Christ is risen from the dead, trampling death by death and to those in the tombs bestowing life.
The words of the Easter hymn are sung hundreds of times during the Paschal season. The hymn is at once a faith-filled shout of victory and a sure declaration of hopeful trust. With these inspired words in mind, contemplate the Easter icon, for what the hymn exalts in song, the icon represents in color.
Christ stands triumphant in the very center of the mystery, bathed in the light of Divinity. He is no longer the man of sorrows with no comeliness in Him, nor is He sorely burdened with the travail of our salvation. Though all about Him there are signs of furious battle, He is the King of Peace and the Savior of our souls. The Christ of the Easter icon is the King and Lord awakened by the power of His Divinity from the slumber of mortal man.
Though the victory has been won and the triumph proclaimed, we must not forget the awesome price of our deliverance. The gates of hell are wrenched asunder, and its bolts of brass are scattered into the abyss. Its master, Death, is chained and bound in defeat. But the gates are composed in the form of a cross upon which the Savior alights. The destruction of the Kingdom of Death was wrought by the death on the cross of the King of Life.
Christ is not only Life Himself, He is the sender of the Spirit, the Giver of Life. With what ineffable tenderness does He stretch forth His hand to the first-created Adam and Eve. In Eden of old they were brought forth from the earth at the sound of His voice. With Him they walked in the cool of the evening, for His joy is to be with the sons of men. From Him they hid themselves in fear after attempting to steal the gift of divinity from the Tree.
Now He that hung upon a tree beckons them forth from the region of darkness and death into the splendid light of His everlasting love. On either side, the blessed of the Old and New Testaments bear ecstatic witness to the accomplished mystery.
The East basks in the warmth of Paschal light not only at Easter but all through the year. Every Sunday, one of the eleven Gospels of the Resurrection is chanted at Matins. From the twilight of Saturday to the dawn of Sunday, the Christian East rehearses the timeless mystery of her Risen Lord in prayerful hymns.
Eastern Christians are truly Easter Christians. Does not the whole world call the most sacred of Jerusalems shrines the Holy Sepulchre? The Christian East alone boldly proclaims it is the Anastasis, the Resurrection!
O Christ, how delightful, dear, and sweet is Your Divine Voice: for You hove made us a truthful promise to abide with us forever and ever. And we the faithful hold to this promise as to an anchor of hope, and exult in joy!
Father Romanos Russo is a priest of the Melkite-Greek Catholic Church.