pascha.
O Wisdom, Word and Power of God,
grant that we may more perfectly partake of Thee in the never-ending day of Thy kingdom
(Ninth Ode, Paschal Canon).
The V. Rev. Paul Lazor
New York, 1977
Virgin Martyrs Agape, Irene and Chionia, in Illyria
The Holy Martyrs Agape, Irene, and Chionia were sisters who lived at the end of the third century to the beginning of the fourth century, near the Italian city of Aquilea. They were left orphaned at an early age.
The young women led a pious Christian life and they turned down many offers of marriage. Their spiritual guide was the priest Xeno. It was revealed to him in a vision that he would die very soon, and that the holy virgins would suffer martyrdom. Also at Aquilea and having a similar vision was the Great Martyr Anastasia (December 22), who is called “Deliverer from Potions,” because she fearlessly visited Christians in prison, encouraging them and healing them from potions, poisons, and other harmful things. The Great Martyr Anastasia visited the sisters and urged them to endure all things for Christ. Soon what was predicted in the vision came to pass. The priest Zeno died, and the three virgins were arrested and brought to trial before the emperor Diocletian (284-305).
Saint Chionia (“snow” in Greek) preserved the purity of her baptism according to the words of the Prophet-King David, “You will wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Ps. 50/51:7).
Saint Irene (“peace” in Greek) preserved the peace of Christ within herself and manifested it to others, according to the Savior’s word, “My peace I give you” (John 14:27).
Saint Agape (“love” in Greek) loved God with all her heart, and her neighbor as herself (Mt.22:37-39).
Seeing the youthful beauty of the sisters, the emperor urged them to deny Christ and he promised to find them illustrious bridegrooms from his entourage. The holy sisters replied that their only Bridegroom was Christ, for Whom they were ready to suffer. The emperor demanded they renounce Christ, but neither the elder sisters, nor the youngest, would consent. They called the pagan gods mere idols made by human hands, and they preached faith in the true God.
By order of Diocletian, who was leaving for Macedonia, the holy sisters were also to be brought there. And they brought them to the court of the governor Dulcititus.
When he saw the beauty of the holy martyrs, he was aroused with impure passion. He put the sisters under guard, and he told them that they would receive their freedom if they agreed to fulfill his desires. But the holy martyrs replied that they were prepared to die for their Heavenly Bridegroom, Christ.
Then Dulcititus decided to have his way by force. When the holy sisters arose at night to glorify the Lord in prayer, Dulcititus came to the door and tried to enter, but an invisible force prevented him. He staggered about, unable to find his way out. Then he fell down in the kitchen among the cooking utensils, the pots and pans, and he was covered all over with soot. The servants and the soldiers recognized him only with difficulty. When he saw himself in a mirror, he then realized that the holy martyrs had made a fool of him, and he decided to take his revenge on them.
At his court, Dulcititus gave orders to strip the holy martyrs. But the soldiers were not able to do this, no matter how much they tried. Their clothing seemed to be stuck to the bodies of the holy virgins. During the trial Dulcititus suddenly fell asleep, and no one could rouse him. Just as they carried him into his house, he immediately awoke.
When they reported to the emperor Diocletian everything that had happened, he became angry with Dulcititus and he gave the holy virgins over to Sisinius for trial. He began with the youngest sister, Irene. Seeing that she remained unyielding, he sent her to prison and then attempted to sway Saints Chionia and Agape. He also failed to make them renounce Christ, and Sisinius ordered that Saints Agape and Chionia be burned. On hearing the sentence, the sisters gave thanks to the Lord for their crowns of martyrdom. In the fire, Agape and Chionia surrendered their pure souls to the Lord.
When the fire went out, everyone saw that the bodies of the holy martyrs and their clothing had not been scorched by the fire, and their faces were beautiful and peaceful, as if they were asleep. On the day following, Sisinius gave orders to bring Saint Irene to court. He threatened her with the fate of her older sisters and he urged her to renounce Christ. Then he threatened to hand her over for defilement in a brothel. But the holy martyr answered, “Even if my body is defiled by force, my soul will never be defiled by renouncing Christ.”
When the soldiers of Sisinius led Saint Irene to the brothel, two luminous soldiers overtook them and said, “Your master Sisinius commands you to take this virgin to a high mountain and leave her there, and then return to him and report to him that you have fulfilled his command.” And the soldiers did so.
When they reported back to Sisinius, he flew into a rage, since he had given no such orders. The luminous soldiers were angels of God, saving the holy martyr from defilement. Sisinius went to the mountain with a detachment of soldiers and saw Saint Irene on the summit. For a long while they searched for the way to the top, but they could not find it. Then one of the soldiers wounded Saint Irene with an arrow. The martyr cried out to Sisinius, “I mock your impotent malice, and I go my Lord Jesus Christ pure and undefiled.” Having given thanks to the Lord, she lay down upon the ground and surrendered her soul to God on the very day of Holy Pascha (+ 304).
