On Easter Sunday, one family in our church greets others with the Greek words “Christos aneste!” that is, “Christ is risen!” The response is, “Alethos aneste!” which means “The Lord is risen indeed!”
The more I read about the Eastern Church, the more I realize how much we deprive ourselves of in Western culture. Such mystery, such awe! Such excitement!
Last Sunday we sang, “The Day of Resurrection,” which was written by John of Demascus (675-749). It was translated by Anglican priest John Neale. Neale also was fascinated by the Eastern ways of Christians, and described how early Greek Christians sang this hymn:
As midnight approached, the archbishop, with his priests, accompanied by the king and queen, left the church and stationed themselves on the platform, which was raised considerably from the ground, so that they were distinctly seen by the people. Every one now remained in breathless expectation, holding an unlighted taper in readiness when the glad moment should arrive, while the priests still continued murmuring their melancholy chant in a low half whisper. Suddenly a single report of a cannon announced that twelve o’clock had struck and that Easter Day had begun; then the old archbishop, elevating the cross, exclaimed in a loud, exulting tone, “Christos aneste!” “Christ is risen!” and instantly every single individual of all that host took up the cry…At that same moment the oppressive darkness was succeeded by a blaze of light from thousands of tapers which…seemed to send streams of fire in all directions.
Sounds like a party to me. A pep rally. A Fourth of July celebration. And why not? Christ is risen! Why don’t WE have a party? A feast! The tomb is empty!!
Neale was not appreciated by his own Church, and admittedly such an event as described above would have probably offended British sensibilities in that day. However, when Neale died, his funeral was attended by high ranking Orthodox clergyman – very high praise and nearly unheard of in those days, or for that matter even today. He probably had no idea how his work was appreciated. Because of him and his legacy, we have this and so many other hymns.
Some say that a party has gotten out of hand when people start singing. Could it be that it means the party may just be getting started? Christos aneste!!