And Into the Brightness

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Bright Week – such a marvelous phrase – descriptive theologically and in many other ways of the time after Pascha. If we only knew, we all live in Bright Week – despite the fasting that we take up from season to season – despite the disasters that plague our earthly sojourn – still, we are all living in Bright Week.

In Bright Week, the Bridegroom has come, and the friends of the Bridegroom cannot fast.

In Bright Week, even the structure of an Orthodox funeral changes.

A dear friend of mine and among the founding members of our parish was killed in a car wreck during Bright Week of 1998. Devastating is the only word I know to describe our hearts. On Pascha, she and her husband had been Chrismated, and on Bright Wednesday she was gone.

But the life of the Church, in its own unique way, brought all of us back to Holy Week and Pascha. On Bright Friday, we had a Pannikhida at the funeral home. Just the Friday before I had been with her as we all knelt and venerated Christ in the tomb. Now the tomb of Christ was the tomb of a Christian and it was unmistakeable to all of us that the One tomb contained all tombs.

We buried her on Bright Saturday, as I recall. A Bright Week funeral essentially consists in hymns from the service of Pascha. Every element of human mourning seems to be swallowed by the joy of Christ’s resurrection. There is even an old Orthodox folk-saying that anyone who dies in Bright Week does not incur judgment. That same sense of God’s radical invitation into the Kingdom (proclaimed by St. John Chrysostom’s Sermon on the night of Pascha) is reflected in the doors of the altar. None of them stand closed at any point in Bright Week. Everything that separates us from God seems removed.

I cannot celebrate Pascha, nor enter into Bright Week, without remembering my friend’s own entrance into a Bright Week that transcends every darkness. What is liturgical reflects the fullness of what is true. “Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave,” St. Chrysostom proclaims. Such brightness that breaks the heart – not with sadness – but with a brilliance that says this near-death experience of daily life cannot continue forever. It must either pass on to a deeper and sadder death – or be swallowed up by Life – by the brightness of the never-ending Day.

Christ is risen and not one dead remains in the grave. O Bright joy of Pascha!

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.



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4 responses to “And Into the Brightness”

  1. Kyra Avatar
    Kyra

    “There is even an old Orthodox folk-saying that anyone who dies in Bright Week does not incur judgment. ”

    I do so hold tight this…my dearly loved grandfather died several years ago during Brigth Week. A man who was a Mormon and spent many years as a missionary for the LDS church in South America, as a high school teaching teaching Spanish and as a FBI agent sending Nazis back to Germany to be prosecuted. Like one of the early church fathers says, We know where the church is…we do not know where it is not…I hope that in some manner he held the faith in his heart and that I will see him again.

    Grief is such an ugly thing…thanks be to God that there a blessing at the end of it.

  2. saintsophia Avatar

    “Everything that separates us from God seems removed.

    I cannot celebrate Pascha, nor enter into Bright Week, without remembering my friend’s own entrance into a Bright Week that transcends every darkness. What is liturgical reflects the fullness of what is true. “Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave,” St. Chrysostom proclaims. Such brightness that breaks the heart – not with sadness – but with a brilliance that says this near-death experience of daily life cannot continue forever. It must either pass on to a deeper and sadder death – or be swallowed up by Life – by the brightness of the never-ending Day.

    Christ is risen and not one dead remains in the grave. O Bright joy of Pascha!”

    Thank you for these words. I greatly yearn for the never-ending Day. I also encountered a death, not during Bright week, but the Saturday the week before Pascha-and it was a disturbing death at that. I encountered the fear of sin, darkness, and death that was lurking in my own heart, in places I was not aware of until I heard the story of this particular death. That all tombs are contained in the Tomb where Christ laid brings me the only hope that is possible. That Christ plundered all the darkness of hades is all I can hang onto right now. May Christ make the never-ending Day dawn in our hearts even as we await the coming of the Kingdom.

  3. Mimi Avatar

    Father, bless.

    May her Memory be Eternal.

  4. Dave Wells Avatar
    Dave Wells

    Father, bless!

    I was moved to tears by your beautiful post. How well I remember those sad days. But I remember the profound effect that funeral had upon me. Strange as it is to say this, I have never been to a more “uplifting” funeral, if you know what I mean. The sadness of the passing of a dear friend, the sorrow for her husband and her family – all of that was balanced against the overwhelming certainty and joy of the resurrection. For weeks afterward, I found myself singing “Christ is risen from the dead…” and thinking of her and her husband.

    God bless you for your ministry, Father! Ut unum sint!

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  1. My last comment begs the question of how the story of Christ in Holy Scripture relates to our personal experience…


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