Χριστός ἀνέστη! Ἀληθῶς ἀνέστη!
The Feast of the Resurrection is the Church’s greatest feast and Easter (Πάσχα, Pascha, from Aramaic paskha and Hebrew Pesach) is the most important festival in the Church’s calendar, celebrating Christ’s resurrection from the dead on the third day after his crucifixion.
In most European languages the feast called Easter in English is known by the words for Passover in those languages and in the older English versions of the Bible the term Easter was the term used to translate Passover.
The Easter Season begins today and traditionally lasts for the forty days until Ascension Day, although it now lasts for the 50 days until Pentecost. The first week of the Easter Season is known as Easter Week.
The Sung Eucharist for Easter Day in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, this morning is at 11 a.m., with Archbishop John Neill, and the setting is Zoltán Kodály’s Missa Brevis.
For many Anglicans, the musical tradition of Easter is linked intimately with that majestic tune by the English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958), Hail thee, festival day. It was one of the three pieces of music I selected for use in my reflection at the grave in Whitechurch Parish Church yesterday for Easter Eve, using a version sung by the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge. However, it is not included in the Irish Church Hymnal.
The tune Vaughan Williams used for this work was one he called Salve Festa Dies, roughly a translation of this hymn’s title into Latin. The “Day” in question is Easter Day, and the hymn’s original Latin text, by Venantius Honorius Fortunatus (ca 530-609), was translated by Maurice Frederick Bell.
He composed Salve Festa Dies in 1906 and it was first published in the English Hymnal, which he edited with Percy Dearmer. The hymn begins with the refrain’s famous words:
Salve, festa dies, toto venerabilis aevo,
Qua Deus infernum vicit et astra tenet.
Refrain: Hail thee, festival day!
Blest day that art hallowed forever;
day wherein Christ arose,
breaking the kingdom of death.
Lo, the fair beauty of earth,
from the death of the winter arising,
every good gift of the year
now with its Master returns.
He who was nailed to the Cross
is God and the Ruler of all things;
all things created on earth
worship the Maker of all.
God of all pity and power,
let thy word be assured to the doubted;
light on the third day returns:
rise, Son of God, from the tomb!
Ill doth it seem that thy limbs
should linger in lowly dishonour;
ransom and price of the world,
veiled from the vision of men.
Loosen, O Lord, the enchained,
the spirits imprisoned in darkness;
rescue, recall into life those
who are rushing to death.
Ill it beseemeth that thou,
by whose hand all things are encompassed,
captive and bound shouldst remain,
deep in the gloom of the rock.
Rise now, O Lord, from the grave
and cast off the shroud that enwrapped thee;
thou art sufficient for us;
nothing without thee exists.
Mourning they laid thee to rest,
who art Author of life and creation;
treading the pathway of death,
life thou bestowedst on man.
Show us thy face once more,
that the ages may joy in thy brightness;
give us the light of day,
darkened on earth at thy death.
Out of the prison of death
thou art rescuing numberless captives;
freely they tread in the way
whither their Maker has gone.
Jesus has harrowed hell;
he had led captivity captive;
darkness and chaos and death
flee from the face of the light.
The Resurrection, Duccio di Buoninsegna
Vaughan Williams’s music brings a regal manner to its religiosity, bearing a resemblance to much English church music from the 19th century, but also revealing the composer’s vigour in its march-like gait. The main theme is glorious and celebratory without ever veering into a secular sound or mood. This is happy worshipful music then, from the pen of one of the greatest composers ever to have written sacred and church music, principally for use in the Anglican tradition.
Hail thee, festival day is vigorous and jubilant with a rhythmic energy that characterises Vaughan Williams’s hymn tunes. Its broad dimensions and use of triplets may appear formidable, but it is a glorious tune that can be sung in unison by congregations that have good choral and organ leadership. The majesty and strength of this hymn make it appropriate for celebrating the Resurrection.
The Resurrection, a fresco ca 1460 by Pierro della Francesca, in the Museo Civico of Sansepolcro in Tuscany
Vaughan Williams also composed Five Mystical Songs drawing on The Temple (1633) by George Herbert, including Easter [Easter section A]:
Rise heart; thy Lord is risen. Sing his praise
Who takes thee by the hand, that thou likewise
With him may’st rise;
That, as his death calcined thee to dust,
His life may make thee gold, and much more, Just.
