The Resurrection of Christ is celebrated in the Byzantine Catholic Church as the major Feast Day known as Pascha¹, commonly known as Easter. The event of the Resurrection is both a historical fact and a foundation of faith for all Christian believers.
This is the most important Feast Day of the liturgical calendar. It is the time in which Christ fulfilled sacred Scripture by his crucifixion and death on the cross, and with his glorious Resurrection on the third day after his burial.
The Resurrection of Christ is much more than a historical event. It is a revelation of Christ’s Divinity and a fulfillment of God’s plan for salvation and for eternal life for all. The Catholic Church teaches: “The Paschal mystery has two aspects: by his death, Christ liberates us from sin; by his Resurrection, he opens for us the way to a new life.”²
The time between Good Friday and the revelation of our Lord’s Resurrection is a time of reserved and solemn anticipation, a waiting period.
This is the time when those closest to Christ were sheltered in place – wondering, feeling extreme grief and dismay over the horrific scenes of the crucifixion that had just occurred, and for them, a time of fear and uncertainty. They had witnessed so much in their mission with Jesus their Lord and Teacher, the Jesus who they loved and followed — the incomprehensible healings and miracles, the sermons about God’s New Covenant – all that Jesus presented, a reality that is so far beyond our world today. Those close to Jesus heard the promises, the words he spoke – of what would take place in three days, and yet they still experienced this waiting time of mixed human emotion, of not yet fully understanding the sequence of events. They were still not aware of the joyful news, of the empty tomb, soon to be seen and understood.
For us as believers, in this interval between Christ’s crucifixion (Good Friday), His death on the cross and His glorious Resurrection (Easter Sunday or Holy Pascha) — in this waiting time it may seem as if the universe itself lies suspended in hopeful expectation. In ways we will never comprehend in the present, a heightened sense of sacred mystery: in what has taken place, what is, and what is to come.
Through the Resurrection, Christ “opens the way” to salvation for all: to those just souls who long awaited the coming of a Savior from the time of the Old Testament, to us in the present, to every generation and all ages and beyond, immeasurable time. This is the time when Christ descends into Hades, the place of the dead, to bring the good news to those righteous souls who also were sharers in God’s plan for redemption. Christ conquers death. Death no longer is an inescapable place of darkness. Instead, Christ now lifts all in darkness to the Light of life eternal. He opens the doors to Paradise, the gates of heaven are now available to all who live in Christ.
This remarkable event and evidence of the Resurrection is told to us in Scripture through the witness of the women who first appeared at the tomb:
“When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome³ bought perfumed oils with which they intended to go and anoint Jesus. Very early, just after sunrise, on the first day of the week they came to the tomb. They were saying to one another, ‘Who will roll back the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’ When they looked, they found that the stone had been rolled back. On entering the tomb they saw a young man sitting at the right, dressed in a white robe. This frightened them thoroughly, but he reassured them:
‘You need not be amazed! You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, the one who was crucified. He has been raised up; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. Go now and tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you to Galilee, where you will see him just as he told you.’” (Mark 16:1-7; NAB)
In the Byzantine Catholic Church, in the evening of Holy Saturday or early morning Easter Sunday, Matins (morning service) and the Divine Liturgy of St Basil are celebrated. This begins the time of exaltation with the words: Christ is Risen!
The words of the verses we sing in our Byzantine Church during this Feast of Feasts joyfully describe all we believe. We rejoice in our Risen Lord. All creation rejoices. We are resurrected with our Living God.
Christ is risen from the dead. By death he trampled death, and to those in the tombs, he granted life! Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!
Description of Resurrection Matins in the Byzantine Catholic Church:
The church is dimly lit as the priest removes the Burial Shroud from the tomb and places it on the altar. After this takes place, the faithful form a procession behind the priest and deacon, altar servers, other members of the clergy assisting with carrying the processional cross, Gospel book and icons; all proceed to exit the church. The procession proceeds outside the church building, circles and returns to the main doors of the church, where the people, still chanting are now brought to the symbolic place of Christ’s victory over darkness and death.
In front of the closed doors, the priest and faithful sing a Troparion of verses. After each verse the people respond with: “Christ is risen from the dead! By death he trampled death, and to those in the tomb, He granted life!” Upon completion of the Troparion, the priest strikes the door three times making the sign of the cross with his hand cross, in another symbolic gesture of Christ breaking through the gates of Hades and delivering to all new life through His Resurrection. All continue singing as they re-enter the church which is now fully illuminated as the first Litany (prayers) begins. The service continues with a series of Resurrection Odes, each following by small litanies. During the singing of the nine Odes, the priest or deacon joyfully incenses the church and people, while proclaiming “Christ is Risen!”. The Divine Liturgy begins as an unbroken continuation of the Matins Service.
Excerpts from Resurrection Matins in the Byzantine Catholic Church:
From Ode 1: “It is the day of Resurrection, O People let us be enlightened by it. The Passover is the Lord’s Passover, since Christ our God, has brought us from death to life and from earth to heaven – Therefore we sing a hymn of victory!”
From Ode 3: “Today all things are filled with light – earth and heaven and the world beneath. Then let all creation celebrate the resurrection of Christ. In Him is the firm foundation of all things ….. I was buried yesterday with You, O Christ; but today I rise, resurrected with You. Yesterday I crucified myself with You, O Savior. Now glorify me with you in Your kingdom.”
From Ode 6: “You have descended into the realm of Death, O Christ, and have broken ancient bonds which held the captive. You arose from the tomb on the third day, like Jonah from the whale …..O my Savior, being God, willingly You offered Yourself. As a never-consumed, yet living victim, You gave Yourself to the Father. You arose from the tomb, resurrecting Adam the father of all.”
From Ode 7: “This most splendid and saving night is sacred and all worthy of solemnity. It heralds the bright day of resurrection on which the Eternal Light in the flesh, has shown forth from the tomb to all.”
From Ode 8: “O Almighty Father, Spirit and Word, three persons, yet one essence, fullness of all-being and divinity – we have been baptized in You, and ever bless You.”
¹In the …. Easter Oration of St. Gregory, he explains: “This great and venerable Feast of Pasch in Hebrew is called “Pesach,” which means passing over. Historically it recalls the passing over (of the Israelites) from Egypt in the Promised Land but spiritually (for the Christians) it means the passing over from things down below (from the earth) to things above (to heaven).” (Source: “Resurrection Services according to the Ruthenian Tradition, pamphlet series, http://www.archpitt.org and Byzantine Seminary Press publications)
²Source: usccb online version: Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2016 second edition), p.170, ref 654.
³Salome is inferred to be the mother of Zebedee’s sons James and John as mentioned in Matthew 20:20-24. Additional references are found in Mark 15:40-41 and in Mark 16: 1.