Monday, April 20, 2009

It's Easter -- again!

Christ is risen! Indeed he is risen!

Jersualem: interior of the Holy Sepulchre, the site which the ancient Christian Churches claim to be the location of both the Crucifixion of the Lord and the Tomb from which he resurrected. This is the ornately decorated Tomb.

Among the ancient Churches which have a place in the Holy Sepulchre -- Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Roman Catholic (Franciscans), Coptic Orthodox and Ethiopian Orthodox

This past Saturday, 18 April, the Eastern Orthodox Christians throughout the world celebrated the Great Fire and the Matins of the Resurrection. Sunday, 19 April, is their celebration of Easter Sunday, or Pascha, and this is Bright Week.

The Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theofil, entered into the Tomb (to the right) with some of his clergy on Saturday night and emerged with the Sacred Fire, announcing the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus! This fire is then quickly passed among the crowds of believer both inside and outside the basilica in Jerusalem and beyond, and may even be taken by plane to Greece! (how they do this with security, I don't know!)

The Franciscan friars who serve in the Holy Land (they were part of the Good Friday collection two weeks ago on 10 April) celebrate Easter according to the Gregorian calendar. The major difference between the two reckonings of Easter is this -- the Western, or Gregorian, calendar follows this principle -- Easter is the first Sunday following the full moon after the vernal equinox (i.e. 21 March). The Eastern Orthodox reckoning states that Easter must follow the Jewish Passover, and so is the first Sunday after Passover (Jesus having fulfilled the Old Covenant with Moses).

The Franciscan friars in the Holy Land abide by what is called the Status Quo, which is an agreement among the various Christian Churches to strictly follow guidelines in order to maintain peace -- among Christians! Sadly, and to the scandal of both Christian and non-Christian, there are times when the monks from the different Churches scuffle among themselves to "safeguard" territory. Personally speaking, I think it's rather crazy, but then again, I don't live there.

As Franciscans we strive to work toward Christian unity and mutual respect. What that will look like and how the Lord will realize this ancient prayer of the Church we have no idea. Nevertheless, the Lord Jesus himself prayed for this in the Gospel of John chapter 17, that all may be one. This prayer became an abiding motto for Bd. John XXIII when he called the Second Vatican Council way back in the early 1960s. And it continues to be our prayer as Church.

But, back to Easter. We join with our Eastern Orthodox Christian brothers and sisters in the joyful cry, "Christos aneste! Alithos aneste!" (Greek) "Al-Masiah Qam! Haqan Qam!" (Arabic) "Christos voskrese! Vojistinu voskrese!" (Slavonic) -- all of which are identical: Christ is risen! Indeed he is risen!"
Icon of the Myrrh-bearing women on the Day of Resurrection begin greeted by angel at the Tomb of the Lord

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