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Easter Papal Message 2013
The Spiritual Meaning of Resurrection Enactment
H.G. Bishop Youssef Bishop, Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States
In the Divine Liturgy of the Resurrection feast, after reading the Praxis and chanting the resurrection hymn "all you heavenly choirs", the church lights are turned off signifying the darkness that had surrounded the world before the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 4:16); and the doors of the sanctuary are closed signifying the closed doors of the Paradise (Genesis 3:23).
The priest or the bishop stands inside the sanctuary symbolically guarding the body of our Lord Jesus Christ, (John 6:51) just as the Cherubim stood in the Garden of Eden guarding the tree of life, (Genesis 3:24). Two deacons stand outside the sanctuary with the resurrection icon. This signifies the angels that accompanied the Lord Jesus Christ during His life on earth ministering to and serving Him (Matthew 4:11). The resurrection icon represents the Lord of Glory Who descended to Hades through the cross and led captivity captive; and now He is ascending to Paradise to restore our father Adam and his children to it (Ephesians 4:8-9). The rest of the deacons symbolize the spirits of the righteous ascending with the Lord Jesus Christ to Paradise.
The resurrection enactment starts with a dialogue between the angles accompanying the Lord Jesus Christ (the two deacons standing outside the sanctuary) and the cherubim inside the Paradise (the priest or the bishop inside the sanctuary). In this dialogue they declare the good news of the resurrection by chanting three times "Christ is risen. Indeed He is risen".
Then the two deacons chant three times Psalm 24:7 "Open your doors, O you kings and be lifted up, O you everlasting doors, that the King of Glory may come in." The kings are the cherubim who are guarding the way to the tree of life and the angels guarding the heavenly Paradise (Revelation 21:12). The everlasting doors are the doors of the Paradise. The King of Glory is our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 2:8; James 2:1).
The priest or the bishop replies from inside "who is the King of Glory?" (Psalm 24:8). This question is not out of lack of knowledge but a rhetorical one of amazement; as it is written in Isaiah 63:1-3, "Who is this who comes from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah? This One who is glorious in His apparel, traveling in the greatness of His strength? I who speak in righteousness, mighty to save. Why is Your apparel red, and Your garments like one who treads in the winepress? I have trodden the winepress alone; and from the peoples no one was with me."
The two deacons from outside answer saying "The Lord majestic, strong, powerful, mighty in battles, He is the King of Glory" (Psalm 24:8). The Lord triumphed over Satan in the battle of the Cross (Colossians 2:15). He is the mighty and strong God Who bounded Satan, that was perceived as strong; entered his house, Hades; "and plundered his goods the souls of the righteous" (Matthew 12:29).
Then the doors of the sanctuary open just as the doors of the Paradise were opened and the lights are turned on symbolizing the light of Resurrection that has enlightened not only Paradise but also the whole cosmos "For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light" (Ephesians 5:8). The deacons with the icon of resurrection enter the sanctuary and proceed around the altar three times while chanting the resurrection hymn "Christ is risen" as the Lord Jesus Christ has entered the Paradise with His angles and the souls of the righteous (Psalm 118:19-24).
After that, the procession goes three times around the nave of the Church symbolizing the apparitions of the Lord Jesus Christ after His holy resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:5-8) and the apparition of some of the saints after the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ and their entry to the Holy City (Matthew 27:52-53).
At the end, the procession goes again inside the sanctuary for one more time around the altar signifying the ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ to the Heavens forty days after His holy resurrection, the resurrection of all the believers and their entry to the Kingdom of Heavens at the last day.
This wonderful rite has its deep spiritual meaning too. The sanctuary represents the believer "Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?" (1 Corinthians 3:16). When a believer shuts his doors before the Lord, he will live in spiritual darkness (Ezekiel 32:8) but when he accepts the Lord Jesus Christ, Who rose from the dead, this person will be transferred by Him from the power of darkness into the kingdom of the Son of His love (Colossians 1:13).
O true lamb of God the Father, Who rose from the dead on the third day, straighten our feet into the way of peace, keep us from every evil all the days of our life, and grant us the forgiveness of our sins.
O my Lord Jesus Christ, Who have enlightened the world by Your holy resurrection. O You, Who give light to every man coming into the world (John 1:9); raise us from the death of sin, enlighten the eyes of our understating, and grant us alertness in order to do what is pleasing to You always, that we may know what is the hope of Your calling and what are the riches of the glory of Your inheritance in the saints (Ephesians 1:18). Amen.