THE CELEBRATION

by Deacon Emmanuel Stamatiou

 

The time was approaching for the Resurrection. The Matins of the Resurrection had come to an end. All the lights of the Church were out resembling the darkness of our Lord's tomb. The Priest took the light form an oil candle behind the alter and brought it forth to the faithful proclaiming "Come receive the light form the unwaning light, and glorify Christ who rose from the dead." I noticed from the side some chose to light their own candles from their own source. This saddened me because the light comes from the one source so that it is progressively passed on to all. This may seem trivial but there should always be order in the Church.

We proceeded down the central aisle to exit the Church preparing ourselves for the good news of the Resurrection with the reading of the Holy Gospel according to St. Mark (16:1-8). The people were present in great numbers talking, laughing, hands in pockets, their backs to us as we proceeded to the platform from which the Holy Gospel was to be read. I expected holiness and reverence but it was not readily evident.

As we climbed the steps of the gazebo I saw the large crowd. Most seemed to be elsewhere in their hearts. There were tow Holy Gospels taken out for reading, the beautifully bound Greek Gospel and the new Gospel containing both the Greek and the English translation now use regularly during the Sunday Liturgies. There seemed to be few who were interested in what was about to take place. I was saddened in my heart yet this was a time of joy, as we proceeded closer to the time of Resurrection. Following the reading of the Gospel, the most joyful and triumphant hymn was chanted "Christ has Risen". Our joyous greeting "Christ has Risen" was said out aloud. It will be our first greeting to all the faithful for the next forty days until the time of the Ascension of our Lord.

As the triumphant hymn was chanted, I looked up and saw a sea of candles and faces surrounding us. It was my first Easter as a Deacon. It was my first Easter at Sts Constantine and Helene since a young child. I was expecting a big crowd but not so large as this gathering. So many Orthodox Christians were present for the Resurrection service, yet it is doubtful whether they will be seen again for another year, unless some need arises such as a marriage, baptism or funeral service. Of those present, only a small number entered the Church to receive a blessing. For the great majority they were content with outside. These persons observed whatever caught their eye whilst socialising and with indifference participated in something they did not understand. For the Resurrection is about a dramatic victory, a great mystery, and above all the full expression of the Love of God for man through Our Lord Jesus Christ. They may say they attended Church, be it for this one time in the year, but in truth they did not attend. Can anyone live by eating once a year? Even so, can anyone live by seeing what he might eat and then sustain himself for a whole year? How are we to be nourished spiritually if we do not prepare to receive Christ?

I am reliably informed also that some having consoled their souls with their once a year presence, departed into Northbridge for celebration. I saw this celebration on the faces of the young who frequent Northbridge and who could not walk straight because of their alcohol and drug taking. I watched as I saw a young girl of seventeen staggering to cross the road in the early hours of Easter Sunday as I was getting into my car to go home after the Divine Liturgy. This is the celebration of the young. Her celebration as so many like her was to wipe herself out. For the Christian this is not celebration at all, but the signs of death.

It is because we are united to Christ that we can celebrate the Resurrection. If we do not believe that He has truly risen, if we consider that the Resurrection is simply based on an elaborate tale or a rich but meaningless tradition and do not believe with all our hearts, then how can we expect salvation. For salvation is only found because of the Resurrection.

Worse still, it is of concern that many do not even stop and think about being saved. Yes they have heard it all before, you see they know it, there is nothing new in this message of the Risen Christ for them. But they have never known it, and for those who do know it, the joyous news is always new and never old, it is always about new life. New and always new, not like the news of the world, which grows old so that no one wants to listen to it after a time. In the joyous news of our Lord's Resurrection lies all our hope, all our promise, and all Truth.

All three Perth Churches drew big crowds during the Resurrection Matin services. It is not beyond reason to estimate that some 5,000 people would have attended these services. At least another five times this number I believe stayed away. As in previous years many of those present left prior to the commencement of the Divine Liturgy thereby missing out on the full celebration of the Resurrection.

We must come to understand that the true celebration of life can only be found within the Church. After Christ was Resurrected He revealed Himself in Truth. Our Lord's promise to us is that we too will be resurrected and that "The righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father" (Matt. 13:43)

While the Resurrection is common to all, the Resurrection with glory will belong to those who have lived according to God's will and are members of His Holy Church, whilst those who remained distant from God will be condemned and resurrected for punishment. In the ecstasy of his understanding of the Resurrection, St John Chrysostomos wrote

"My God, this body of ours becomes like the form of Him who sits at the right hand of God; similar to the Body that is above every power and authority, that is worshipped by the angels, that is surrounded by the bodiless powers, that is much more exalted than the angelic orders."

CHRIST HAS RISEN! TRULY HE HAS RISEN!

 

(Ref. St John Chrysostomos, On Matthew, Homily 47, 1 pp 58, 482)

by Deacon Emmanuel Stamatiou,
Perth, Western Australia

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