For those of you who don’t know Arabic or Greek, they’re singing the Paschal Troparion:
Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs
You can also click on the “CC” tab and get English subtitles.
We’ll just celebrate it, as we always have, Mr. Warren’s advice notwithstanding.
Thus it was necessary for the sketches of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves need better sacrifices than these. For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but he entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself again and again, as the high priest enters the Holy Place year after year with blood that is not his own; for then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed to mortals to die once, and after that the judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. (Heb 9:24-28)
Just in time for for the Feast of the Resurrection! Thomas F. Madden takes aim at Simcha Jacobovici’s idiosyncratic interpretation of the Talpiot tomb — a conceit which, zombie-like, seems to refuse to die despite the best efforts of actual, credible archeologists.
“Not Dead Yet.”
The scholarly case on the tomb may be essentially closed, but the sensationalist fantasies are alive and well. After all, Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code, can‚Äôt make all the money, can he? It‚Äôs frustrating, though ‚Äî particularly for scholars who have spent their careers trying to uncover and disseminate the truth. One cheesy documentary, it seems, is worth a thousand good books and journal articles.
In time, though, the Lost Tomb of Jesus and its parent, The Da Vinci Code, will fade away, joining the long parade of past pseudo-history fads like Erich Von Daniken‚Äôs Chariot of the Gods? and Immanuel Velikovsky‚Äôs Worlds in Collision.
Christians will just have to make due with the Empty Tomb.
Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
It is universally agreed that the earliest forms of Christian worship were integrally related to the congregation’s communal meal or agape. This is certainly the case with the fullest description of worship from the New Testament (1 Cor 11-14), from the Didache (ca. 100), and from Pliny’s Letter to Trajan (ca. 111). Pliny, the governor of Bithynia, gave this account of interrogations he conducted with certain lapsed Christians:
They stated that the sum total of their error or misjudgment, had been coming to a meeting on a given day before dawn, and singing responsively a hymn to Christ as to God, swearing with a holy oath not to commit any crime, never to steal or commit robbery, commit adultery, fail a sworn agreement or refuse to return a sum left in trust. When all this was finished, it was their custom to go their separate ways, and later re-assemble to take food of an ordinary and simple kind. But after my edict which forbids all political societies, they did in fact give this up (Epistle 96).
This account, extracted from informants who had abandoned their Christian faith as long as twenty years previously (that is, in the early 90s), indicates two forms of Christian gathering. First, in the early morning there was some sort of service for prayer and moral instruction. Second, the church re-convened in the evening for a communal meal. It is likely that the first meeting took place early on the Sabbath. By Jewish liturgical reckoning, since the agape began after sundown, it fell on “the first day of the week” (Ac 20:7). The pre-dawn meeting may well have been patterned on the Jewish synagogue service. The distinctive element in Christian worship was the conduct of their religious meal.
Most of the earliest post-biblical descriptions of Christian worship, however, describe a liturgy in which the actual meal is absent. According to Justin Martyr’s First Apology (ca. 150), the Christian gathering began with Scripture reading, a sermon, and prayer. Then, bread and wine were brought forward, prayed over by the “president” of the community, and distributed to the faithful. Much is made of the Eucharistic bread and cup, but the agape is nowhere to be found. Sometime between Pliny and Justin, the Eucharist became separated from the fellowship meal and attached to the morning prayer service.The same basic skeleton is at the heart of liturgical worship even today. And of course, it is likely that what Justin described was customary in Rome, and possibly elsewhere, several decades before he wrote.
Traces of earlier patterns, where Christians gathered around a dinner table for worship, are rare and often subject to diverse interpretations. One must therefore proceed with due humility in attempting to reconstruct the earliest Christian meal-liturgies. There are no fully-developed descriptions of such rites, although early sources such as the Didache — and indeed the New Testament itself — provide important clues as to the general structure. Other clues are present in alternative traditions which seem to preserve older patters that eventually fell out of use. These liturgies are “alternative” only in that they ceased to be mainstream, continuing in the church’s memory only as the idiosyncracies of small, perhaps remote populations or as reminiscences of earlier times.
