We have referred to Saint John Chrysostom many times in this blog. His homilies are as fresh today as when he first uttered them in Constantinople in the late 4th century, and his keen understanding of human nature remains relevant. Saint John Chrysostom has a special place in the hearts of Georgian Christians, as he was deposed by the Roman Empress and exiled to Colchis, where he died in the town of Pitsunda in Abkhazeti. His relics were a site of pilgrimage for many years until relocated to Constantinople.
At the end of the Paschal Matins service on Saturday night, his homily is read out throughout the world to the congregation by the priest, in Greek, Slavonic, Arabic, Georgian, Romanian or whatever vernacular language the bishop may feel appropriate. The homily has a victorious tone which reflects the Orthodox concept of Christ, as a victorious Warrior-King who has battled the Devil and won, broken down the gates of Hell and liberated the souls of the dead to be reunited with their Father. There is no “Gentle Jesus Meek and Mild” concept of Jesus in the Orthodox Church; he is Almighty God, existing before all ages, Lord of the Universe and Conqueror of Death, and the homily reflects this concept very ably.
The homily is particularly poignant for recent converts, as Saint John Chrysostom declares that even those who have joined the Church at the very last hour, late in life or after a dissolute existence, may share in the the redemption granted by Christ’s Resurrection, on equal terms with those who have been faithful Christians since the cradle.
The Greek word “Hades” in Christian usage, represents Hell; the state in which the souls of those who have rejected Christ await their Final Judgement in sorrow, far from God. Until Christ’s entry into the Underworld and his conquest of Death, the souls of all people, good and bad, lived in this state of sorrow. His defeat of the Devil liberated the souls of the righteous to exist in joyful close proximity with God, awaiting the final Resurrection of the Dead.
Note again that Christ’s Resurrection is described in the present tense rather than past tense; the congregation are not commemorating a distant past event but living through a current miracle.
- THE PASCHAL HOMILY
- If anyone is devout and a lover of God, let him enjoy this beautiful and radiant festival.
- If anyone is a wise servant, let him, rejoicing, enter into the joy of his Lord.
- If anyone has wearied himself in fasting, let him now receive his recompense.
- If anyone has labored from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward.
- If anyone has come at the third hour, with thanksgiving let him keep the feast.
- If anyone has arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; for he shall suffer no loss.
- If anyone has delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near without hesitation.
- If anyone has arrived even at the eleventh hour, let him not fear on account of his delay. For the Master is gracious and receives the last, even as the first; he gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour, just as to him who has labored from the first. He has mercy upon the last and cares for the first; to the one he gives, and to the other he is gracious. He both honors the work and praises the intention.
- Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and, whether first or last, receive your reward.
- O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy!
- O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate the day!
- You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today!
- The table is rich-laden; feast royally, all of you!
- The calf is fatted; let no one go forth hungry!
- Let all partake of the feast of faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness.
- Let no one lament his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
- Let no one mourn his transgressions, for pardon has dawned from the grave.
- Let no one fear death, for the Saviour’s death has set us free.
- He that was taken by Death has annihilated it!
- He descended into Hades and took Hades captive!
- He embittered it when it tasted his flesh!
- And anticipating this Isaiah exclaimed, “Hades was embittered when it encountered thee in the lower regions.”
- It was embittered, for it was abolished!
- It was embittered, for it was mocked!
- It was embittered, for it was purged!
- It was embittered, for it was despoiled!
- It was embittered, for it was bound in chains!
- It took a body and, face to face, met God!
- It took earth and encountered heaven!
- It took what it saw but crumbled before what it had not seen!
- “O Death, where is thy sting? O Hades, where is thy victory?”
- Christ is risen, and you are overthrown!
- Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
- Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!
- Christ is risen, and life reigns!
- Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in a tomb!
- For Christ, being raised from the dead, has become the First-fruits of them that slept.
- To him be glory and might unto ages of ages. Amen.