The Great Martyr Anastasia heard about the end of the holy sisters, and she buried their bodies with reverence.
Martyrs Leonidas, Chariessa, Nice, Galina, Kalista, Nunechia, Basilissa, Theodora, and Irene, of Corinth
The Holy Martyr Leonidas and the Holy Martyrs Charissa, Nike (Nika, Victoria), Galina, Kalista (Kalida), Nunekhia, Basilissa, Irene, and Theodora suffered at Corinth in the year 258. They threw them into the sea, but they did not drown. Instead, they walked upon the water as if on dry land, singing spiritual hymns. The torturers overtook them in a ship, tied stones around their necks and drowned them.
Monastic Martyr Christopher of Dionysiou, Mount Athos
No information available at this time.
No information available at this time.
Weeping “Ilyin Chernigov” Icon of the Mother of God
The Ilyin-Chernigov Icon of the Mother of God was painted in the year 1658 by the iconographer Gregory Dubensky (Gennadius in monasticism). Tears flowed from the icon for eight days in 1662, from April 16-24.
In this same year Tatars descended upon Chernigov and devastated it. At midnight they burst into the Trinity monastery, went into the church, overturned all the icons and grabbed all the utensils, but the wonderworking icon and its ornaments remained untouched.
An invisible power held back the impious from the holy icon. Previously, the Queen of Heaven had not permitted the enemy to enter the cave of Saint Anthony of the Caves, where the brethren of the monastery had hidden. The Tatars fled, as though terrified by a vision.
The miracle of the Mother of God and Her Chernigov Icon was described by Saint Demetrius of Rostov (October 28 and September 21) in his book, THE MOISTENED FLEECE [Runo Oroshennoe]. Later on, Saint John of Tobolsk (June 10) also wrote about the Chernigov Icon.
A wonderworking copy of the Chernigov Icon of the Mother of God, in the Gethsemane skete of the Trinity-Sergiev Lavra, was glorified in the year 1869 (September 1).
Tambov (Utkino) Icon of the Mother of God
In 1686, Saint Pitirim (July 28) arrived in Tambov. Along with other holy objects, he brought a copy of the Il'insk-Chernigov Icon of the Mother of God, which was considered to be the patroness of the southwest territory. Therefore, the copy was placed at the southwestern gate of the city. After a while, the Icon was called Tambov, especially since the copy differed slightly from the original Il’insk-Chernigov Icon. On either side of the Virgin, Saint Alexis, the man of God, and Saint Eudokia were depicted. It has been suggested that these were the patron saints of Saint Pitirim’s parents, and it is quite possible that he himself painted the images of these Saints.
Later, on the site of the southwestern city gates, a small wooden church was built and dedicated to the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul. In that church, there was an Icon. When the merchant Ivan Utkin built a stone church in honor of the Protomartyr Archdeacon Stephen with his own funds in 1771, the Tambov Icon was transferred here and placed in the altar above the Table of Oblation. People began to call the church Utkino, after the builder, and subsequently, the Icon was completely forgotten. The Queen of Heaven made them remember her, however.
At the beginning of the XIX century, a certain provincial priest from Kaluga suffered from an affliction in his leg, and he was unable to walk. It was this Icon of the Mother of God which appeared to him in a dream, and a voice told him, “Search for this icon. Pray before it, and you shall be healed.”
After this, the priest obtained some relief from his illness, so that he was able to walk. Right away, he began to search for the Icon he had seen in his dream. After visiting several villages and cities, he finally reached Tambov. He looked in all the churches until he found the Icon from his dream in the altar of the Utkino church. After praying before this Icon, he was completely healed. This incident became widely known in the city, and thereafter several more miraculous cures of the townspeople took place.
The Tambov Icon became known once again, and in 1835, when the old Utkino church was in a terrible state of disrepair, the townspeople requested that the right side altar be dedicated to the Tambov Icon of the Mother of God. Over time, the grateful people of Tambov diligently adorned the Icon. A luxurious silver riza was made, studded with many gems. There were so many cases of healing before the Icon that there was not enough time to record all of them. In 1888, by a decree of the Holy Synod, all the churches of the city were ordered to have a Cross Procession on April 16 in honor of the Tambov Icon. In 1900, the church itself was named for the Theotokos.
After the Russian Revolution, the churches of Tambov were ravaged, and the wonderworking Icon suffered. They removed the riza and picked out the gems, and the Icon itself disappeared without a trace. The city has preserved accounts of the miracles performed by the Icon.