Again and again and again the song rang out: Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and to those in the tomb restoring life! In English, in Church Slavonic, and in Greek. Christ is Risen from the dead! Trampling down death by death and to those in the tombs restoring life!
The voices sang loud and joyfully in a brightly lit church in the middle of the night. And there they sang for one hour and then two. Earlier in the night (at about midnight), the entire congregation held candles, lit from fire that came from the altar. The priest, subdeacon and altar boys went down the aisle, followed by the choir, and the congregants followed them out into the dark night. They sang down the walk, down another, and then through the parking lot, until the line of congregants, holding their candles, singing, nearly encircled the church. The priest, followed by the others, climbed the stairs to the front door of the church. At the door, the song is sung again and again, allowing the congregation time to gather down the stairs and at the foot of them.
Looking down from the landing, the dark night is broken by the glow of candles from a hundred candles, lighting up the singing faces. The song stops. The priest has carried the gospels, beautifully illuminated and bound in a gold cover. He reads the gospel reading. telling of the finding of the empty tomb. The priest hands the gospels to the subdeacon, who kisses it and holds the book reverently. The priest holds a large metal cross and bangs it on the door of the church.. “Lift up your heads, o gates! and be exalted that the king of glory may enter in!”
From behind the door comes the challenge: Who is the King of Glory? The priest calls out, The Lord of Hosts. He is the King of Glory! Again this repeats. The priest bangs on the door of the church in the shape of the cross, with the cross. The challenge is given and answered. And again.
The doors open and the priest leads the way inside, singing, “Christ is Risen from the dead, trampling down death by death and to those in the tomb restoring life!” The congregants are handed brass bells and for the rest of the service, they will ring them, during the songs proclaiming Christ is risen from the dead! Hristos Voskrese ex mertvih!, Kristos anesti ek nekron!
While the procession has taken place, the church has been transformed. It is now filled with lights and flowers. It is a delight to behold, and filled with the singing of the refrain, with the bells, with shouts of “Christ is risen!” and the response “Indeed, He is Risen!” it is easy to forget that it is now 1:00 am and then it is 2:00 am. The choir’s feet are aching, small children are sleeping on their parent’s shoulders, to be awakened by the bells (sometimes) and then for the Holy Eucharist. One service has seamlessly merged into another, with most of the participants unaware that there are two services. Matins has ended and the Paschal Liturgy has become.
For forty days we will greet each other with “Christ is Risen!” “Indeed, He is Risen!” The Russians, Serbians and Ukrainians will be greeted and respond in Church Slavonic and the Greeks and Macedonians will do the same greeting in Greek. There are a few Arabic-speaking people and that greeting will be made in their language as well. I will note that no one says this in Swedish. Sadly, that includes me.
Kristus är uppstånden! I själva verket är han uppstigen!