Kristos haryav i merelots!
Christ is risen from the dead!
April 15, 2006 - Post No. 55
The liturgy on this Great Saturday begins in the same way it does in many Anglican and Episcopalian churches today, with the Vigil of Readings. This is, of course, the ancient tradition among the Orthodox, and something of an innovation in Anglican usage. The 12 readings this evening review significant passages from the Old Testament literature that prefigure or foretell the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The last reading in the series is also read at the Vigil of Readings before the Christmas Eve Mass on January 5th. It is the story of Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego and their survival, thanks to the visitation of a divine messenger, of the fiery furnace. This story is sung (narrator to the left, three youths of the story to the right.)
Then the first Badarak of Easter begins. Fr. Norayr is the celebrant, and the early part of the liturgy has been going on quietly behind the curtain during the readings, so the liturgy is well underway, beginning with the Lesser Entrance (or Gospel procession) when the curtain opens, and before long is time for Communion.
For most, including the seminarians who have fasted much of the day in preparation, this is the first opportunity they have had to receive communion since the Christmas season, before the beginning of the Great Lent. The line-up for communion is impressive, much longer than I have seen previously.
Children receive communion from the day of their baptism in the Orthodox tradition -- a custom many of the western churches have wisely adopted in recent years. This evening, even the smallest children come forward, often carried in a parent's arms to receive Communion. This is the conclusion of a very engaging week for the youngsters: Palm Sunday procession, Great Thursday foot washing, and now the Lord's Supper to complete the week.
Twice a year, Christmas Eve and at the Vigil of Easter, a procession forms near the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy and the Gospel book is carried to the dining hall of the Catholicosate, where a festive banquet awaits the seminarians, the monastic brotherhood, and a handful of invited friends.
The Last Gospel is read in the dining hall and, once completed, Bishop Dirayr intones the great news of the feast, "Kristos haryav i merelots!" (Christ is risen from the dead!" and the gathering responds, "Orhnyal e harootyoonn Krisdosi." (Blessed is the resurrection of Christ.) Then the choir breaks out with the chant to the same words, "Kristos haryav ..." Click here to listen to the chant.
Following this, the clergy and deacons change from their liturgical vestments and go to the residence of the Catholicos to escort his Holiness to the dining hall for the Easter feast. Dishes available for the first time since February 26th (the beginning of the Great Lent) include eggs, fish and creamy tartar sauce. The junior seminarians enjoy the traditional "egg game" two players face off hitting their eggs together, one of the eggs gives and breaks, and the winner is the one who comes through unscathed.
There are a few distinguished guests present with us tonight, most notably, Jack Hagopian, a much respected Armenian poet from Los Angeles who is completing an extended stay at the Catholicosate following the Pan-Armenian Writers' Conference last week. After quizzing the seminarians on Mr. Hagopian's poetry -- even the youngest is familiar with his work -- his Holiness takes time to single out Dr. Isabel Kaprielian and her husband, Dr. Stacy Churchill who returned yesterday after spending a few days this week doing research in the archives of the Syrian Prelacy in Aleppo. He also had some very nice things to say about yours truly, lamenting that the time has come to say, "Farewell."
We take a moment, following the banquet, to pose for a group photo with the poet Jack Hagopian, (white hair, centre third row back) before the seminarians board their bus to go back up the hill to Bickfaya. As for me, I have now moved out of my room at the Seminary, spending my last day there today, and I must admit I had a lump in my throat when it was time to leave for the liturgy tonight. The seminarians head home tomorrow for their Easter break, and I head off to Cyprus on Tuesday; and this remarkable experience in Lebanon is quickly drawing to a close.