Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Death During Bright Week
Icon found in Benaki Museum in Athens

"The last enemy to be rendered powerless is death."--1 Cor 15:26

On Great and Good Friday, the mother of our parish's founder fell asleep in the Lord, and her funeral was today.  Yet a funeral during Bright Week is less a time of mourning than a triumphal celebration.  It is a common saying that a Christian who falls asleep or else his funeral during Bright Week is taken immediately to Heaven, for it is during that week that all of creation is aglow, radiating the triumphal light of the Resurrection.  Thus the typical hymns of sorrow are replaced with those of victory: "Christ is risen from the dead! Shine in splendor, O New Jerusalem, for the glory of the Lord is risen upon you!"  Indeed, the entire Paschal Canon prayed on the Paschal morn is again prayed at a funeral.  Death is barely acknowledged, for all know that Christ has made him powerless.  He has been crushed and trampled and conquered, with his own gates pressing into his back while his captives enter into Heaven in his very sight.  All this occurred at what he thought was the time of his final triumph, when God Himself had entered his grasp: yet the Christ was not subject to corruption, and the bait Death swallowed was his own undoing, as so many of the Fathers painted the image.  "He sought the bait of the flesh, but was hooked by the divinity" (St. Gregory the Dialogist).  Truly did St. Ephraim speak: "Death knelt before Him in Sheol, / and Life worshipped Him at His Resurrection."

Why should we mourn, when we have before our eyes the image of the Resurrection and have ringing in our ears the triumphal hymns?  While we are apart in body, we miss our departed loved ones, but it is not forever, if we are faithful: for the ones who are faithful and endure to the end are saved from death and join the angels in ascending and descending before the throne of God.  At that time, we will be united once more for all the saints, whether canonized or not, who have gone before us, marked with the sign of faith; the separation is but temporary, and the union is eternal.  "Do not imagine, Death, that you are death, for you are like a shade" (St. Ephraim).  While for most of the year we focus more on the sorrow of their departure, and we offer many earnest prayers that God be merciful to them, accept their repentance, and welcome them into His Kingdom, during this week the light of Christ's Resurrection overpowers the sorrow, and we know His mercy is abounding in an exceedingly wondrous measure.  Death has been abolished, destroyed, stripped of his power, and so we rejoice, and those who have fallen asleep rejoice too, for all, from our first parents to us, have been granted life eternal, if we only return the Lord in faith.  With St. Hilary, then, let us say that "death seemed only a name for eternal life."

Rejoice, rejoice, rejoice, O Eva,
Paschal light doth shine on thee!
Hades' strong chains of yore are broken,
Ye are free in Christ's vict'ry!

The bells in all the Churches joyous
Ring to proclaim your freedom!
Of mankind's foes the last enemy
Is destroyed in Christ's Kingdom!

From all our souls now flee, O Sorrow!
No place have you in this time!
The just ones of all ages past
Enter now the joy sublime!

Rejoice, rejoice, rejoice, O Eva,
Father, Son, and Spirit do,
Theotokos with them, extend you
Welcome into rest all true!

Nota Bene: The quote from St. Gregory the Dialogist (Pope St. Gregory the Great) is from his The Grace of God §8.  The first quote from St. Ephraim is from his Hymns on the Resurrection 1.8, found in Hymns, translated by Kathleen E. McVey as part of the Classics of Western Spirituality series (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1989).  The second quote from St. Ephraim is from his Nisibene Hymns 53.4, translated by J.T. Sarsfield Stopford, found in volume 13 of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1890).  The quote from St. Hilary (of Poitiers) is from his On the Trinity I.14, translated by E.W. Watson and L. Pullan, found in volume 9 of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1899), as found on Kevin Knight's New Advent.

No comments:

Post a Comment