The Symposium and the Seder
Both Christian and Jewish meal rituals developed from the ancient Greco-Roman symposium, literally “drinking party.” The original symposium had a two-part structure. First came the meal, introduced by a blessing of the bread. Then came the symposium proper, the after-dinner entertainment introduced by a blessing of wine. Though there were certainly immoral excesses, condemned as much by pagan moralists as by Christians, often the entertainment consisted simply of conversation on traditional philosophical themes.
This basic structure of bread (meal)-wine (interaction) is perhaps implied by the organization of Paul’s instructions concerning Chrisian worship in 1 Corinthians 11-14:
- 11:2-16: Propriety in “praying and prophesying” (at the bread blessing?)
- 11:17-34: Propriety during the meal itself
- 12:1-14:40: Propriety during the “symposium”
Guests may have greeted each other with a kiss upon arriving at the banquet. The custom of a kiss before a meal is seen, for example, in Luke 7:45 (where its omission is considered a great insult). Early on, the kiss was understood to be an act of reconciliation with one’s brothers and sisters before the offering as commanded by Jesus in Matthew 5:24. The Didache expresses a similar sentiment when it enjoins worshipers to confess their faults to one another before celebrating the Eucharist so that their sacrifice may be pure (Did 14:1).
Christian liturgy ultimately developed from the Greco-Roman symposium as filtered through the banquet customs of Second Temple Judaism. The Passover Seder is of particular importance, although other communal Jewish meals, including the weekly Sabbath banquets, would have certainly exerted an influence on Christian patterns. The Seder provides an important benchmark precisely because there is sufficient information to reconstruct the broad outlines of Christian observance of the Pascha (Easter) in the mid-second century.
Dennis E. Smith’s research (From Symposium to Eucharist [Fortress, 2003] 147-150) suggests that the earliest form of Passover Seder would have been in basic conformity to the wider Greco-Roman banquet pattern. In its most primitive form, its liturgy would probably have been something like this:
The Appetizer Course
- Hand-washing (one hand only)
- Blessing of the wine and the day (kiddush) over the first cup
- Appetizers: greens, bitter herbs, and fruit pur?©e (charoset)
The Main Course
- Hand-washing (both hands)
- A blessing spoken over the unleavened bread
- The Passover meal itself
- The grace after the meal (birkat ha-mazon) spoken over the second cup
- The Haggadah or “table Talk,” centered on the Exodus story
- Chanting of the Hallel Psalms (Pss 113-118)
Later alterations or elaborations to this basic pattern were made until the liturgy began to approximate its current form sometime in the second century. Three significant changes should be noted. First, two additional cups of wine were added to the symposium, one dividing the Hallel into two halves and the other at the conclusion of the Hallel. Second, the grace after the meal was moved from the second cup to the third. Finally, the “table talk” was repositioned before the meal rather than after.
The Quartodeciman Pascha
When compared with the Christian paschal celebration in the mid-second century, we see how his pattern became adapted for Eucharistic worship. Apparently, Christians preserved the link between agape and Eucharist at the special occasion of Pascha even when they allowed the two observances to diverge generally. The outlines of the paschal feast may be discerned from the practice of the Quartodecimans. These second-century dissenters preserved the original date of Easter, the fourteenth of the Jewish month of Nisan (quartodecim is Latin for “fourteenth”) but they were not distinctive in their manner of observance.
