“O women, be the heralds of good news and tell what you saw; tell of the vision and say to Sion: ‘Accept the good news of joy from us, the news that Christ has risen.’ Exult and celebrate and rejoice, O Jerusalem, seeing Christ the King coming from the tomb like a bridegroom.” -Matins of the Resurrection
I remember in a homily at the monastery once, Fr. Maximos said, “Christians are called to be sacraments of joy to the world.” I have thought about this a lot and know this is only possible if we first experience and know the joy of being a Christian. True joy isn’t something we can fake, a false piety or cheerfulness isn’t Christian joy. It isn’t even something we always see on someone’s face. Joy radiates from people’s lives. We all have our dark times and hardships and often it is in seeing people endure these times that we see the source of their hope, faith, and joy.
By entering into the life of the Church, experiencing the liturgical seasons and traditions every year, we can encounter Jesus Christ at the different times of His life. This is how we come to know Him more deeply and come to know in our hearts, in every part of our being, why we have reason for joy. Then we can be “sacraments of joy to the world,” showing the world what it truly means to be a Christian.
Christian joy comes from knowing Christ is risen and has conquered death by His death, and because of His victory we shall have eternal life. Jesus came to give us abundant life and life filled with joy: “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:10-11)
The fact that Christ is risen cannot simply be a knowledge we have in our heads but must be something which has sunk into our very being, something that burns inside of us and illumines every part of our life. The richness and beauty which is found in the Church’s traditions and liturgical calendar are meant to make the knowledge of Jesus Christ’s life, death, and Resurrection an experienced truth for the faithful.
For me, that has been from encountering the Risen Lord in the traditions and from the liturgical year of the Eastern Catholic Church. The monastery I attend is even called Holy Resurrection, and because I have been blessed to experience the full cycle of services and traditions of our faith it is from this experience I wish to share with you my own encounter with joy from the liturgical year.
Pascha (Easter) is the Feast of Feasts and the feast which gives meaning to all others. Pope Benedict XVI mentions the Eastern Lenten and Pascha traditions in his book, Seek That Which Is Above, “They had undergone tangible renunciation during the period of Lent, and now that this period was over, they experienced a real immense overflowing of joy. By entering into the rhythm of the Church’s year they knew quite tangibly that life had triumphed and life was beautiful.” This describes the experience of many Eastern Catholics and Orthodox every Great Lent and Pascha, and it definitely describes my own experience of entering into the Church’s year.
For Eastern Christians the encounter with the Risen Lord comes after spending all of Great Lent fasting, praying, and doing acts of charity, after numerous prostrations and prayers of repentance, after hours of long prayer services every week. Holy Week begins and we acknowledge our unworthiness to be the bride of Christ, followed by His suffering, death, and burial in the tomb. With lamentations and weeping alongside the Theotokos (Mother of God) we hear, “Today is hung upon the Tree, He Who did hang the land in the midst of the waters. A Crown of thorns crowns Him Who is King of Angels. He is wrapped about with the purple of mockery Who wrapped the Heavens with clouds. He received buffetings Who freed Adam in Jordan. He was transfixed with nails Who is the Bridegroom of the Church. He was pierced with a spear Who is the Son of the Virgin. We worship Thy Passion, O Christ. Show also unto us thy glorious Resurrection.” (Holy Friday service) We come to the end of Holy Week and at the Matins and Divine Liturgy of Pascha night in a church which was previously covered in dark flowers and has now been changed to colors of radiance and light, the light in the tomb shines forth and we sing and shout out with joy:
“It is the day of Resurrection, all People, let us be enlightened by it. *The Passover is the Lord’s Passover, * Since Christ, our God, has brought from death to life * and from earth to heaven. * Therefore, we sing the hymn of victory.
Christ is risen from the dead!
Let us cleanse our senses * that we may see the risen Christ * in the glory of His resurrection * and clearly hear Him greeting us: * “Rejoice!” — as we sing the hymn of victory.
Christ is risen from the dead!
Let the heavens properly rejoice, * and let the earth be glad, * and let the whole visible and invisible world celebrate; * for Christ, our everlasting joy, is risen.”
And to the Theotokos we sing:
“The angel exclaimed to her, * full of grace: * “Rejoice, 0 Pure Virgin; * again I say, rejoice! * Your Son is risen from the grave on the third day * and has raised the dead. * Let all nations rejoice!”
Shine in splendor, * O new Jerusalem! * For the glory of the Lord * is risen upon you, O Sion; * sing with joy and rejoice! * And you, pure Mother of God, * rejoice in the resurrection of your Son.”
Following the three hour long Pascha service we have a feast together, it’s around 2 AM when we break the long fast with a feast of foods we have denied ourselves. Singing “Christ is Risen” continues among the people and random shouts of “Christ is Risen”, with the response of “Indeed He is Risen” are heard throughout the rest of the morning until everyone finally goes home and to bed from exhaustion! Bright Week follows and there will be more singing, feasting, and rejoicing in the Resurrection of Christ.
All of the preparations that are endured, the intense fasting, the long hours of prayer, the acts of charity, and the reason for the Church’s traditions and liturgical calendar are to immerse the faithful into the very life of Jesus Christ-the source of all joy. Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!