Awake, my lute, and struggle for thy part
With all thy art.
The cross taught all wood to resound his name
Who bore the same.
His stretched sinews taught all strings, what key
Is best to celebrate this most high day.
Consort both heart and lute, and twist a song
Pleasant and long:
Or since all music is but three parts vied,
O let thy blessed Spirit bear a part,
And make up our defects with his sweet art.
A second of these five songs, I got me flowers [Easter Section B], was also inspired by George Herbert’s The Temple:
I got me flowers to straw thy way;
I got me boughs off many a tree:
But thou wast up by break of day,
And brought’st thy sweets along with thee.
The Sunne arising in the East,
Though he give light, & th’ East perfume;
If they should offer to contest
With thy arising, they presume.
Can there be any day but this,
Though many sunnes to shine endeavour?
We count three hundred, but we misse:
There is but one, and that one ever.
Pascha in the Orthodox Church
The Resurrection, the Harrowing of Hell ... this is the expected and holy day, the Feast of Feasts, the Celebration of Celebrations
Pascha is the fundamental and most important festival of the Orthodox Church:
This is the expected and holy day,
the one among the Sabbaths,
the Sovereign and Lady of days,
The Feast of Feasts, the Celebration of Celebrations,
today we praise Christ for all eternity!
Every other religious festival in the Orthodox calendar, not excepting Christmas, is secondary in importance to the celebration of the Resurrection of Christ.
Throughout the Orthodox world, the customary Paschal Greeting for this season is: Χριστός ἀνέστη! (Christ is Risen!), to which the response is: Ἀληθῶς ἀνέστη! (He is truly Risen, indeed!).
Pascha (Easter) is the primary act that fulfils the purpose of Christ’s ministry on earth. This is succinctly summarised in the Paschal troparion, sung repeatedly during Pascha until the Apodosis (‘Leave-Taking) of Pascha, the day before Ascension Day:
Χριστὸς ἀνέστη ἐκ νεκρῶν,
θανάτῳ θάνατον πατήσας,
καὶ τοῖς ἐν τοῖς μνήμασι
Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs
On this morning, Easter Day, there is no Divine Liturgy in Orthodox churches as the Liturgy for today was celebrated at midnight.
Instead, in the afternoon, it is often traditional to serve Agape Vespers. In this joyful service, the Great Prokeimenon is chanted, and it is customary for the priest and people to read John 20: 19-25 as the Gospel reading – in some places extended to include verses 26-31 – in as many languages as possible, to show the universality of the Resurrection. This Gospel reading is accompanied by the joyful ringing of bells.
For the remainder of the week, known as Bright Week, all fasting is prohibited – even on Wednesday and Friday.
The services during Bright Week are similar to those of Pascha itself, except they do not take place at midnight, but are served at their normal times during the day.
The liturgical season from Pascha to the Sunday of All Saints, the Sunday after Pentecost, is known as the Pentecostarion, or the “Fifty Days.” The week that begins on Easter Day is called Bright Week, during which there is no fasting, even on Wednesday and Friday. The After-Feast of Pascha lasts 39 days, with its Apodosis (leave-taking) on the day before Ascension. The Day of Pentecost is the fiftieth day after Pascha.
Although the Pentecostarion ends on the Sunday of All Saints, the influence of Pascha continues throughout the year that follows, determining the daily Epistle and Gospel readings at the Divine Liturgy, the Tone of the Week, and the Matins Gospels, all the way through to the next year’s Lazarus Saturday.
Collect of the Day:
through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ
you have overcome death
and opened to us the gate of everlasting life:
Grant that, as by your grace going before us
you put into our minds good desires,
so by your continual help we may bring them to good effect;
through Jesus Christ our risen Lord
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.
for our redemption you gave your only-begotten Son
to the death of the cross,
and by his glorious resurrection
you have delivered us from the power of our enemy.
Grant us so to die daily unto sin,
that we may evermore live with him in the joy of his risen life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Christ is Risen!
He is truly Risen, indeed!
Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.