In the Epistle of the Apostles 15 (ca. 150), we read Jesus’ own imagined instructions to the disciples regarding how to celebrate the Pascha:
After I return to my Father you are to remember my death whenever Pascha comes about. Then will one of you be thrown into prison on account of my name, and will be in trouble and sorrow because he is in prison while you are keeping Pascha, and he is not keeping the festivity. For I shall send my power in the form of my angel and the gates of the prison shall be opened. He will come out and will watch with you and remain until the cock crows, when you will have completed my agape and my commemoration, and he will be thrown once again into prison as witness to me, until he comes out and proclaims as I have commanded. So we said to him: “Lord, have you not fulfilled the Pascha? Is it necessary that we should take the cup and drink it again?” He replied “It is indeed necessary, until I return with those who died for me.”
In other words, Easter worship consisted in its most basic form of (1) a night vigil lasting until the early morning, (2) an agape meal, including (3) the “commemoration” of Christ: the Eucharist. It is not entirely clear whether the Eucharist would have come before or after the meal. A formal meal in the ancient world concluded with a dessert, which in the Seder was replaced by a final piece of bread known as the aphikoman. If this morsel were intended to represent the presence of the Messiah (see Melito of Sardis, On Pascha), it would not be a great leap to conceive of this as Eucharistic bread once the Seder became Christianized. This would suggest the pattern was agape-then-Eucharist. This would also account for the church’s early adoption of the customary liturgical dialogue preceding the prayer after meals as a prelude to its Eucharistic prayer.
On the other hand, the weight of evidence overall suggests the Eucharistic action would have come before the meal. In the Didache, which predates the Quartodeciman sources, the blessings of the cup and the bread come before the communal meal, not after.
Devotional and theological reasons might be advanced for either option. For instance, a desire to fast before Communion would imply the necessity of placing the Eucharist before the agape. Likewise, having Communion first might have been intended to set a properly worshipful tone for the entire evening. Conversely, in some congregations the Eucharist may have come last so as to end the evening on a high note. Furthermore, If the meal customarily began before sunset on Saturdays, it may have been desirable to wait until the end of the meal — after dark — in order to celebrate the Eucharist on what would then be “the first day of the week.” Clearly, different customs arose in different localities, which were only later harmonized with each other into a more or less uniform liturgical practice.
A Eucharistic Agape
Let us concentrate on the Eucharist-first pattern, simply because it eventually became the most popular option. By filling in some of the details by way of other sources we may propose the following outline for the paschal vigil:
- Scripture Readings (the Exodus narrative, and possibly the Old Testament prophets)
- “Table Talk”
- Agape Meal
- Psalmody (the Hallel Psalms?)
In both Judaism and Christianity, the “table talk” shifted to a position before the meal — and the fact that both communities made the same shift suggests that the relocation first occurred quite early. In the Jewish Seder, it came between the appetizer and the main course. Since the Christian Pascha came at the end of a fast, the appetizer course was omitted, and the “table talk” became the first element in the whole observance. It seems likely, however, that the entire liturgy still took place around the dining room table.
The connections with Justin’s liturgy are hard to miss. The service begins with reading and discussing scripture and moves on to the Eucharist. But in Justin’s description of the normal Sunday ritual, the meal had fallen away.In this light, mention should also be made of an intriguing reminiscence from John Chrysostom (4th century). Chrysostom related a tradition that, in the earliest years of the church, Christians regularly held a fellowship meal after worship. He wrote,
The faithful, after hearing the teaching, after the prayers and the communion of the sacraments, when the assembly was now over, did not leave at once for their homes, but the wealthy and well-off brought food and provender from their homes, called the poor, and offered communal tables, communal dinners, and communal banquets inside the church itself. In this way, the love between them was strengthened by the sharing of the table and by the piety exuded by the place and on all sides. As a result, they were on the one hand happy, and on the other greatly benefitted. Indeed, the poor took great comfort and the wealthy won the favor both of the people who ate and of God, for whom they did all these things. And having received much divine grace, they returned to their homes. (Homily 27 on 1 Cor 11:17)
The pattern is virtually the same: scripture teaching, corporate prayers, Eucharist, then a meal.
