Christ is Risen!
Glory to His Three-Day Resurrection!
Last Sunday was Easter Sunday. All the churches were full, people waiting with their lambades to receive the Holy Light of the Resurrection. The exchange of greetings: Christ is Risen, Truly He is Risen resonated among the crowds of people. However, the crowds dramatically dispersed once the priest, chanters and altar boys returned back into the church to complete the Matins and Paschal Liturgy. Many fled to enjoy their mageritsa. It reminds me of a NY Lotto commercial where as soon as the new jackpot amount is announced, the huge crowd immediately dispels to purchase tickets, leaving the room empty. It is unfortunate that only a remnant remains for the Paschal Liturgy. The following Sunday, churches have significantly smaller attendance and as the weeks go on the Paschal greeting of Christ is Risen, Truly He is Risen diminishes.
Perhaps the reason for the decline is that many think that Pascha is a one day event. It comes and it goes. However, this is not the case. Easter Sunday is just the beginning of a 40 day celebration and part of a 50 day period. Just like with Lent, there is a special liturgical book used in this 50 day period called the Pentecostarion. This book begins at the Paschal Matins and ends on the Sunday of All Saints which is the Sunday after Pentecost. So actually, the Pentecostarion extends past 50 days. On the 40th day after Pascha, Christ ascended into Heaven and on the 50th day, the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles.
The Sunday after Easter Sunday is known as St. Thomas Sunday, or Antipascha. Antipascha, what does that mean? It does not mean “in opposition to Pascha” but rather “in place of Pascha” or “instead of Pascha.” Starting from Sunday of Thomas and onward, every Sunday is dedicated to the Resurrection and known as the Lord’s Day. Saturday is the seventh day of the week and still the Sabbath, however, by the 2nd Century the 1st day of the week, Sunday, became known as the Lord’s Day. It was a day of rest from work and for worship, remembering the Resurrection of Christ. Saturday became a day reserved for the commemoration of the dead. Although Sunday is the 1st day of the week, it is also known as the “eighth day.’ As we hear in the Gospel reading that Sunday morning: And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” (Jn 20:26) Why the emphasis of the eighth day? From Judaism, feasts were celebrated for eight days, like Passover and Hanukah. The early Church adopted the same tradition, since Christianity is not a new religion but rather the fulfillment of the Law and Prophets, thus the New Jerusalem. The number eight has an eschatological dimension to it. It refers to the age to come in the Kingdom of Heaven. The first week of Pascha is known as Renewal Week or Bright Week. The Resurrection is celebrated unceasingly day and night. Each day of the week designates to a Resurrection tone from the Octoechos for both vespers and matins. Although, Sunday of Thomas is the Second Sunday of Pascha, a Resurrectional tone from the Octoechos is not sung on Sunday of Thomas. This is another reason for the term “Antipascha.”
On Sunday of Thomas we remember the Touching of Thomas which is the Greek tradition. In Slavonic practice it is known as the “Belief of Thomas.” Some icons have the inscription: Doubting Thomas but that is not correct. Although the Apostle Thomas was doubtful at first: Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe, (ibid, 25) , we celebrate rather his belief once the Risen Christ showed Thomas His side and His hands. As we heard in vespers on Saturday evening: Thomas, called the Twin, was not with them when You, O Christ, came and the doors were shut. Therefore, he did not believe what he was told. But to confirm him in belief from disbelief, You, O Good One, did not refuse to show him Your immaculate side, and the wounds on Your hands and Your feet. When he saw You and touched You, he confessed that You are not simply God and not merely man, and he cried, “My Lord and my God, glory to You!” Christ encouraged Thomas to put his hand in His side and his fingers into the holes of His hands, however, Thomas did not need to in order to believe. He immediately confessed: My Lord and my God! (ibid, 28) Christ told him: Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. (ibid, 29) This is a message to all of us. We have not seen Jesus in the flesh, yet we believe what has been proclaimed to us in the Scriptures. Faith is to believe something that is not visual or tangible.
This particular day is not just remembering the historic event involving Thomas but for us to reflect on our faith. Do we truly believe Christ is Risen? Perhaps at times we are like Thomas prior to Christ appearing to Him. The goal is transition or rather transformation from unbelieving to believing. Our faith needs to be reinforced with prayer, both personal and corporate. We can identify with Thomas because there are times in our life that we have disbelief. Yet, through prayer, fasting and almsgiving our disbelief fades away and our faith grows stronger and stronger.
During this blessed and joyous time, let each of us cherish every day of Pascha. As we heard in the stichera from the vespers, in order to confirm him [Thomas] in belief from disbelief, Christ offered His side and His hands. Christ wanted Thomas to be believing, He did not want to chastise Him for his disbelief. Likewise, Christ wants us to believe. He reveals Himself to us through His energies. Indeed, Christ is Risen, but now what? What is our outlook? In this Holy and Joyous season of Pascha, let us rejoice and behold the Resurrection of Christ. The Risen Christ has revealed Himself to us. Let it be a time of triumph; a triumph over death. Let it be a time of hope and joy, that we await eternal life in His Kingdom.
May we all say with our hearts and our minds: My Lord and My God, glory to You!