Great and Holy Pascha

Introduction

On the Great and Holy Feast of Pascha, Orthodox Christians celebrate the life-giving Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This feast of feasts is the most significant day in the life of the Church. It is a celebration of the defeat of death, as neither death itself nor the power of the grave could hold our Savior captive. In this victory that came through the Cross, Christ broke the bondage of sin, and through faith offers us restoration, transformation, and eternal life.

Commemoration of The Great and Holy Feast of Pascha

Holy Week comes to an end at sunset of Great and Holy Saturday, as the Church prepares to celebrate her most ancient and preeminent festival, Pascha, the feast of feasts. The time of preparation will give way to a time of fulfillment. The glorious and resplendent light emanating from the empty Tomb will dispel the darkness. Christ, risen from the dead, cracks the fortress of death and takes “captivity captive” (Psalm 67:19). All the limitations of our createdness are torn asunder. Death is swallowed up in victory and life is liberated. “For as by a man came death, by a man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (I Corinthians 15:21-22). Pascha is the dawn of the new and unending day. The Resurrection constitutes the most radical and decisive deliverance of humankind.

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the fundamental truth and absolute fact of the Christian faith. It is the central experience and essential kerygma of the Church. It confirms the authenticity of Christ’s remarkable earthly life and vindicates the truth of His teaching. It seals all His redemptive work: His life, the model of a holy life; His compelling and unique teaching; His extraordinary works; and His awesome, life-creating death. Christ’s Resurrection is the guarantee of our salvation. Together with His Ascension it brings to perfection God’s union with us for all eternity.

The Resurrection made possible the miracle of the Church, which in every age and generation proclaims and affirms “God’s plan for the universe, the ultimate divinization of man and the created order.” The profound experience of and the unshakable belief in the risen Lord enabled the Apostles to evangelize the world and empowered the Church to overcome paganism. The Resurrection discloses the indestructible power and inscrutable wisdom of God. It disposes of the illusory myths and belief systems by which people, bereft of divine knowledge, strain to affirm the meaning and purpose of their existence. Christ, risen and glorified, releases humanity from the delusions of idolatry. In Him grave-bound humanity discovers and is filled with incomparable hope. The Resurrection bestows illumination, energizes souls, brings forgiveness, transfigures lifes, creates saints, and gives joy.

The Resurrection has not yet abolished the reality of death. But it has revealed its powerlessness (Hebrews 2:14-15). We continue to die as a result of the Fall. Our bodies decay and fall away. “God allows death to exist but turns it against corruption and its cause, sin, and sets a boundary both to corruption and sin.” Thus, physical death does not destroy our life of communion with God. Rather, we move from death to life – from this fallen world to God’s reign.

Icon of the Commemoration of Great and Holy Pascha

One of the most symbolic of the Festal Icons of the Orthodox Church is that of the Holy Resurrection. In the center of this radiant event is Christ pulling Adam and Eve up from their tombs. The gates of the Realm of Death are broken and thrown down. Death, personified in human form is defeated, and bound hand and foot at the bottom of the scene. We recall the joyous words of St. Paul: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (1 Corinthians 15:55)

In the background stands the host of the departed, so numerous they can not be depicted. Among them in the front of the multitude are some of the righteous dead, though now invigorated by the Resurrection. King David and his son Solomon are seen on the left wearing crowns. Near the center is Saint John the Baptist. On the other side is Abel, the son of Adam and the first man to ever die. He wears a shepherds robe and has a cane. Many Icons of this subject depict large crowds with a few other recognizable prophets.

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