Next: Later Developments
On the western/Gregorian calendar, Easter (or Pascha) is March 23 this year, although on the eastern/Jullian calendar, it won’t come until April 27. The discrepancy is the result of a calendrical adjustment made by Pope Gregory XIII in the 16th century made to keep the calendar year in better sync with the actual solar year. As might be expected, non-Catholics didn’t embrace the pope’s reform. Protestant England didn’t adopt the Gregorian calendar for another 200 years when, in 1752, Wednesday, September 2 was followed immediately by Thursday, September 14 to bring the English system into alignment. This move spawned heated protests, with Englishmen demanding, “Give us back our eleven days!” Eventually, however, all western nations adopted the Gregorian system. If they hadn’t, Ash Wednesday would still be about a month away.
Orthodox churches still use the Julian calendar for calculating the date of Easter. I believe the Baptist churches in the Republic of Georgia do the same, which makes perfect sense if you’re keen to convince your Orthodox neighbors that you in fact belong to a Christian church after all and not some strange cult.
Concerned as I am with Christian unity, I cannot help but be troubled by the fact that we can’t even seem to agree on when to celebrate our holiest days. There is at least one proposal on the table that would correct this, however. In 1997, a consultation of the World Council of Churches met in Aleppo, Syria, to see what might be done. They arrived at two recommendations:
The first has to do with achieving a consensus as to how the date of Easter/Pascha should be calculated:
In the estimation of this consultation, the most likely way to succeed in achieving a common date for Easter in our own day would be
(a) to maintain the Nicene norms (that Easter should fall on the Sunday following the first vernal full moon), and
(b) to calculate the astronomical data (the vernal equinox and the full moon) by the most accurate possible scientific means,
(c) using as the basis for reckoning the meridian of Jerusalem, the place of Christ’s death and resurrection.
The second recommendation is that the various church bodies study and discuss this proposal with a view toward implementation:
This consultation also recommends that the churches now undertake a period of study and reflection towards the goal of establishing as soon as possible a common date for Easter/Pascha along the lines set forth above. In the year 2001 the paschal calculations now in use by our churches will coincide. Together, Christians will begin a new century, a new millennium, with new opportunities to witness to the resurrection of Christ and to proclaim their joy in his victory over sin, suffering and death. The unity that will be reflected as Christians celebrate Easter/Past on the same date will be for many a sign of hope and of witness to the world. This celebration of Easter/Pascha on the same date should not be the exception but the rule.
Of course, Easter 2001 has long since passed, and Easter has been observed on the same day in both calendars on two years since (2004 and 2007). The next time Eastern and Western Christians celebrate Easter/Pascha on the same date will be April 4, 2010. Although there is no reason the various churches couldn’t adopt the Aleppo recommendation at any time, but when these conjunctions come around every few years, it ought to spur us to pray for Christian unity‚Äîand repent for how we have contributed (personally or ecclesiastically) to damaging that unity.
Is there anyone who is a devout lover of God?
Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!
Is there anyone who is a grateful servant?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!
Are there any weary with fasting?
Let them now receive their wages!
If any have toiled from the first hour,
let them receive their due reward;
If any have come after the third hour,
let him with gratitude join in the Feast!
And he that arrived after the sixth hour,
let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss.
And if any delayed until the ninth hour,
let him not hesitate; but let him come too.
And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour,
let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.
For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour,
as well as to him that toiled from the first.
To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows.
He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor.
The deed He honors and the intention He commends.
Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!
First and last alike receive your reward;
rich and poor, rejoice together!
Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!
You that have kept the fast, and you that have not,
rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!
Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one.
Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith.
Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!
Let no one grieve at his poverty,
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.
He destroyed Hades when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.
Isaiah foretold this when he said,
“You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below.”
Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.
Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.
O death, where is thy sting?
O Hades, where is thy victory?
Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!
Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!
[The Easter Sermon of St. John Chrysostom]