The first week starting with Pascha is known as Bright Week. In our Byzantine Catholic churches, the entire week of Easter or Pascha is given extraordinary significance. Pascha, being the Feast of Feasts is the greatest historical event on the liturgical calendar and we carry the salutations and hymns of the resurrection from Pascha to Christ’s Ascension.
Everything about Bright Week emphasizes the salvific act of Christ’s resurrection and the triumph over darkness. The magnitude of Christ’s Resurrection is intertwined in the liturgical celebrations to such a degree that there can be no doubt in the minds of the faithful that what has transpired has changed the world and humanity forever. Everything is brought into the fullness of the light shining in the world. As the Gospel of John Chapter 1 proclaims about Christ, that it is “through him all things came into being, and apart from him nothing came to be. Whatever came to be in him, found life, life for the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, a darkness that did not overcome it.” (John 1: 3-5).
A tradition of our Byzantine churches on Bright Monday is the proclamation of the four resurrection Gospels. The priest together with the faithful walk in procession while chanting resurrectional hymns to the four corners of the earth, represented by the four “corners” of the church. The significance of this relates to the command of the angel who appeared to the myrrh bearing women upon arrival at the tomb, directing them to go forth and proclaim the good news of Christ’s resurrection and in these gospels we hear this account. It is a beautiful tradition and one that if possible, all are encouraged to participate in when available. It reminds us that in the baptismal vows made by our sponsors on our behalf, that we too are obligated as Christian believers and held accountable to do the same, to witness Christ to the world. When we are able to join in this service, we are publicly making visible our commitment to all that we believe. In every sense, we demonstrate Christ’s life in us. Do we not want to shine to others also?
In the reading of the following Gospels which are chanted at the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy on Bright Monday, we find ourselves mystically at the tomb with the disciples and the holy women.
Matthew 28: 1 – 28
Mark 16: 1 – 19
Luke 24: 1 -12
John 20: 1 – 10
As we listen and meditate on the accounts, our hearts are stirred with the same wonder as the first witnesses. The sheer astonishment of the apostles in seeing the empty tomb and burial garments left in place brings to life – paints an icon – of the reality and actuality of the Resurrection. We can only imagine the rush of emotion they felt at the time as indescribable.
It is why their reading on this day after Pascha further confirms the authenticity of all we profess and believe. While the manner in which the Resurrection physically occurred is beyond the grasp of our human intelligence, the facts of the Resurrection cannot be disputed. Our faith in God lies in our surrender to trust in the mystery. And in our trust, God can do great things. The reading of the four Gospels should inspire us even more of the beauty of God’s plan and love for us. Our faith is emboldened in this beautiful tradition of their reading.
In the liturgical services during this festal period, everything points heavenly and unites all creation in praise and glory to God. Pascha is celebrated as a solemn feast for three days and liturgically observed the whole week. During this week, the doors of the iconostasis or icon screen including the Royal Doors remain open. This symbolizes visually that Christ’s resurrection opened heaven for all of us. We sing the Paschal troparion of “Christ is risen…” with the opening of each liturgy, during and closing. And in the final blessing, the priest continues to bless us three times with the hand cross loudly and emphatically proclaiming “Christ is Risen!” to which the faithful respond enthusiastically that “Indeed He is Risen!” while making the sign of the cross.
Our joy in the resurrection should be jubilant to the highest degree throughout Bright week and in the following 39 days because this is the summit of our Christian faith. As we sing “Shine in splendor” everything in Bright week does shine in splendor in the beauty of the white altar linens, vestments, candles, flowers, and intensified church lighting. Our celebration, as in other particular feast days, also removes the requirement to abstain or fast on the Friday of this week. And so our joy is extended to all aspects of our life. Let us fill our domestic churches – our homes – with joy and symbols of our unity of faith.
Our hearts rejoice in the hope of eternal life with our Lord. Let us sing and rejoice!
The post-festive period of the Resurrection lasts until Ascension, the next feast day in the awesome continuation of God’s plan.